BenRiach Curiositas gives you the hint right up front: this is a curiosity, in that it is a Speyside whisky with a peaty element. (The distillery does have a non-peated version which will be the subject of a future review.)
BenRiach does not exactly have a storied history, rather a patchwork one. Established near the end of the 19th century, it produced for about a dozen years and then made no spirit for 65 years. After that, it changed hands between multinationals a couple times before going independent in 2004. The company added Glendronach to its holdings four years later and bought Glenglassaugh in 2013. The BenRiach holding company remained an independent until bought by Brown-Forman in 2016. This is the third of the Brown-Forman distilleries I’ve bought an expression to review. That wasn’t planned as I did not know they were associated, but it’s working into a nice mini-series. For a comparison to another peated dram, I’ll continue with the Glenglassaugh Torfa which was the subject of the previous review.
More Highlands today, but with a twist: peat. Oh, and another twist: 50% ABV. Not cask level but that’s still a hefty ABV. I’m expecting a mouthful of flavor.
Founded in 1875, Glenglassaugh was mothballed from 1986 to 2008, when they were purchased and then and refurbished by the Scaent Group, a holding company with over 25 companies in “various economic sectors.” Glenglassaugh was again purchased in 2013, this time by Benriach; that company was in turn (along with GlenDronach) gobbled up by Brown-Forman in 2016. Brown-Forman appear to be good stewards of their brands; the GlenDronach 12 was a solid performer and I expect the same here.
Finally, Ardbeg 10. I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this. I’ve had a bottle for almost a year. I drink it, like most of my single malts, sparingly. It’s in a class I call Damn Fine Whisky. So, what’s it got?
First off, Ardbeg is sort of the snazzy new kid on the block, but he’s got some classic threads to back up his bling. Ardbeg is one of those distilleries that was shuttered for years, only to be resurrected by ‘craft’ style distillers. By craft, we mean a few notable aspects to the whisky production:
The blog has covered a number of blends, and also eleven unpeated, mostly sherry-finished single-malts (see sidebar for the list and links). They all share similar influences in their flavoring.
It’s the water, and a lot more
Some of those malts, Bunnahabhain* and Glenfarclas, for example, are notable for the taste of what the French would call terroir. Peat bogs, soil and rocks through which their water sources run flavor that water. In addition to the water, the spirit’s flavor is heavily influenced by the ingredients (mostly barley malt) and how they are treated at each step. In the preparation of what will become new make spirit, there is much attention to manipulating temperatures at each stage. The temperature of the wort is chosen to enhance the activities of enzymes converting sugars and later, to encourage fermentation. Variation in stages and their temperatures can affect flavor. One also reads of claims that the shape and composition of tuns, stills and washbacks will influence the flavor of the new-make spirit. Once distilled, the spirit meets the cask, where interaction with the oak (and its preparation, be it lightly toasted or charred) will have the second largest effect on flavor.