New Whiskies

Batch 128

by
Batch 128

Dave Broom’s last batch of new whisky reviews for 2017 starts promisingly enough, with a pair of mature BenRiachs that offer contrasting pleasures, but pleasures nonetheless.

A 30-year-old Authenticus pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of keeping its peaty smoke even after three decades in cask – one for lovers of Frazzles, apparently – while the distillery’s 21-year-old Four Cask Matured offers balance and restraint, for all its complicated and lengthy ageing process.

And then it gets better, with a remarkable Cadenhead bottling of Blair Athol. Again, time has been this whisky’s friend and, after nearly 30 years of maturation, the distillery’s quirky character has evolved into a rich complexity that would be the perfect Hogmanay accompaniment.

Those are the highlights. We close with three creditable, but hardly spectacular, single malts, including a Craigellachie for lovers of a neglected fruit bowl, a fresh Glen Keith let down somewhat by a rubbery element, and an oak-driven Tomatin that is, says Broom, strictly for carpenters. Oh well.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • BenRiach Authenticus 30 Years Old

    BenRiach Authenticus 30 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    A crackling bonfire of a nose, with some hickory-like elements as well as light, sweet spice and a touch of baked apple. Then things become meaty, with maple syrup-cured bacon (Frazzles, for the more down-to-earth). The weight of age is in evidence, but you do wonder if it’s almost too smoky. Water again shows maturity, as well as Lapsang Souchong tea, but it seems slightly less self-assured.

    Palate

    Surprising because, after the tumult of the nose, this is calm and minty cool, to start with at least. The smoke is also better-integrated than the nose suggests, and the wood offers some grip. The sweetness is pumped forward, with barbecued pineapple, date and some black fruits and nutmeg.

    Finish

    Liquorice, light heathery smoke and medium length. Good layering with water.

    Conclusion

    The smoke has been retained well, even after all these years. A rare treat.

    Right place, right time

    After Eights around a bonfire.

    BenRiach 21 Years Old Four Cask Matured

    BenRiach 21 Years Old Four Cask Matured
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    High-toned, sweet and slightly sharp, with some acetone, then light apple and blackcurrant crumble before settling down into a mix of light oak, dusty florals, light orchard fruit. Gentle, albeit with a slightly hard edge as the wood comes through alongside some mint and freeze-dried strawberry and trifle. Water maintains the fresh fruit elements, which are there even after 21 years and four casks, some peach and almond.

    Palate

    Lifted and focused, with immediate impact on the front of the palate. The sharpness adds an acidity, while there’s a spiciness on the sides of the mouth. Slightly more compact than the nose suggests, with some soft red fruits and a lemon-like acidity. It fades a little when water is added.

    Finish

    A gingery element (not for the last time this week) and then, after a long pause, the blackcurrant returns.

    Conclusion

    Balanced and very restrained, given that it’s been aged in ex-Bourbon, virgin oak, PX and red wine casks.

    Right place, right time

    Memories of summer as the nights draw in.

    Blair Athol 29 Years Old (Cadenhead)

    Blair Athol 29 Years Old (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    We’ve reached the point where Blair Athol’s malt extract character has exited the building, leaving behind a rich, complex, velvety mix of tropical fruits, polished oak, citrus and marzipan. In time there’s some beetroot-like earthy sweetness, a squirt of wax, then the smell of high-quality new oak (a cellar in Bordeaux) before some clotted cream, sandalwood and the start of a balsamic stage. Only a drop of water is needed to further pull out perfumed, mature elements with some added vetiver. Really lovely.

    Palate

    The citric element is the first to come out, then dried apricot and mango, followed by chestnut honey. Weighty, rich and mature, with a generous elegance. As it develops, so it shows some wood and age, then light anise. I’d keep it neat as I like the intensity of the delivery, but water does bring out aromatic woods and a little more tannin.

    Finish

    Medium length, mature and slightly drying.

    Conclusion

    A must-buy, if not for Christmas, then for Hogmanay.

    Right place, right time

    Wraps its coat around you. The finest song of the season.

    Craigellachie 2002 ‘Stewed Fruit Relish’ (Wemyss Malts)

    Craigellachie 2002 ‘Stewed Fruit Relish’ (Wemyss Malts)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Big, sweetly heavy and fatty with super-ripe, almost rotten fruits: damson, overripe banana and peach, rotting pineapple, and a heady mix of raisins and pine nuts frying in lots of browning butter. In time, there’s some chestnut purée and jasmine as it heads towards decay. With water, things become more yeasty, with those ripe fruits and plum pudding.

    Palate

    It’s that yeasty element that kicks things off, quickly followed by the black fruits. While it is less overripe, there’s an oily richness (that fat element seen on the nose) in the centre. It’s heavy and almost ponderous in the way it moves through the mouth. With water, the fruit elements split away from a more exposed tannic structure.

    Finish

    Waxy and slightly claggy.

    Conclusion

    Not for the fainthearted.

    Right place, right time

    As overripe as a Martin Denny composition.

    Glen Keith 1995 ‘Forest Fresh’ (Wemyss Malts)

    Glen Keith 1995 ‘Forest Fresh’ (Wemyss Malts)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Light and estery with pear, sherbert lemon and a tiny touch of eraser/inside of new welly boots. In time there’s notes of draff and, even at this strength, some heat. Water shows the cask to be the junior partner in the relationship; there’s some scented fruit and fresh floury baps, but it’s fleeting and also still slightly rubbery.

    Palate

    Much better-ordered, with apple pie and cream, and while there’s still some green fruit, it adds a certain acidity. Things become more delicately floral and, while it remains light, there’s more character. When water is added, it begins to pull together more successfully without losing its fresh energy.

    Finish

    Slightly nutty.

    Conclusion

    The nose is disappointing, but water saves the palate.

    Right place, right time

    Oor Wullie on his bucket, sucking a soor ploom.

    Tomatin 2007 Cask Strength (Gordon & MacPhail)

    Tomatin 2007 Cask Strength (Gordon & MacPhail)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    58.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    There’re light oak touches alongside some ginger, banana, pineapple and some heat, then an overpowering lactone-heavy scent of sun tan lotion, caramel and coconut. It’s oak-driven, something confirmed when you add water and bring out Bourbon-esque notes and an almost gassy element, like a freshly charred cask.

    Palate

    The distillery character now comes through, with the alcohol helping to increase the perception of acidity. The ginger re-emerges alongside lemongrass-like freshness, while the oak, mercifully, seems to recede. Softer in the middle than you might imagine, and there’s even a touch of chocolate. Water kills the heat, but also brings the wood forward and everything tightens up.

    Finish

    When neat it’s hot and tingling; when diluted it’s dry.

    Conclusion

    One for carpenters.

    Right place, right time

    A walk in old pine woods.

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