New Whiskies

Batch 147

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Batch 147: Benrinnes, Benromach, Glen Elgin, GlenAllachie, The Glenlivet and Tamdhu

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival may be over for another year, but that doesn’t stop Dave Broom and Becky Paskin from continuing the regional theme with this week’s batch of new whisky reviews.

It may be hard to pinpoint a unifying Speyside style with any precision, but there is a thread of richness and distillery personality running through most of these single malts. Not least with Broom’s opener, a characterful Benrinnes from independent bottler Cadenhead that combines power with a beguiling sweetness.

Richness also abounds with our second whisky, a celebratory Benromach bottled to mark the resurrected distillery’s 20th anniversary. This time there’s a bit more heat (56.2% abv) and smoke, but Broom nonetheless admires its integration and balance.

Times are changing at independent bottler (and owner of Benromach) Gordon & MacPhail, including a revamp of the company’s Connoisseur’s Choice range of small batch and single cask whiskies. A 1997 Glen Elgin gets things off to a stunning start, Broom discovers, with the distillery’s character ‘turned up to 11’ thanks to a first-fill Sherry cask.

Broom moves in a sweeter direction with his next whisky, a 12-year-old GlenAllachie bottled for Spirit of Speyside that offers a masterclass in the careful balancing of distillery style and cask type – providing a treat for fans of cinnamon toast.

Then it’s Paskin’s turn, and a taste of the new addition to The Glenlivet’s core range. The Cognac-finished Captain’s Reserve is a ‘fruitier, richer’ version of the distillery’s Founder’s Reserve and, while youthful, is easy-drinking enough.

Back to Broom for our final malt, and back to richness too with Tamdhu’s new Dalbeallie Dram, bottled at a potentially eye-watering 62.1% abv. It’s a monster, says Broom, but a friendly one – with the ferocious strength leavened by a sweet, spicy, resinous character.

For a Spotify soundtrack to accompany this week’s whiskies, click on the links under ‘Right Place, Right Time’.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Benrinnes 20 Years Old, 1997 (Cadenhead)

    Benrinnes 20 Years Old, 1997 (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Ripe and mature oak tones kick things off, with added cedar elements, a whiff of Terre d’Hermès, vetiver, some nuts and a sweetening, honeycomb element that’s surprising for the Ben. Water brings the American oak front and centre, stirring in butterscotch and runny caramel.

    Palate

    For all of the expressiveness of the nose, this is really a palate whisky. It’s rounded and sweet to start with, before the Ben’s earthy power begins to exert itself: a light meaty element, a hint of smoke/ char, leather, calamus, liquorice and pumpernickel bread. That said, it remains soft, gentle and slightly chewy. In time, and towards the back, the nuts hinted at on the nose emerge, now more pecan-like. There is also a chewiness given by dried soft fruits. Though water softens things again, there’s a pleasing muscularity to this.

    Finish

    Light clove, black cherry, deep and spicy.

    Conclusion

    Not for the only time this week, here is a whisky with presence, and another example of how Benrinnes is one of those distilleries which seems to distil its environment – wild, windy moors, but bathed in sunlight. Recommended.

    Right place, right time

    And beauty reigns.

    Dave Broom

    Benromach 20th Anniversary Bottling

    Benromach 20th Anniversary Bottling
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    While it’s slightly closed initially, there’s a feeling of being well-covered, with an added touch of smoke (wood burner/ smouldering sandalwood incense). As it opens, the mature Sherried elements hit home first: shoe polish, roasted tea, raisin, as well with time some pea and ham soup, then more overt, thick, brown Sherry. This then steadily eases its way into peach, creamy coffee icing and and Walnut Whip, before black fruits add depth while pot-pourri and orange peel deal with the top notes. It’s not too hot, though if you want more smoke, then just add water. Balanced and complex.

    Palate

    There’s some heat in here, but though it has a chilli-like bite, it’s controlled burn and the smoke which comes over in the mid-palate is well-controlled too. As is common with Benromach, there’s an oily, older Speyside texture, with just a little tightening of tannins in the centre, balanced by dried fruit, that burst of citrus, but even at this strength it’s surprisingly easy to drink. In fact I’m not convinced that the addition of water is particularly revelatory, though it does add some vanilla pod and treacle toffee elements.

    Finish

    Walker’s Ginger Royals (chocolate-covered ginger biscuits).

    Conclusion

    Benromach is 20 years old? That makes me feel my age! It’s a distillery which needs time or active wood (here first-fill ex-Sherry and ex-Bourbon) to achieve a perfect balance and, while the smoke might be low for some, for me it shows better integration than the youngest expressions. A rightful celebration.

    Right place, right time

    Celebrate! Let the Bells Ring.

    Dave Broom

    Glen Elgin 1997, Connoisseurs Choice (Gordon & MacPhail)

    Glen Elgin 1997, Connoisseurs Choice (Gordon & MacPhail)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    A resonant mix of rich, stewed red and black fruits (hawthorn and bramble jam), overlaid with some varnish, mandarin, nutmeg, red cherry and polish. There’s light heat and slightly nutty, oxidised elements (sultana and sweet date), before dried apricot begins to emerge, adding a Cognac-esque quality. Water is needed to reveal the distillery character fully, with the rosin-like elements seen on the neat nose moving into the background and a mix of almost smoky tropical fruits beginning to emerge. In time it gets waxy and more spiced, with some orange pekoe tea elements. Fascinating.

    Palate

    Thick and layered, with an instant, full-blooded mix of balanced bitterness, roasting spices, light coffee and a fleeting touch of sage before the fruits begin to pull through, moving into sultana and orchard fruits. It pushes out in all directions: bitter, sweet, tannic, fruity and fragrant, yet somehow a balance is struck. When water is added, the red fruits re-emerge with added raspberries, a touch of marzipan (cherry stone), then clove and those tropical fruits, but always with a slight spike of heat.

    Finish

    Huge. Allspice, clove, Seville orange and a little menthol; even a charred element.

    Conclusion

    Glen Elgin turned up to 11. A first-fill Sherry cask, but it’s not a Sherried whisky as you might understand the term. Not a bad way to kick off the new-look Connoisseur’s Choice range. Available globally (bar the US).

    Right place, right time

    As necessary as Vitamin C.

    Dave Broom

    GlenAllachie 12 Years Old, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2018

    GlenAllachie 12 Years Old, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2018
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    58.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A fresh and slightly dry start with some parchment elements, and then, stealthily, a heavy floral aroma like bluebell woods begins to rise. There’s some mashed sweet potato and a whiff of almond essence and, finally, that GlenAllachie element of scented plum/ blueberry. The woodsy note continues as the sweet oak begins to finally come through, eventually becoming the dominant player. Water brings out a herbal note, while underneath there is more crème brûlée, banana and cinnamon. A grower.

    Palate

    Rounded and quite chewy, with immediate creaminess (crème caramel) and a sprinkle of hazelnut. The mid-palate has a silky, unctuous quality that seems to take a further step down into the tongue as it develops, adding in melting white chocolate, those bananas once more and some apricot. Water adds in coconut cream.

    Finish

    Cinnamon toast.

    Conclusion

    There’s great balance here, with the sweet cask elements matched by an equally sweet distillate. Worth a look.

    Right place, right time

    Cinnamon Girl.

    Dave Broom

    The Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve

    The Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Distinctly rounder and richer than The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, with a French country kitchen vibe. Hazelnut, almond and toasted French oak right at the fore, but there’s depth in swathes of cooked orchard fruit, sultanas, blackberry and a distinct pepperiness. A dusty, malty quality saunters above the lot – bready almost. The nose becomes more floral with water, and Glenlivet’s signature green apple quality pokes through.

    Palate

    There are dark fruits – berry pie filling – with sultanas, raisins, figs and orange zest, akin to a bag of dried fruit mix. Some spice builds in the middle, but is that the impact of enthusiastic French oak or a sign of zingy youthfulness? Dark chocolate nibs reveal as the spice subsides.

    Finish

    Nutty, fruity and peppery, like a youthful Shiraz.

    Conclusion

    The Captain is a fruitier, richer guise for The Glenlivet, designed to sit above Founder’s Reserve. Also no age statement, and there’s a distinct youthfulness behind the Cognac finish’s winey influence. An easy drinker.

    Right place, right time

    The Captain stares out across the Charente vineyards from the Palace balcony.

    Becky Paskin

    Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram

    Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    62.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Massively resinous, like being tangled in blackberry bushes in an old-growth forest in autumn. There’s intense spice, caramelised ginger and a heady perfume that then builds in sweet leather (shoeshine stand), before an almost meaty underpinning (pigeon in black fruits) gives even greater grunt. Finally, there’s some malt. It’s all so sweet that, amazingly, there’s no sense of its ferocious strength. Water continues in this vein, albeit with an extra wild foxiness pulling out more sap and oils.

    Palate

    That resinous element continues, with raisins and figs widening into sun-dried tomato, sweet date and Amarone. As it continues to open, so things move into the world of high-cocoa chocolate and raspberry. The tannins are supple and, while it’s punchy, it’s not unbalanced or overtly hot. The heat only comes through at the end. This slightly ludicrous impact is dulled with water, with the tannins being upped slightly and a new, earthy, cumin-accented spiciness.

    Finish

    Chocolate and dried fruits return.

    Conclusion

    A monster of a dram and at a juicy price for the quality. Seek it out. (Oh, and it’s pronounced Dal-Be-Alley, by the way.)

    Right place, right time

    Head along to your local whisky Dealer.

    Dave Broom

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