Benriach The Sixteen: Storied Speyside Single Malt Returns
This resurrection is the first step in rebuilding one of the finest whisky brands in Scotland.
Benriach is not a new name in the whisky world. The distillery first fired up its pear-shaped copper pot stills back in 1898, when founder John Duff built it in the rugged beauty outside Elgin, Scotland, just a few miles from the North Sea. The years since have been anything but smooth sailing, with the brand passing through the hands of some of the biggest names in whisky—including Glenlivet, Seagrams, Pernod Ricard, and a consortium that included Billy Walker, until finally ending up in the hands of Brown-Forman (the company behind Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and many others) in 2016. Since then, the brand has continued to grow, most recently bringing back The Sixteen to its core lineup.
Just before The Sixteen was discontinued, it won “Best Speyside Single Malt” at the World Whisky Awards in 2015, which means this new update has some serious shoes to fill. The good news is, it does. For many Speyside whiskies, that point between 15 and 17 years old “can be a sweet spot between cask influence and spirit maturity,” explains Benriach global brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan. That’s certainly the case for this new bottling.
Related: Experts Explain What Makes the World’s Best Single Malt Scotch (and What to Look for When Buying)
What is Speyside Whisky?
Speyside whiskies—single malt Scotch whiskies distilled in the area around the River Spey in northeastern Scotland—are generally known for their fruity characteristics, which remains true for Benriach. “The pear-shaped nature of the still offers low reflux and a high rate of copper contact, providing us with a medium-bodied spirit that enhances the fresh, fruity character of the house style,” says Buchanan.
Known for its long-standing tradition of distilling classic, peated, and triple-distilled whisky and a vast eclectic cask inventory sourced from around the world, Benriach manages to take those usual Speyside flavors and add a bit of variety and fire to them.
Related: The Best Ultra-aged Single Malts to Drink Now
Benriach The Sixteen Tasting Notes
In The Sixteen, Benriach introduced a touch of peated whisky into the unpeated spirit—an addition that works particularly well with its exceptionally long middle cut that allows the distillery to collect all the flavors the whisky presents. While most middle cuts are particularly precise, running for around 15 minutes, Benriach’s run anywhere from an hour and a half to almost two hours.
The first flavors that arrive off the still at Benriach are citrus notes, most notably lemon and even some lime. Next in the middle of the spirit run, we find those classic orchard fruit notes—apples and pears. Deeper into the spirit run, we get rich barley sugars and those peated smoky notes.
Benriach The Sixteen’s Aging Process
To craft The Sixteen, the spirit is then three cask-matured for at least 16 years in bourbon barrels, sherry casks, and virgin oak casks. The distillery gets its bespoke virgin oak barrels straight from coopers at Brown-Forman’s cooperages in Kentucky and Alabama, a rarity in the single malt scotch whisky industry as these virgin oak casks are difficult to come by and mainly reserved for making bourbon.
After 16 years spent in these various casks, the fruity character of the house style meshes perfectly with the hints of heathery Highland peat. On the nose, baked apple and creamy hazelnut malt aromas blend with overtones of ginger-spiced apricot, honey, and distant campfire. The palate finds spiced stewed apple, stone fruit, and mellow nutty oak, with honeyed malt and candied peel. For Buchanan, the whisky isn’t like anything else currently on the market and shares more in common with Speyside single malts found in the 1970s and 1980s than it does with today’s bottlings.
Related: One of the Oldest Bourbon Releases Ever Just Nabbed $18,000 at Auction
“The return of Benriach The Sixteen is a very special moment for the distillery, as it’s one of our most treasured expressions,” says Benriach master blender Rachel Barrie. “Our signature Speyside style blossoms at 10 years old, finding depth and richer layers of orchard fruit character as it turns 16. Our core flavor components of fruit, malt, and oak become more concentrated, enriched with age at 16 years old, bringing layers of stone fruit, smooth creamy malt, wild honey, and nutty oak spice.”
You gotta respect the revival.[$115; benriachdistillery.com]
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