Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the BenRiach Distillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
BenRiach Distillery enjoys the status of being one of the oldest standing Scottish distilleries, despite long periods of being non-operational. The newest ownership of Brown-Forman and the direction of Master Blender Rachel Barrie is building upon this legacy, and creating its own signature marks. A few distinctions that mark BenRiach’s whisky are their in-house floor maltings, three styles, and eclectic cask maturation.
These newly re-crafted expressions, along with The Thirty (reviewed here), really highlight that eclectic cask maturation. The Twenty One sees time in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, virgin oak and Bordeaux wine casks. The Twenty Five spends its life in the first three as well, but swaps out the Bordeaux for Madeira. Both expressions also employ the use of peated malt in addition to the standard majority of unpeated – another common practice for BenRiach.
Bourbon and sherry are the most common Scotch whisky finishes. Here together they set up the foundations for the full spirit – bourbon with its sweetness, sherry with its dried fruit and spice. The virgin oak is a bit more of an outlier. All whiskies are strongly affected by the flavors of the cask, and virgin oak can push Scotch whisky, which is typically matured in used casks, to the point of oaky harshness, or even astringency.
The real standout casks here are the Bordeaux and the Madeira, both present in the world of Scotch but used markedly less – not least because of the higher costs associated with procuring them. The Bordeaux seems to bring more of a drying presence than a punch of flavor, while the Madeira is the complete opposite, bursting with juicy peach notes.
Along with The Thirty, this range presents an older range of core expressions for BenRiach. According to a statement from Barrie, this range is “an opportunity to experience the diversity and versatility of Benriach’s orchard fruit-laden style, elevated by a longer maturation time.” Barrie goes on to call the range “beautiful reflection of the landscape around the distillery” – a landscape that fans can see for themselves when the distillery opens for tours later this year.
Benriach 21, 25 and 30 year old (image via Benriach)
Tasting Notes: BenRiach The Twenty One Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Vital Stats: 46% ABV, 92 proof, 21 years old, 100% malted barley. Aged in four casks: ex-bourbon, sherry, virgin oak, Bordeaux. Suggested retail price of 750ml is $139
Appearance: Light, honeyed gold, with the brightness of sparkling apple cider
Nose: Peat smoke hits you in the face and remains throughout, with some mellowing into hints of fresh apple and fruit leather
Palate: Light and bright, without any viscosity in texture. The smoke from the nose is much more approachable on the palate, with cereal grains leading the way. Buttered toast comes up mid-palate, with more of the peat smoke coming through as the sip goes on. A touch of dark chocolate hits on the back palate.
Tasting Notes: BenRiach The Twenty Five Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Vital Stats: 46% ABV, 92 proof, 25 years old, 100% malted barley, Aged in four casks: ex-bourbon, sherry, virgin oak, Madeira, 750ml $444
Appearance: Similar to The Twenty One, with more of a red hue. Think apple juice as opposed to apple cider
Nose: Stronger than The Twenty One, with only a suggestion of peat. Slightly cloying musk leads into very fragrant suede leather
Palate: A heavier taste, with a heavier texture as well. More smoke comes through here, but with a lighter and more floral taste to it. Some complex vegetation, slightly bitter but extremely flavorful, leads into a warmer, spicier ending like peach pie. Notes of dried apricot send off the long finish.
The Takeaway: The differences in age and finish really make themselves known in these two expressions. However, their shared origin is detectable also.The Twenty One is well-crafted and distinct, and the price point is very reasonable, but is not exactly a stand-out for a Scotch of its age. The high-octane sort of smoke flavor was a little too heavy-handed for my taste. The Twenty Five, in contrast, comes through. I found it to have flavors that were simultaneously reliably familiar and beloved, and quite unique for Scotch.
Talia is part of the Portland service industry community, and an alumna of the Multnomah Whiskey Library. She’s an avid spirit and cocktail enthusiast, and likes to experience them both academically and recreationally. When not sipping whiskey she’s a ceramic artist and lover of travel.