I can talk for years about the times when I missed out, however Benrinnes hasn’t been one of them.
That’s not to say I’m sitting on a bunch of bottles of Benrinnes 23 or Stronachie 1976. That said, I have been lucky enough to try them.
There was a time when Benrinnes in a sherry cask was as good as it was ever going to get. Or at least you knew they were going to be somewhat good, and we were lucky that the prices didn’t go apeshit.
We were lucky because Benrinnes in ex-Bourbon casks weren’t the bee’s knees. They were unpeated Jura (when Whyte & Mackay released it), or 43% Bowmore or Auchentoshan, or even Dalwhinnie (still waiting for a really great one there).
Now that I’ve alienated a lot of you, let me state what’s transpired since I made up this silly rule: I’ve had good ex-bourbon Benrinnes. It made me start to wonder if I missed out on some good ex-bourbon Benrinnes.
Thus to make up for it I gathered together a Justice League (the cartoon, not the terrible movie) of Benrinnes to see if I should be changing my mind even more than I did before.
So let’s see how wrong I was this time! It’s a good thing. I’ll just keep wronging through life until I don’t anymore, and then the bugs eating my ashes can get wrong DNA right into their system.
Well unless I die in the eventual climate wars, but let’s not worry about those yet and get to the whisky, shall we?
Benrinnes 18 Cadenhead Single Cask was picked out for Total Wine and then no one wrote about it at all. No one posted anything, no way to find out what it had, and it disappeared into the evening, never to be seen again.
Seriously, I can’t find a damn thing. If I didn’t have the sketchy picture from the friend who shared the sample with me then I’d assume I was bamboozled, but here we are, another single cask with zero written about it and no way to know if it was a good idea or not.
I think I found it in a link, but even the picture on Total Wine has a different abv so here we are, lost.. So based on that, maybe we’re dealing with a sherry cask, since it mentions “Fruity” in one spot?
What do I say here then? I don’t know, check out The Anxiety’s album? Decent 90s sounding rock that reminds me of Veruca Salt or early Hole (but cleaner). Cause I got nothing because everyone seemed to decide taking a picture of this whisky would end up like the first layer of Inscryption.
Enough pop culture references, let’s see how this mystery tastes, shall we?
Selected for: Total Wine
Colour: 5Y 8/6
Nose: Fuzzy peach, light brown sugar, coconut milk, faint mint, soap
Creamy, a bit of a sherry influence, some elements of fruit from the whisky. Maybe this was finished? Maybe she’s born with it? Hard to say.
Interesting tropical and stone fruit mixed with soap. Think those candles that smell so tasty but you can’t (read: shouldn’t) eat. So good candle/soap time going on here.
Don’t eat soap either.
Taste: Brown sugar, lemon curd, grassy, peach, brine
Very thick mouthfeel. Those of you in love with the sea will love it.
As for the flavour there’s a good balance of grass, citrus funk, and some fruit/salt. It’s somewhere between that course before the dessert that resets your tongue and an After Eight without the chocolate.
Finish: Mineral, mint, grapefruit, sugar syrup, peach
I gotta use more mint in my baking. This reminds me of that. Very nice flavour to it all. A summer baked dish maybe? Or a well made citrus based cocktail like a Bellini (I’m bad at cocktail, only watched the movie once). Perhaps a salty dog is more apt? Not totally something I love but it’s nice.
Conclusion: Mint forward / Citrus. We all know by now I’m eventually going to become a villain that wipes out the sun to remove citrus from the world so no reason to dwell on that.
It’s a collection of good, interesting flavours that mesh well together though never really hit insane heights. These days? You’re buying a decent age-stated whisky at full strength that tastes decent and doesn’t cost a variety of your children to buy (they stopped taking mine as legal tender).
So I’d say grab this. Seems like it’s still in stock, maybe? Hard to say, but if you find it, it’s worth grabbing, more so if you love mint.
Benrinnes 18 2000 Cadenhead Authentic Collection is a more understood Benrinnes in that I actually know what cask was used. I live in a country where the Authentic Collection is banned due to hatred of nice things so I’ve had very few, but I do love the idea: Bunch of simple text telling you everything on a cask strength, age-stated whisky.
So we have an ex-Bourbon barrel Benrinnes that is 18-years-old and comes in at a decent abv. Past me would be worried. Current me is not, because I’m in the future writing this based on the past and have mastered simple forward 1 second interval time travel. Future me is an enigma wrapped in a burrito then buried underneath a variety of ferns.
Where was I? Oh, yes, we’re tackling set beliefs that were proven potentially wrong by experience. Let’s see how this current process of testing boundaries in a healthy way goes, shall we?
Price: € 118
Bottled: November 2018
Cask type: Bourbon Barrel
Number of bottles: 150
Colour: 5Y 9/6
Nose: Guava, honey graham cracker, dandelion, mineral, sugar cookies
Tropical Benrinnes, some floral aspects, some good cereal, and some interesting cooked sugar flavour. All of this… really needs water to bring it out. This is as shy as 9th graders at their first dance.
I wish there was a bit more fruit: Water brings out more raw sugar notes and that throws off some of the mineral notes. Granted I tend to like fruit with my mineral notes, so your mileage may vary. Grassy notes take over once water is there, though there’s some floral elements to it.
Taste: Mango gummy candy, gravel, burnt sugar, lemon
Wow that’s sweet, even without the water. The acidity is welcome when it comes, but the mineral is still there and it still needs more fruit. It needs fruit like sailors need fruit.
Finish: Grassy, nectarine, mineral, floral, raspberry jam
Ever fall on a lawn that’s just been cut without a bag? That’s what the finish is, though with some extra sugar. Your family had a sugar lawn, right? Or was that just the diabetic Redpath kids down the way?
Fruitier and probably the most balanced part of the dram, even though the grass hits harder than bamboo while running through the jungle.
Conclusion: A grass-bomb that demands water. Requires water. It’s not an easy dram. This isn’t something you’ll be pouring mindlessly, or for new whisky drinkers. It’s something you pour and you have something to do for hours.
Did I like it? Kinda? It’s hard to say. There’s aspects that work nicely together. It’s not nearly as rough as other ex-bourbon Benrinnes I’ve had. It is missing fruity flavours, which usually ex-sherry Benrinnes has. So it doesn’t change my mind, but I don’t think it’s bad. So I was wrong, and also haven’t really changed too much. Yay!
I think this is too niche a whisky to be someone’s favourite. Maybe if you love mowing the grass and hard candy? Yeah, so if you’re somehow your grandfather, it’d be hard to take time to hunt it down.
Benrinnes 21 1992 Diageo Special Releases 2014 is something I’m slowly, slowly catching up on.
As most people have figured out, there’s a selection of Diageo special releases that come out each year. Some of them are completely affordable and we appreciate being able to obtain them. Some come from distilleries you don’t see too often, come in cask strength, and can be a fun exercise.
Some are priced at a level only made for our lords and ladies who own you and your family and only allow you to continue as long as you continue working hard. They require cask strength whiskies of legend, of which a drop is so filled with flavour that it would blow the mind of the landed gentry.
Or at least that’s what they want you to think (the whisky, not the lords and ladies: They own you, they don’t want you to think): What we have here is a higher proof ex-sherry cask Benrinnes that was aged for 21-years (or rather the youngest Benrinnes in the vatting is 21-years-old).
So would the flavour of this explode a serf from the middle ages? Or is this another pretty bottle, made as part of a set, built to collect dust and look nice on a shelf for the rich to measure their worth versus one another? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: £ 299
Cask type: Sherry Casks
Number of bottles: 2,892
Bottle #: 0710
Colour: 7.5YR 5/10
Nose: Smoked honey, pineapple, cardamom, vanilla, creamsicle
I’m seeing a pattern here: We have floral aspects, tropical, and some balance with some mineral flavour.
Here though we’re getting the odd amount of smoke and vanilla. I’ve read this was totally ex-European Bodega casks, so it’s an odd note to pop up with no ex-Bourbon casks to pin on it. But the floral aspects of Benrinnes and the sweet aspects of the sherry could do it. Or I’m wrong, that’s always an option.
Taste: Peanut brittle, pineapple, brine, cloves, cotton
Nutty and sweet, tropical fruit, some of the typical brine, and just enough floral and spice around the edges to balance it out.
When I discuss good and bad sherry casks, I sometimes worry that I’m being overly negative or that the old style of sherry casks are gone for good. Then I have a whisky like this where you can still taste the different flavours of the whisky itself mixed with spice or fruit or acidity of the sherry, and differentiate them.
Finish: Heather, almond, daisy, cocoa, plum, cotton
Floral, nutty, well balanced, and a rich plum note to round it all out. If the taste was a good dessert and the nose was proof that you, like me, should enjoy eating flowers, then the finish is a cavalcade of interesting flavours. I wish it was a bit more integrated.
Conclusion: Nutty, floral, and balanced. Well put together. If you, again like me, were lucky enough to have tried the last hyped special edition (Benrinnes 23) then you may find it a bit less enticing than the 23. However the 23 is gone and those days are long gone. Like fully stocked shelves and a healthy middle class it’s a thing of the past.
Granted this whisky is 5-years-old and not quite as great as a previous Benrinnes while being more expensive, so perhaps I should watch what I call extinct. As it stands this whisky would be a fine one to break out for anything: It’s balanced. It’s tasty. It’s an ex-Sherry Benrinnes and it fits my old bias to a T.
If you find a chance to try it, then it’s a given, you should try it. Good sherry casks are dodo meat these days, and this one uses them perfectly.
Thanks to Dramfine for this sample.
Benrinnes 22 1974 Adelphi is like the above, except it was bottled the year the one above it was distilled, costs more, is roughly the same age, and comes from an independent bottler.
Faithful readers will note I typically lean towards independently bottled whiskies as I can usually afford them, they come in cask strength, have some variability, and allows you to try more than just the odd special edition / distillery release / OB lineup release.
That said I typically don’t end up with a whisky from the 1970s, bottled at a time when I was still figuring out how my body worked (and where all this hair was coming from).
Cask strength, epic whisky, or something Adelphi released and forgot? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: £ 490
Cask type: Oak
Colour: 5Y 8/6
Nose: Spiced pear, butter, roast chestnuts, pot pourri
Bit shy at first, though the spice and roast chestnuts give you winter vibes. It also does something interesting: It makes me wonder what cask was used, and ultimately not give a shit anymore. Spice? Maybe sherry. Roast chestnuts? Maybe sherry. No strong red fruits? Maybe not sherry.
Or perhaps I’ve gotten used to the ex-vinegar casks that we sometimes have, and I’ve forgotten what a good sherry cask is. Who cares, winter vibes and a strong floral backbone. I’m good.
Taste: Pear, cloves, floral, cashew butter, mango cake
If the taste was what happens when you take the time to properly cook pear with spices, roast chestnuts slowly, and make pot-pourri from good flowers.
The taste is when you don’t have the time to do it so you rush a tad. It’s still nice: But it comes from a box (or you only had a few minutes to shove the cloves in a pear).
Finish: Candied lemon, papaya, freshly cut pine, vanilla ice cream, charred orange
Long finish. Very long.
So the nose is shy but has some work in it, right? And the taste is you trying but it’s your first time, right? Well the finish is when you get it. You get why this is expensive. You get why 1970s whiskies taste better. It’s filled with strong, flavourful notes. It’s a mixture of citrus, tropical notes, and cream. It’s flavourful.
Conclusion: Unique, flavourful. Takes a bit of time to get going. Once it does? You’re not leaving this on a shelf, you’re not picking up if it’s ex-bourbon or ex-sherry, you’re just seeing what Benrinnes should be and then loving it.
It’s odd because the elements are very similar to other Benrinnes in this review: There’s still some floral elements, the mineral/bitter elements, and the sweet tropical portion. I’m used to trying whiskies from different decades and finding new elements, different aspects, etc.
Instead here I just found that it was a very good version of the whisky. I didn’t love the taste as much, and if that had been better it would have easily beaten out the previous versions.
So yeah, gotta try more 1970s Benrinnes, if only for science.
Benrinnes SMWS 36.171 “A smooth ride” is my court mandated requirement to pick on SMWS until they finally agree they’ve fucked themselves and not in that good Onlyfans way.
This is a 2nd Fill Barrel 22-year-old Benrinnes that was released for Speyside Festival 2020. Which brings up a lot of questions:
When did SMWS just stop saying what the cask was? Sweet merciful fuck people, the whisky is only from 1997, couldn’t someone had written down where the whisky came from? Sure, the one above this review was the same way, but that’s from 1974 when everyone was required to be on every single drug possible. They get a pass, you were avoiding shitty nu-metal songs, it’s not the same.
Also before it’s brought up: Yes, there’s one website that I can find states it’s an ex-bourbon barrel. In theory that makes sense, as a lot of companies will write “barrel” when they mean ex-bourbon. However previous SMWS actually say ex-bourbon, so should I assume it’s ex-bourbon? Also it falls under the “Fruity” flavour profile, which leads me to think it could still be ex-sherry. Come on SMWS, I used to at least rely on you to give me the cask specifics.
Is it going to be as good as the Bunnahabhain released for Feis Ile? When you read about something being released for a whisky festival you have to wonder if it’s good, and it comes with a level of hype.
Finally given the above, the general love of 20-something Benrinnes, how was I able to obtain a sample? I get it: I’m a tad connected with other whisky nerds. But this is the kind of whisky that lives in auction houses and may as well be artwork stolen by Nazis for it’s accesibility.
Nonetheless here we are. I’m getting ahead of myself. I mentioned the Islay Feis Ile Festival release, and frankly it was very tasty. None of this is personal: I am not here to make friends with IBs. If they make a good product, I’ll pay for it and drink it and review it well. If it sucks, it sucks and I’ll write about it.
So which is it? Let’s see, shall we?
Vintage: August 15, 1997
Stated Age: 22-years-old
Cask type: 2nd Fill Barrel (One website said Bourbon Barrel, however the official SMWS only said “barrel”)
Number of bottles: 144
Bottled for: Speyside Festival 2020
Colour: 2.5Y 8/6
Nose: Sunflower, brown sugar, fake flower chemical, orange wood polish
Interesting floral, brown sugar note. Again, we’re getting used to this as part of that. It’s part of the idea.
Secondly I can see where someone may think it’s ex-bourbon: No spice, no Xmas (don’t @ me Fox), and more of the distillery profile.
The floral here goes in an odd chemical direction though. It’s a bit much, and it’s hard to get around that note. Not a total “stop bringing this near face” reaction but it’s dancing close.
Taste: Nerds, strawberry marshmallow, asparagus, caramel
Holy sweets. Given the sheer amount of strawberry, sugar, earth, and sugar I can’t say anymore that I believe this is ex-bourbon.
Also: What candy store did you rob to make this? As someone who eats sugar like it’s full of cocaine I can tell you it’s a lot, and way too much. As someone who once ate 9 crême caramels in a row, please understand I’m talking about enough sugar to reignite the 18th century West Indies war between England and France.
Finish: Marshmallow, Meyer lemon, black licorice, orange Madeleine, dust
More sugar, somehow. Only thing trying to keep it back and not integrate and therefore help the sugar is a dusty, musty note. Which isn’t helping, it’s just distracting you a tad.
It tries to be spicy, acidic, and tasty, but Jesus christ the sugar takes over.
Conclusion: Way too sweet, which I never thought I’d ever write. Ever. In my life. I could be blind, still asking for a dark chocolate bar, and being told that my body is evaporating insulin and I don’t think I’ve ever written it.
You learn new things when you give SMWS an inch. This should be better. It has elements that were interesting, but holy hell it’s too sweet. It’s just ruined. They needed to put it into a Splenda cask or something. I wouldn’t buy this, and if I was the Speyside Festival I’d be debating if SMWS was allowed back.
Benrinnes 23 1997 Hunter Laing Old Malt Cask is an important life lesson. Not really, it’s another whisky, but stay with me here.
Every person works to the best of their ability. Some people just suck. I had bosses that sent me things that had been sitting in their email for a week telling me it was urgent. They sucked at communication, but at least they sent me the email to eventually get it done. That’s the best they could do. It’s not their fault the company was paying lots of money for a terrible executive.
So without getting ahead of myself too much, this is a single cask, 23-year-old refill hogshead Benrinnes. That, in and of itself, leaves you to pause a second, because of the sheer amount of people who loved the Diageo special release of 23-year-old Benrinnes. Anything close to it should perk your ears like a deer when they catch a flash of orange in the distance.
That said, this didn’t cost the same as the aforementioned “legendary” release. Why was that? Let’s see, shall we?
Vintage: June 1997
Bottled: March 2021
Cask Type: Refill Hogshead
Cask number HL 18003
Number of bottles: 89
Bottled for K&L Wine Merchants
Colour: 2.5Y 8/10
Nose: Fuzzy peach (soft candy), anise, bar peanuts, strawberry, papaya
Sweet and nutty nose, though really candy and cheap feeling. Lots of fruit, not much balance, and based on the previous Benrinnes’ in this review I’d say the cask is probably a sherry cask and wow it’s taken over given the fruit notes, lack of floral elements, and very sweet elements.
That said, it’s still an interesting nose, in that I’m not turned off by it, but again: I have a sweet tooth. Just the one, all the others fell out due to the amount of sugar I have eaten.
Taste: Strawberry, nectarine, almond, cinnamon/cloves
Sweet fruity, probably overly sherried and at least there’s some stone fruit and spice there to remind you of Benrinnes. It’s not as complex as the nose. If anything it’s just nice.
There’s a chance this wasn’t ex-Sherry: It doesn’t say Sherry on the bottle, leaving the word sherry off a bottle usually means that it’s ex-bourbon, and these fruity elements could have come from the spirit itself. That said, given the amount of nutty, fruity, and spice notes, I’m going to make (the potentially false) assumption that it was in a sherry cask. Feel free to prove me wrong, and I welcome any comments against this assumption.
Finish: Cloves, dry apple, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon
Alright, very dry finish, and actually interesting for the first time. Takes time to break out the different spices. Less fruit, less sweet, thus making it drinkable.
Not a bad finish, per say, just again not really living up to other Benrinnes 23 I have had.
Conclusion: Very dry, and the (assumed) sherry cask is of questionable quality, however picked to maximise what they could out of it, so overall not bad. I think this is the best case scenario for this one. Given the low amount of bottles, the still high abv., and the sherry domination (in a not great way) left Benrinnes, then Hunter Laing, with a whisky that was a bit long in the tooth.
That said they didn’t sell it like it was. And while price does not impact my review score, I appreciate that, separate from the review.
So what did we end up with here? We ended up with a very meh sherry cask that feels like it took over a lighter whisky and didn’t end up like people would have hoped. However we also have something that’s alright to sip on and has an interesting nose and finish. This is an easy buy for that reason. Is it an easy auction buy? No, not at all, it’s a whisky that’s meant to be out, drunk, and gone, and that’s fine.
So on the offside chance the store still has these (doubtful), grab a bottle. Otherwise learn that you can try really hard, and even if things don’t turn out perfect, they can still turn out well enough (that’d be the life lesson).
Benrinnes 23 1995 Cadenhead Small Batch is one of those whiskies that make me pause, and for good reason:
On the one hand, I started out saying I avoid Benrinnes in ex-bourbon casks. I’ve had more misses than hits.
On the other hand (Mrs. Stranger to you), that’s a bias that could cut me off from good whiskies. Something I learned from trying an ex-Bourbon Benrinnes from none other than Cadenhead themselves.
And what do we have here? A Cadenhead picked and vatted Benrinnes that was made up of 3 ex-Bourbon Hogsheads, released under a favourite (now gone) label of Small Batch, all at cask strength. This could be what I’m looking for to really change my mind.
Did it? Let’s find out, shall we?
Price: € 126
Bottled: March 2019
Cask types: Made up of 3 ex-Bourbon Hogsheads
Number of bottles: 708
Colour: 2.5Y 7/8
Nose: Apple, floral, orange varnish, cardamom
Fruity, and then this strong chemical note. It’s very shy at first, then it’s all fruit and more fruit with some floral/spice at the side.
Water brings out the spice, and it’s needed. As it stands? Not doing too much, just okay.
Taste: Nectarine, mineral, floral, mint
More stone fruit, mineral, and floral aspect. The more I have this whisky, the more I compare it to the one above, and feel better about guessing about the sherry influence above.
This is more of the standard notes that Benrinnes has. Sadly it’s just those, with little else coming from it. You’re not going to get big mint energy from it. Just medium mint energy, like an After Eight that is having self-confidence issues and keeps comparing itself to Trebor mints, which it shouldn’t but no one has ever taught it good boundaries and that’s where it’s demons lay now.
Finish: Basil, vanilla, orange, ginger
Herbal, some nice heat, orange, and one of the casks (at least) decided to show up and add something.
It’s like a gas station dessert at this point. The flavours are muted, but they are there, and it’s fine. Maybe more like a British coffee shop dessert, now that I think about it.
Conclusion: Just an okay whisky. I don’t think you’d be annoyed at buying this if you knew what Benrinnes does. It reminds me of a slightly better Lowland whisky. Or perhaps you want something to start off the dinner that won’t impact the rest of it.
As a 23-year-old Benrinnes, it’s hard to reconcile the lack of complexity with the quality of the dram. It’s fine to just have a dram at a bar, and I think that’s where I’d recommend trying it before buying it (after the pandemic is over, so a few years from writing this probably).
Did it change my mind on ex-Bourbon Benrinnes? Not at all, if anything, it reinforced the narrative, which is too bad. Oh well, guess I’ll have to keep trying more to change my mind. What a rough life (this is sarcasm).
Scotch review #1486-92, Speyside review #418-24, Whisky Network review #2191-7