Benriach, 24 Years Old, 1997, 59.4% abv, bottled by Malt, Grain & Cane
We continue with our flight of whiskies from Singaporean independent bottler, Malt, Grain & Cane (MGC), whose goal is to bring in to Asia good quality spirits straight from Scotland. Something we can all get behind!
To round off our trio of tastings from Malt, Grain & Cane (MGC)’s inaugural whisky releases, we have here another Highland malt, a 24 Year Old Benriach, 1997 vintage. To be extra precise it is in the sub-region of Speyside which falls within the greater Highland region.
Benriach, 24 Years Old, 1997, 59.4% abv, bottled by Malt, Grain & Cane
That said, I find that when it comes to Benriach, it helps to think of them more as a Highland malt. This is because unlike its Speyside brethren, Benriach actually does a peated style whisky from time to time. Also, you’ll find that Benriach features a more herbal trait, something closer to heather or Manuka honey. But that said, it has all the best parts of the Speyside, the richness, the ripened orchard fruits, the sweetness; it’s really a get two for the price of one whisky. It is too multi-faceted a whisky that refuses to be bucketed singularly into either region’s categories.
The woman behind Benriach's recent revival success. (Image Source: Wall Street Journal)
As a century old distillery, Benriach most recently underwent a full brand facelift under the supervision of Master Distiller Rachel Barrie. It has been successful to say the least, sharpening the core range with occasional small batch releases that spotlights some of the unique traditions of the distillery.
Though the thing with such rebranding exercises is that there’s always a lingering curiosity to find out how things were like, how the whisky tasted like, before the whole makeover. If you’re curious, well, this is your chance to find out. We’ve got on our hands a 24 Year Old Benriach of the 1997 vintage so well before all of the pizazz. Here goes…
Rich and Round
Note: We have assigned every bottle we review to one of five Flavour Camps, based on the most dominant flavours found. The Flavour Camps are : (1) Fragrant and Floral, (2) Fruity and Spicy, (3) Malty and Dry, (4) Rich and Round and (5) Smokey and Peaty. To learn more about each Flavour Camp, please click here.
Colour. A reddish copper, actually reminds me alittle of sesame oil.
On the nose. A honeyed floral aroma, with a good viscosity to it, like that of nectar; the smell of gardenias, magnolias and lilacs in full bloom. There’s also the thick scent of ripe orchard fruits, apples, cherries, plums. There’s a lot of ripeness to it, it’s almost as if these florals and fruits are at peak harvest season, fully saturated with saccharine perfumery.
There’s a smooth swirl of herbaceousness to it that is bringing back the brewed chrysanthemum tea, but here it’s sweeter, so you could well imagine a good spoonful of honey stirred in.
Light, honeyed floral notes, as if I was walking through a botanic garden, a scent that is hard to turn away from. (Image Source: Britannica)
Underlying that are some deeper, firmer notes. I get honeyed Graham crackers and a freshly baked sourdough pulled apart. Together, there’s a cohesiveness where they meld to somewhere closer to a baked apple tart, with a light dusting of powdered sugar, or a pain aux raisin.
The aroma of warm freshly baked raisin swirls are rich, buttery, with a tang of fruit, like walking past a bakery. (Image Source: Cookido)
The palate. A good creamy, heavy hitter. The texture is what stands out at first, it’s smooth but also has an oiliness to it that is almost chewy. Again, ample honey, but of the eucalyptus variety, with a deep yet subtle herbal character. It’s leafy but not to the point of bitterness. This goes well with the thick viscosity merges the sweet and herbal flavors cohesively.
This is comparable to gui ling gao (translated as Tortoise jelly, as it is mythicised to contain grounded Tortoise shells), a traditional Chinese dessert, made of herbal grass jelly and layered over with a pour of honey. Perhaps like the dessert, this whisky will too embody the same healing qualities of cooling down one’s body?
This herbal jelly is typically coated with a layer of honey sauce and eaten on warm days to cool one's body down. (Image Source: Hock Hua Tonic)
There are some stewed apples here, some dried mangoes as well, where they’ve been well cooked or dried, almost to a reduction, bring out the deep fruit notes but keeping them mellowed as well.
I’m curious if this malt will open up more with water. Adding some drops of water, it does actually open up and release lighter malt and vanilla flavors. It is also more mentholated and sweeter, much less syrupy and rich. I think adding some water was a good call.
A sweet, rich and malty dessert closes out the finish with a serving of peaces, cream and honey over a scone. (Image Source: Fine Cooking)
Finish. Long, warming, still refreshing, like having chewed on some spearmint gum. The herbal eucalyptus notes still linger and does get alittle more pronounced. Still holds its character well, with a good serving of malt, honey, and even some peaches and cream.
This is a well-aged whisky and it certainly shows. The flavors are mellowed out and harmoniously integrated to a very rich and round whisky. It’s sweet, herbal, malty and fruity all in a syrupy creaminess. This takes time to unpack, the notes are front and center but at the same time are deeper and more subtle, again the age is probably the culprit. It’s a dram worth appreciating and sitting with a good friend and shared over some quality conversations.
A nice cozy lounge or roadside chowing on some Bun Cha sat on tin chairs and aluminium fold tables. You pick. (Image Source: The Hungry Lobbyist)
Y’know what else would go with this eclectic mix of flavors – bun cha, Vietnamese grilled pork serve with rice noodles and a dipping sauce of fish sauce, bird’s eye chilli, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice and garlic. It is locally called the "everything sauce".
The sweet honey goes perfect with the grilled pork, and at the same time the herbal notes blend well with the perilla and mint served on the side, the malty flavors complement the delicate rich noodles dipped in fish sauce. Bun cha is beloved for being rich and filling, yet light and refreshing – much like this whisky I’d say.
This was a really good all-rounded malt, very robust, and versatile, it gets a globe.
The eclectic mix of flavors would be a great pairing with some Bun Cha.
Again, I find that MGC has a remarkable ability to select whiskies that somehow feel “Asian” and speak to desserts and foods and beverages that litter my childhood. It is almost like a blast from the past of sorts. Rightly so I suppose, the whisky and I are not too far off in age. Perhaps its bottled a little fragment of my childhood. A really solid selection. Off to a good start MGC, we’ll be looking out for more.
Whether you're feeling a nice cozy lounge with a good conversation or perhaps feeling emboldened to take the streets at your favorite Vietnamese joint, you can still get this bottle at Malt, Grain & Cane.
Alternatively, find them at one of MGC's partners, LMDW, Auld Alliance, The Single Cask, Swan Song, Limehouse Asia, Cafe Gavroche (all based in Singapore), or Miles Whisky Bar (Indonesia) and Rudder (Japan).
Of course be sure to follow MGC on Instagram and Facebook (@MaltGrainCane) or follow Marcus himself @HampdenPirate.
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