Chieftain’s 1984 Benrinnes 26 Year Old – Review

*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Benrinnes, from the Scots Gaelic, Beinnroinn, means “promontory hill”. A rather uninspired name if you ask me, but maybe on the day it was named it was bitterly cold, wet, and windy and the group of guys out naming stuff had had enough and just said, “Fuck it, that one’s called promontory hill, let’s go home”. Sure there might have been one stickler amongst them, you know the type, that pointed out that a “promontory” is a piece of land, a headland if you will, that juts out into a body of water, and that the now-named Beinnroinn was actually nowhere near a body of water to jut out into. On cold, wet, windy days in the Scottish Highlands, guys out naming stuff have no time for such trivial semantics, so Benrinnes it is.

At the foot of Benrinnes lies the Benrinnes distillery. Now a part of Diageo’s line-up and used almost exclusively as a producer of malt for the mammoth J&B, Johnnie Walker, and Crawford’s 3-Star blends, Benrinnes has actually been in existence, more or less, since 1826. I say more or less because in 1829 it was destroyed in a flood (there’s that body of water, I guess), in 1896, it was destroyed by fire, and in 1955 it was destroyed by its owners, Dewars, in order to rebuild a more modern facility. This 26 year old, ex-sherry cask matured beauty from Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s Range was bottled (456 of ’em) at cask strength and is as always, non chill-filtered.

The Nose:  A rather subtle and complex nose that at first seems much younger than 26 years. Dark chocolate brownies. tart citrus, limes and under-ripe orange, and grape skins. Walnuts, damp leather, and fresh-cut green wood. A slight, flinty hint of almost rubbery peat in the background. A splash of water seems to add more maturity, deepening the cocoa and nutty quality.

The Palate:  A rather heavy mouthfeel with early notes of orange, burnt caramel and toasty grain. Chocolate covered cherries and baked cinnamon apple something-or-other lead to a big swell of spice and wood. Lots of cinnamon and old oak, full of tannins and rough clove. The chocolate-y sweetness carries through and is complimented nicely at the end with a wisp of greenish woodsmoke. Water really makes the palate shine, giving more depth to the sweeter notes, smoothing out the wood and spice without taking away any of the power, and boosting that little bit of smoke.

The Finish:  More toasty breadiness and baked dark chocolate dessert with that tiny bit of peat-ishness and nice longish kiss of green woodsmoke lingering on. All this is drawn out even further with water.

Thoughts:  Uh, wow…this is a crazy little whisky. At strength the nose comes across as far younger, there’s little there that would make you think this was aged for 26 years on a sherry butt. The palate does have more age appropriate moments, but it really takes a little water to open this one up and shows its true colors. It’s complex, unique and a little all over the place but not really in a negative way. This is one of those whiskies that may take you more than half the bottle to really figure it out…but it will be well worth it. Recommended.

Chieftain’s 1984 Benrinnes 26 Year Old, Speyside

58.1% ABV

Score:  86

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