In the world of Scotch whisky, the Gaelic word and occasional prefix ben means, simply enough, “mountain” or “hill”. There are several “bens” amongst Scottish distilleries: Ben Nevis, Benrinnes, and Benromach are all currently pumping out the sauce today, while Ben Wyvis went the way of the Dodo in 1977. Located in the northern reaches of Speyside, BenRiach is yet another functioning “ben”. In this case, the riach part of the name means “greyish” or “brindled”, probably originally referring to hair, but here describing the ben. So there we have it, BenRiach – a grayish hill. Not the most evocative sounding name in English, it definitely looks better in Gaelic, and looks really good on the side of a bottle.
This bottling, from Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s Range was distilled in 1995 and aged for 17 years in…most likely a ex-bourbon cask with an unspecified amount of time finishing in an ex-rum cask. Like all expressions in this range, this one has not been chill-filtered nor has there been any artificial coloring added.
The Nose: Quite sweet and initially a little delicate with brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar, bruised apples and orange-flavored jelly candy. Stewed raisins and crème brûlée follow with nice sweetened malt notes. Not much wood influence for 17 years, dry, sawn oak, soft cinnamon stick, and vanilla extract. Subtle notes of floral blossom honey linger in the background.
The Palate: A zippy, almost effervescent entry that is at first very, very sweet, almost cola sweet, with candied orange, vanilla syrup, and caramelized sugar. More honey-tinged malt notes barely emerge before a lively wave of woodspice is introduced. Hot cinnamon red hot candies, candied clove, and vanilla bean along with lesser tones of fresh-cut, green, oak.
The Finish: Medium-ish. Still quite sweet, but with a lot of drying woodspice, hot cinnamon and sweet clove.
Thoughts: Quite a contrast between between the demure, sweet nose and the spicy, racy palate. The unifying factor is the sweetness which is so prevalent throughout the dram. There was a youthful heat here, especially on the palate, that belied its 17 years and seemed to try and compensate for its relative lack of complexity. Rum finishes tend to not be my favorite, there’s a additional empty sugar sweetness that doesn’t do a whole lot for me, and this one was no exception. I think that sweetness ended up covering up some of the BenRiach character and the lighter floral notes that barely peaked through on the nose. An enjoyable whisky to be sure, but the early sweetness and nearly over-the-top spice towards the end threw it out of balance a bit for me. Definitely interesting for BenRiach and rum finish fans.
Chieftains 1995 BenRiach 17 Year Old Rum Cask Finish, Speyside, IB, +/-2012