And if for this tasting we made a small course of modern history in search of certain references of the BENRIACH distillery in links with the various owners of the distillery?
This should allow us to understand the genesis of the latest creation of Dr. Rachel BARRIE and to taste the new THE SIXTEEN.
As you may know, since 1898 and its creation by John Duff, the BENRIACH distillery has had periods of activity and inactivity, going from being a duplicate of the Longmorn distillery (next door) in its early days, to a beautiful sleepy place until the middle of the 20th century.
It has also known many owners such as Longmorn (who bought it to close it for 60 years), The Glenlivet Distillers (who rebuilt it in the 60's), Seagram (who developed its production capacity in the 80's and created the first 10 year old) and finally Chivas Brothers (who shut it down again) in the 90's! In short, not a long quiet river.
The period that will interest us today, to discover the new 16 years old, begins with a new takeover in 2004 by the team of Billy Walker (accompanied by two partners).
It is indeed him who, already benefiting from consequent stocks, will launch the first version of a 16 years old distillate.
He played the card of "simplicity" with an aging in first fill bourbon barrels.
This distillate presented a mixture of honeyed, vanilla, floral and even woody aromas. But a simplicity had nevertheless conquered the juries of numerous competitions during several years.
Then Billy Walker tended (as he knows how to do) to be prolix in his 16 years of age. His creations already foreshadowed Sir Walker's propensity to use wine barrel aging.
In 2008, BENRIACH proposed a second version of the 16 year old with a finish in Sauternes casks. For this purpose, it is no more and no less than barrels of Chateau d'Yquem that have been chosen to finish the 16 years of aging of the distillate.
The distillate was then adorned with notes of nuts, orchard fruits, vanilla and cookie.
We were able to discover a barrel-aged version of Claret (a little-known Bordeaux grape variety but highly developed in Great Britain) in 2010, with fruity and vanilla aromas.
In the meantime, in 2007, the distillery had even produced a "very" limited series of less than 200 bottles of a mysterious 16 year old Cape Of Storm destined for South Africa for the establishment of the brand in the African country.
For the little history of the trade with South Africa, the whisky barrels were sent as ballast in the trade ships that went around the Cape. The ships would then return years later to the UK, where the casks were removed, the whisky matured and was influenced by the wood, the ship, the sea, movement and time.
Les productions de l'équipe Walker pour ce qui est des version 16 ans d'age, s'est terminée en 2015 avec la mise en vente d'une version vieillie en fût de Xérès mi-Oloroso mi-PX pour 40 % et fût de bourbon pour le reste.
Il s'est ainsi fait plus gourmand et crémeux, mielleux faisant ressortir des épices et de la vanille.
The following year of this last version, the Walker team took its leave (leaving for new lands not very far away - Glenallachie to name but one -) and the distillery was once again bought by the BROWN FORMAN Group.
And it is especially in this year 2016 that the nose of the distillery has been feminized through the arrival of RACHEL BARRIE. It is this same year that the last version of the 16 year old distillate was mothballed until today.
All this brings us to 2023 and the rebirth of this reference.
Doctor RACHEL BARRIE is one of the most perfectionist but she also does not hesitate to pay tribute to what is good. This is certainly why for this resurrection of the 16 year old Benriach (as she already did to revive the 15 year old GLENDRONACH), she turned to an electrolyte blend.
In fact, in the distillery's cellars, where there are many (many) casks, she went to look for a distillate aged in bourbon casks (for a honeyed side), which she then married with an Oloroso sherry cask (for its fruity and spicy side) and to which she finally added a touch of new oak cask (to give it the pep's of the wood)!
The aging "Three Cask Matured" as it is noted on the bottle, gives to this whisky a beautiful gold-bronze color.
When approaching the glass, the atmosphere, slightly woody, will become more and more sweet as the nose progresses.
Moreover, when the nose enters the glass for the first time, it discovers sweet notes of baked apple and caramelized in the fireplace. We could almost find some very light peaty notes. By insisting it will deliver spices.
In the second passage, the sweet notes leave place to more woody notes and especially to more present spices (a point of ginger). This second passage is nevertheless softer and mellower than the first one and gives it a pastry air.
The third passage is fresher and delivers a mixture of malted barley with some light peaty breads and lemony notes.
Moreover in the hollow of the hand, we will find the sweetness of hay and carpet in the background some peaty scents.
On the palate, it is woody, has a taste of baked apple and is slightly fresh. The spices are quite discreet and quickly give way to honeyed notes.
A little later, it will release some surprising red fruits (we are more used to having them before the honeyed notes) and new spices more woody (cloves). Overall, it is quite sweet.
Towards the end of the tasting there is a slight return of spice and wood with notes of cask. It finishes very smoothly, but leaves a hint of rancio before descending into the throat.
On the way down, more pronounced woody notes come to the fore. The palate keeps a velvety feel, while notes of liquorice stick and roasting are more present in the throat.
The finish is not very long on a big flavour but some woody notes persist in the throat.
The empty glass reveals barley notes like a newcomer, but also a light apple aroma.
On the whole, we can say that BENRIACH succeeded in filling the "age gap" that existed between "Twelve" and "Twenty One" and in making the phoenix rise from its ashes (from its barrels rather).
After having succeeded with GLENDRONACH's 15 years old, and thus BENRIACH's SIXTEEN, we're eagerly awaiting the announced rebirth of the North Sea phoenix GLENGLASSAUGH (announced shortly!).