Leaving GLENDRONACH, where I risked my life for a tasting (see GLENDRONACH CASK STRENGTH BATCH 9 tasting), I couldn't go on without passing further west in Speyside in the second of the three distilleries of the BROWN FORMAN house (the colourful BENRIACH) to taste 2 of their many new exceptional distillates: the new versions of the 21 year old, THE TWENTY ONE and the 25 year old, THE TWENTY FIVE and their 4 cask blends made by RACHEL BARRIE.
I had to share the tasting with you, especially as these two distillates (and their 30 year old companion, guess what, it's called THE THIRTY) have just been awarded a gold medal (double gold at that) at the SanFrancisco World Spirit Competition in the category of single malts over 20 years old! Enough to entice us.
So when will we see these two whiskies from the sunniest distillery in Scotland?
Let's start with the valiant THE TWENTY ONE, 21 YEARS OLD (previously with or without peat under the Walker air and simply called 21 YEARS OLD).
As I said, the two old versions were deprived of the "BARRIE'S PEATED TOUCH", and were either composed of unpeated distillate only (21 years Old) or peated distillate (21 years AUTHENTICUS). The new version will change a lot of things (especially when you are called PEATDREAM)!
So here we are, now the "young old" (+20 years) is composed of both unpeated distillates and now slightly peated distillates (10/15 ppm maximum). On the other hand, its ageing remains the same as that of the old unpeated 21 years old, i.e. 21 years either in Bourbon casks (for the mellowness), sherry casks (for the sweetness), virgin oak casks (for the "pep") or Médoc red wine casks (for the apotheosis).
What about tasting it?
The whisky that flows into the glass is a beautiful dark golden colour.
When you dip your nose into the glass for the first time, it is nothing but sweetness and finesse. One can detect a very light peat which is very well integrated and brings freshness (peat with a chlorophyll air from the Highlands). The whole gives it a woody air.
On the second pass, it rounds out with sweeter notes of ripe apple and sultana.
The third passage rounds out again with a smell of white chocolate but keeps a touch of acidity with a slight lemon smell and above all the discreet return of the peat.
On the palate, it is very mellow with a taste of sultana. As the tasting path is going to be long (21 seconds minimum to take full advantage of its 21 years of ageing) we are going to discover a lot of beautiful things. The road begins with the arrival of spices, then it will go through a very furtive harshness (certainly linked to the Médoc barrel). But quickly, the mellowness returns with notes of nuts and a surprising velvet texture. This marshmallowy sensation in the mouth, which makes the distillate dense, remains throughout the end of the tasting. However, it is countered by hints of spice and light smoke at the end.
Once the 21 seconds are over, you have to swallow it anyway (but there's still some in your glass I assure you). The finish is rather short (it has given a lot in the mouth) with slightly smoky and liquorice tones. On the other hand, it leaves a mellow memory in the mouth.
As for its 25 year old elder, THE TWENTY FIVE, the story is slightly different. Ok it existed in the past in two versions (unpeated 25 years old and peated 25 years old AUTHENTICUS) but Dr Rachel BARRIE not only started from a blend of unpeated distillate (as before) but also peated this time. Moreover, the ageing is different. Previously, under the "Walker era", it had spent 25 years in a combination of bourbon and red wine casks, but it has become more complex as a blend of 4 ages.
The new 25 year old distillate is now made up of whiskies that have been aged in Bourbon casks (mellow), new oak casks (pep), Pedro Ximenes casks (sweetness), and finally Portuguese Madeira wine casks (spicy dynamism) before being blended.
In the glass, it will take on a darker colour (4 more years and two tinkling casks) turning to amber.
Its nose is more discreet than that of THE TWENTY ONE but, by insisting, it can nevertheless be surprising! The first smells that come out are those of chocolate but also of red fruits full of sun (the one of the distillery). One can anticipate a distillate with warmer features than the 21.
On the second pass, it reveals some spices and a slight smell of smoke (but more like a cold smoke of the day after a barbecue).
The third passage will be more woody and smoky than the two previous ones and will show persistent red fruit aromas (two barrels of sunny wines are better than one!).
As with the 21 year old, the journey on the palate must be long to take full advantage of all the aromas. It will start with a discharge of sugar which does not last (and is only there to prepare the taste buds) because quickly, the distillate will release its spices. If the nose was more discreet, it will turn out to be more frank and sweet than its younger brother. The presence of the spices is more pronounced, but then, in spite of everything, it will be rounded off and transformed into a soft and mellow honey. We note a small bitter passage which announces the arrival of citrus fruits and cinnamon. Let's keep it in the mouth and it will round off again to finish on notes and a texture of fudge.
Once swallowed it has a longer finish than the 21yo and will leave the taste of peat (much more discreet and even almost absent in the mouth) and warmth to the cinnamon airs.
Once the glass is emptied (and yes, it has to happen) I advise you to smell it (sometimes there are even drops left!!). It will leave more room for the barley (grown 25 years ago) and the smoke of the peat. Keep it still and after a while a dry apricot appears (as if it had been forgotten at the bottom of the glass). Keep it still and it will be adorned with prunes.
As a conclusion, these two distillates, recently awarded in San Francisco, are clearly worth the trip and despite everything, a certain expense (because if the first one doesn't exceed 200 €, you'll still have to spend more than 350 € for the second one). But at this price, you get beautiful cases (which was not the case for the old versions of the 21 years old).
It's hard to decide between the two. THE TWENTY ONE brings a very surprising texture and proves that a peated whisky can age. THE TWENTY FIVE imposes itself by a great complexity and a varied olfa-taste journey.
I leave it to you to judge.