Speyside whiskies aren't exactly known for smoky qualities. These are the Scotch workhorses, the region where many newbies begin their Scotch journey. They tend to be easy drinkers, and for the most part, lack nuances that some drinkers can find off-putting. The Speyside region is known for rich, fruity flavors, little-to-no peat, and is where a majority of Scotland's distilleries are located.
The BenRiach does things differently than most Speyside distilleries. It tends to follow a more classic Highland region attributes of peated, light-bodied, and maltier. Guided by Master Blender Rachel Barrie, The BenRiach touts itself as "unconventionally Speyside."
I've decided to do a side-by-side comparison of two ten-year single malts from this distillery. The former is The Original Ten, which is the core whisky for The BenRiach, and the latter is The Smoky Ten. This is an interesting exercise because while similar in some aspects (both single malts, both aged in three types of cooperage, both aged a decade, both are naturally-colored), they also can't be any more different from one another. In a preview of an upcoming review, I'll also do the same with its twelve-year cousins.
Before I #DrinkCurious with these whiskies, I'd like to thank The BenRiach for providing me samples of The Original Ten and The Smoky Ten in exchange for no-strings-attached, honest reviews.
The Original Ten
This is the flagship whisky representing this distillery. It has matured in Bourbon, sherry, and toasted virgin oak casks. Bottled at 43% ABV (86°), you can expect to spend about $45.00, offering a low barrier of entry.
Appearance: Poured neat in my Glencairn glass, The Original Ten suggested the color of golden straw. It formed a medium ring, with medium-weight legs that fell back into the liquid sunshine.
Nose: If you were blindfolded, you'd swear you were walking through an orchard. Aromas of cherry, orange, and plum were everywhere. Honey and brine followed. When I took a whiff with my open lips, it was pure honey.
Palate: The mouthfeel was oily with a medium body. On the front, I tasted apricot, pear, and orange peel. The middle was simple with malt and honey, and the back featured oak, vanilla, and almond paste.
Finish: Out of nowhere, there was a puff of smoke, it was very slight but unmistakable. Oak, honey, clove, and pink peppercorn offered a medium-to-long finish. I was a bit taken back that my hard palate sizzled at only 86°.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: The Original Ten goes down easy while being a memorable pour. I'm assuming that while aging it picked up peat from the air, that or a small portion of the malted barley used peat in the drying process. The fact that my hard palate reacted was puzzling. In my opinion, someone new to Scotch would love this - it lacks any astringent (Band-Aid) quality. At the same time, an experienced fan of Speysides would find this a nice change of pace. Looking at the price, this seems like a no-brainer Bottle rating.
The Smoky Ten
If you assume this is simply a "smoky" version of the flagship Scotch, you'd be wrong. The three types of casks used to age The Smoky Ten are Bourbon, Jamaican rum, and toasted virgin oak. It also utilizes peated barley from the Highland region. Packaged at 46% ABV (92°), a bottle will set you back about $49.00. Considering the proof and age, that's a decent price for Scotch.
Appearance: In my Glencairn glass, The Smoky Ten gave a yellow gold appearance, like what you'd see on a nice watch. It made a thin rim, but slow, sticky, thick legs dropped back to the pool.
Nose: The peat is obvious. It isn't the same as you'd find as something from the Islay region, but it is true to its name: smoky. Once you get past it, honey, apricot, and orange marmalade gave it a sweet nose. When I took the fumes into my mouth, smoky vanilla rolled across my tongue.
Palate: The mouthfeel was medium in weight, but lacked the oiliness of The Original Ten. Similar to the nose, peat was the first sensation experienced. The front also had flavors of vanilla wafer and honey. As it worked its way past, it became malty with roasted pear and orange citrus. The back brought the peat back, along with oak, clove, and tobacco leaf.
Finish: Long and drying, The Smoky Ten had a bit of pucker power. I almost instinctively smacked my tongue against the roof of my mouth as peat, dry oak, and brine eventually yielded to black pepper.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If you've been reading my reviews for a while, you know I'm attracted to the unusual, and peated whisky out of the Speyside region is that. Peat is something I enjoy, and I realize that's not for everyone. But I'll go on out on a limb and suggest if you don't like peat (or you've never tried it), this may be a good opportunity to dip your toe in the water. The price gives a lot of bang for the buck, and it's a tasty dram. My Bottle rating is well-deserved. Cheers!
My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It