Last year, I reviewed and from the storied BenRiach Distillery. Led by Dr. Rachel Barrie, the distillery introduced these two whiskies in 2021. Well, here we are in 2022, and it is time for this year’s releases.
Both pay homage to a time when The BenRiach was mothballed. While no distillation occurred, its malting floor remained active, providing peated malt to other distilleries. Today, there are only seven floor-malting distilleries left in Scotland, one of those few is still The BenRiach.
“Passed from distiller to distiller throughout the generations, the floor malting process keeps a traditional part of the whisky-making process alive with Benriach. Meanwhile Smoke Season is a special time of year in the distillery’s calendar, and these annual releases give both the whisky novice and connoisseur the opportunity to discover the uniquely rich, sweet and smoky character of our Speyside single malt. At Benriach, we never stop exploring how fruit, oak, barley and smoke aromatics intertwine and mature in our broad range of eclectic casks.” – Dr. Rachel Barrie, Master Blender
Today I’ll review these whiskies together, whereas last year, they were done separately. And, before I do that, I must thank The BenRiach for providing me samples in exchange for no-strings-attached, honest reviews. Let’s start the #DrinkCurious process with Malting Season first.
For one month each year, the crew at The BenRiach spread barley on its malting floor, oversee it while turning it by hand, and pick the “perfect” time to move it to the kiln to dry and stop the germination process.
Malting Season is distilled from 100% malted Concerto barley and aged in virgin American oak and ex-Bourbon casks. It carries no age statement, and a 48.9% ABV (96.8°) 700ml bottle has a suggested retail price of $159.99.
Appearance: A neat pour in my Glencairn glass displayed a bright golden liquid. It left a fragile rim that shed thick, slow tears.
Nose: Sweet and fruity, Malting Season offered an aroma of pineapple, citrus, apple, and malt. Peaches and cream rolled across my tongue when I drew that air into my mouth.
Palate: Malting Season’s texture was silky and coated the inside of my mouth easily. The front of my palate discovered raw honey, vanilla, and apple. I tasted orange citrus, peel, and nutmeg as it moved to my mid-palate. The back gave a sensation of toasted oak, clove, and leather.
Finish: I wondered where the peaches and cream went, and the answer was in the finish. Leather, nutmeg, and orange peel joined the show. The experience lasted for a couple of minutes.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: There’s a lot of value with Malting Season when you consider how bold the flavors are and compound that with that silky mouthfeel. There’s nothing not to like about Malting Season, although, just like last year, I would love to see this one priced about $20 or so less. Regardless, experiences are worth paying for, and I’m thrilled to crown it with my Bottle rating.
Smoke Season celebrates summertime when The BenRiach runs peated malt through its stills, as the rest of the year, all of the distillate is unpeated. While peated Scotch isn’t unheard of in the Speyside region, it is uncommon.
This whisky is intensely peated, batch distilled, and aged in a combination of first-fill Bourbon casks and heavily-charred and lightly toasted virgin American oak barrels. It weighs in at 52.8% ABV (105.6°), carries no age statement, and the suggested retail price is $79.99 for a 750ml bottle. Yes, that’s slightly larger than Malting Season.
Appearance: Served neat in my Glencairn glass, Smoke Season was a few shades darker than Malting Season. A microthin rim left wide legs and sticky droplets behind.
Nose: An enticing aroma of barbecue smoke wafted from the glass. There was also a marine quality to it, which took me aback. Pineapple, pear, and vanilla were present. The pineapple remained as I pulled the vapor into my mouth.
Palate: The mouthfeel was creamy, and there was an explosion of peat that would put many Islay malts to shame. Burnt ends, caramel, and vanilla on the front of my palate made me hungry. The middle featured cinnamon, apple, and charred oak. On the back, I tasted more charred oak, grilled pineapple, and orange peel.
Finish: A medium-long finish consisted of orange peel, vanilla, pineapple, and charred oak, which carried all the way through.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I’m a big fan of Islay Scotches, and Smoke Season can compete effortlessly with several (and win). There’s no way on the planet I would guess this was a Speyside. After jotting down my tasting notes, I read my review to see how close this year’s matched up. While the proof was the same each year, I believe this year’s release trumps the inaugural. The $20.00 I wanted from Malting Season I would happily add to Smoke Season. This one steals my Bottle rating. Cheers!
My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It
Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.