By Richard Thomas
As this is The Whiskey Reviewer’s first look at a BenRiach scotch, a word about who they are is in order. BenRiach is a Speyside distillery, founded in 1898 by John Duff. The facility and its whiskey changed owners several times during the 20th Century — Glenlivet, Seagram, Chivas — before it finally found its way into the hands of a pair of South Africans, Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter, in 2004. BenRiach received a major makeover, and soon became one of the hottest distilleries in Scotland.
Importanticus Fumosus is a good example of the new spirit that BenRiach embraced under its new ownership. The scotch was part of a 2007 release of three heavily peated 12 Year Old single malts, all matured in American oak, but with each one receiving a finish in a particular set of used barrels. In the case of Importanticus Fumosus, this meant finishing in old tawny port hogsheads, and the name is Latin for “smoky port.” The scotch was bottled at 46% abv, and is not chill filtered. Importanticus Fumosus is also a limited edition, with only 2,520 bottles shipped.
In the glass, Importanticus Fumosus has the light, orangey-amber color of mahogany. The scent is richly sweet with honey and fruit, and my guess is that comes from the tawny port finish. The sweetness is paired with an intensely peaty aroma that is smoky to the point of being ashy. Adding texture is a slight hint of sea spray.
After enjoying the aroma, the taste will come as no surprise. It is honey sweet and peaty in bold helpings, with the sweetness a little stronger at first and the peat a little stronger at the end. This slides into a long, warm finish, winding down into a delightful ashy aftertaste.
I usually prefer my whiskey neat, and find a splash of water rarely improves whiskey in any objective way. Usually the “unlocking of flavors” is really a matter of enhancing just one side of the whiskey, thereby changing its nature, so water is really only an improvement if you like the aspect receiving enhancement.
BenRiach’s Importanticus Fumosus is a major exception, and glows with a splash of water. The two sides of the scotch — the honeyed sweetness and the ashy peat — come into perfect balance, and the texture becomes positively silky. Unless you are love peat above all other considerations, put a little water into this scotch.
For peat lovers and portwood lovers alike, this BenRiach scotch has something special. Portwood finished whiskey of any type is rarely so smoky, while peaty scotch is rarely so sweet. BenRiach pulls off both in this richly flavored whiskey.
For a limited edition released five years ago, the BenRiach Importanticus Fumosus 12 Year Old is unusual in that it is still available at a reasonable price. I have seen it listed in the UK for £32 ($50). Americans might be better off ordering it through a UK retailer and having it shipped, since the prices I have seen in the U.S. are more along the lines of $70 to $75.
This scotch won a silver at the 2006 International Wine and Spirits Competition, and attracted a bit of a buzz at the time of its release. Whisky magazine gave it its monthly recommendation at the time, and SG Whisky awarded it Whisky of the Month in June 2011.