By Richard Thomas
* BenRiach is a Speyside distillery, and in an era when scotch drinkers are focused heavily on peat, much of what they do steers away from that and sticks with their Speyside roots. An example is their 12 Year Old, a core expression.
So what exactly does it mean to be a Speyside scotch?Located in north-central Scotland, Speyside produces the sweetest of Scotland’s single malts. It is also the scotch region with more distilleries than any other, more than 80, including some of the biggest sellers of them all, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Macallan. The region’s whiskey lends itself to sherrywood aging, and if floral and pear notes tend to predominate in a style that leans hard on sweet flavors, there is a good deal of variety there as well. One is just as likely to come away with a light scotch with some salt and old wood notes as a full-bodied one with a hint of peat smoke.
The 12 Year Old is a no-aging statement single malt, although the sample that was sent to me had “12 years old” on the notes, and is bottled at a nice 43% abv. In the glass, it has a rich, deep gold coloring, one that carries a slight copper tinge. This is certainly not the color one might expect from a light Speyside, let alone a youngish one, and it is suggestive of a whiskey with some heft to it.
The scotch certainly delivers on that promise of heft. The aroma carries a honeyed, malty sweetness, mingled with sweet tobacco, plus pinches of musty wood and sea spray. The flavor follows up along that line, delivering a mid-bodied helping of sweetness drawn from malt, honey, and a little tobacco, some oak, and a dash of pepper. The whiskey goes down with moderate warmth, with the finish starting out with a tobacco and pepper aftertaste, one in which the tobacco sweetness fades away and leaves lingering pepper.
The 12 Year Old is listed for €28 to €30, or in the upper 30s in USD, making it somewhat of a bargain for a single malt in its class.