BenRiach has recently announced a new 21 year old Tawny Port expression, apparently to replace the current 15 yo Tawny port-finished single malt in their core line-up. As such, I figured it was about time I write up my review of this one, before it disappears off the shelves for good.
Port is a Portugeuse fortified wine, and comes in sweet, dry and semi-dry forms. I’ve even had white port, which is distinctive. I am typically a fan of port finishes for malt whisky, as I find it adds slightly sweet grape notes to the basic malt profile. Tawny port in particular is typically sweet (or medium dry), and often somewhat “nutty”.
As I mentioned in my 12 Year Old Matured in Sherry Wood review, BenRiach typically has a fairly gentle base spirit. This makes it well suited to fortified wine barrel finishing, in my view. Here are how some of the typical BenRiach expressions compare:
BenRiach 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood: 8.69 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 15yo Sauternes Finish: 8.11 ± 0.53 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.51 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Septendecim Peated: 8.51 ± 0.57 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port: 8.90 ± 0.29 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
And now some other port-finished whiskies:
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.59 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.74 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.54 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.32 ± 0.59 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Port Cask: 8.64 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.61 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.57 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 15 Tawny Port is certainly within the typical range of other port-finished expressions (although at the low end of them).
I had a glass of the BenRiach 15 Year Old Tawny Port from a recently opened bottle at a bar here in Ontario. It was my only drink that night, so I took my time with it. Here’s what I found in the glass.
Nose: Sweet, as I would expect for a tawny port. Main fruits are raisins and grapes (doh!), with some subtler lighter fruits like apple. Net effect is sort of like a grape jam. Milk chocolate. I also get dry, musty woody notes, like sawdust. No off-putting solvent notes or alcohol singe (surprisingly mild, in fact).
Palate: Fruit jammy, but with less distinct fruits now. Milk chocolate again, and even more musty oak. Pepper, producing some tongue tingle. Chewy mouthfeel, even a bit syrupy. It’s a great malt to hold in your mouth – you don’t want to swallow. Somewhat tannic and tart once you do, though. Fairly simple in composition, without much influence from the base spirit it seems.
Finish: Medium finish. Oaky bitterness present throughout, as it has been all along. Surprisingly astringent. Nothing really unpleasant though, just a simple and gentle fade-out. Reminds me a lot of Kavalan Concertmaster.
The BenRiach 15 Tawny Port Wood Finish is an easy-drinking whisky, in much same the category as of the Kavalan Concertmaster. It has less character on the nose though, earning it a lower score in my books (although it does about the same or better with many reviewers). There’s nothing to particularly recommend BenRiach 15 Tawny Port over other port-finishes, but not much to complain about either. I’m curious to see if the extra aging in the new 21 year old version brings up anything new.
Some of the highest scores that I’ve seen for this 15 yo expression come from the folks at Quebec Whisky (André and Patrick in particular). Personally, I’m somewhat closer to Martin and Eli (Elisabeth) in my rating. Richard at the Whiskey Reviewer is similarly moderately positive, as is Jim Murray. End of the day, this is a decent dram, but nothing to get too excited about in my view.