There’s a tendency in Scotland for various distilleries to stay in their proverbial lane, churning out expressions that match the general flavour profile of the region in which they operate. In Islay, that most often equates to peated whisky with a smoky character, quite different than say the smooth and fruity taste of a sherry-cask-finished Speyside single malt. But every now and then, a distillery will ask themselves: “where’s the fun in staying in one lane?!”
Speyside-based legends The BenRiach have delivered the answer in the form of Smoky 12, which joined their core range as part of a 2020 relaunch. A balancing act between different malts and cask maturations, this glorious spirit transcends boundaries and borders alike. Specifically, it offers a rare combination of both peated and unpeated malts, which are matured in Bourbon, Sherry, and Marsala casks and then seamlessly married by Master Blender Rachel Barrie.
In the short time since its release, BenRiach’s Smoky 12 has earned no shortage of major accolades. After ranking #3 in Whisky Advocate’s 2020 Top 20, it went on to win Double Gold at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (to name just a few achievements). One sip of this stuff and it’s not hard to see why. Building upon the distillery’s existing heritage and incorporating Marsala cask maturation for the first time outside of their acclaimed Single Cask range, Barrie has crafted an absolute masterpiece of multi-dimensional character.
To be clear, this is not the first or only time that BenRiach has veered into peated territory. Nevertheless, Smoky 12 shows off a bolder, richer, and darker side of the distillery’s spirit. However, don’t take that to mean this juice will overwhelm the senses with smoke. With 12 years of ageing comes more time for the peat to break down in the cask, resulting in a style that’s smoother and more palatable than your standard peat bomb. Just as present are luscious notes of oak spice, charred citrus fruit, maple honey, brown sugar, and dark chocolate, which blend together in elegant harmony before trailing out on a long, smoky finish.
It’s said that there’s no such thing as an ideal marriage but The BenRiach Smoky 12 begs to differ. Blending peated and unpeated malts along with different cask maturations, it cultivates an impeccable unison between ripened fruit, spicy oak, malted grain, and sweet smoke. It all rides in on waves of creamy texture and resurrects silky peatiness for the finishing touch. Call it a resoundingly solid argument for more distilleries to step outside their lane or just a damn fine dram of whisky. What’s important is that you try it.
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