Last month I was lucky enough to receive a sample of new Benriach The Forty, the distillery’s latest release that contains some of the rarest peated casks from the distillery distilled in 1970’s. I also had a chance to ask my question regarding this extraordinary whisky to master blender herself, Rachel Barrie. She was so kind to answer them all in detail.
What was the inspiration behind creating a 40-year-old whisky? What made this particular age statement special to you?
“Forty years of maturation is a very special age for Benriach single malt. Every decade brings change and transformation with flavours combining and intertwining as oak casks breathe in the Speyside air, and Benriach spirit interacts with the oak to create the ultimate Speyside delicacy. Creating the 40 years old was a wonderful journey exploring both peated and unpeated Benriach casks distilled in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time when I recall the warmest summers and coldest winters in Speyside; a journey of crispness and clarity in the winter speyside air, combined with the lushness of ripe summer fruits, each year bringing transformation, integration and enrichment.”
How did the whisky evolve over the 40-year maturation period? Were there any unexpected changes or revelations during this time?
“During the 40 year maturation period, smoky Benriach spirit has transformed like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Peated Benriach begins its journey as smoked orchard fruit and creamy malt. Over four decades maturing in bourbon and port casks, it has transformed into a wonderful and delicious spectrum of flavours, with exquisite sweet orange, plum and honeyed pomelo in harmony with luscious orchard fruits, silky white peach and kumquat. Port cask maturation in particular has enriched stewed red apple, walnut and cherry liqueur, creating a seductive silk-velvet mouthfeel and taste.”
What can enthusiasts expect from the flavor profile of this 40-year-old whisky? Are there any specific tasting notes that stand out to you?
“Enthusiatics can expect to be mesmerised by the exquisite sweetness of honeyed pomelo and lush orchard fruits, the result of the alchemy of peated Benriach as it twists and turns and is refined over 40 years maturing in the finest quality bourbon and port casks.”
How did you ensure the balance and harmonize different elements well in this 40-year-old expression?
Are there any particular challenges you face when creating a whisky with such an extended aging period? How is this process different from creating a younger whisky?
“As Benriach matures through the decades, every drop is treated with exceptional care, quite literally with ‘kid gloves’. For one, there is often very little volume left in each cask, as well as there being only a handful of casks left at 40 years old or older. The main challenge is to protect every drop, as the warehouse team guards our ‘sleeping beauties’ making sure casks don’t leak. To perfect the quality, it is essential to sample each remaining cask every year or two to make sure what is released is at the pinnacle of quality. The goal is to release the spirit from the cask when it reaches perfection, reflective of the complexity, harmony and balance of the ultimate Speyside delicacy; the journey is as beguiling as it is mesmerising as the complexity of Benriach’s world of flavour lights the way.”
“Creating a younger whisky brings a lot of flexibility and opportunities for change and experimentation as there is a higher volume of stock to work with and a diverse range of spirit styles and cask types to choose from. Younger whiskies can change direction in a short time, creating a broad range of characteristics to explore Benriach’s rich and dynamic world of flavour. However, it is the finest aged single malts that are the ‘holy grail’ of refinement, complexity and balance, yielding a very small volume which only a few will be able to experience.”
I would like to thank Spey Agency and Rachel Barrie to kindly accept and answer my questions.