October 16, 2013

BenRiach 27 Year Old 1984 Peated Pedro Ximenez - A Beast for Posterity

On Blends (and Bad Names)

Blended whiskey tends to get a bad name.  Those of us who learned to feel special by saying things like "I only drink single malt scotch" have learned a healthy disdain for anything blended.  However there are two problems with this: first of all, blends have a much wider range of flavors to draw from and mix in order to produce a desired result.  This means that, like it or not, there are some damn good blends.  We're going to dive into some amazing blended whiskies in the weeks to come.  The second problem is that most of our favorite whiskies wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the big blends.

Today's dram is not a blended whiskey, but it would not exist had it not been for blended whiskey's influence.  Believe it or not, this is true for the vast majority of whiskey!  Your faithful narrators here at SmokyBeast remember the days, waaaaay back in the 1990's, when you couldn't just walk into any bar and order a Lagavulin 16-Year.  Many bars didn't stock single malt scotch (never mind single barrel bourbon or rye!).  Your options were lower-end brands like J&B, Cutty Sark, Famous Grouse, and Ballantines.  Or if you were looking for something high-end, you'd order by name: Dewar's on the rocks, Chivas, or Johnny Black & soda.  (Yes, for you young ones, there was a time when ordering a "Johnny Black and soda" was pretty bad-ass!)

Feeding the Original Beasts

So in order to stock every bar in the world with Chivas, Dewar's, and Johnny Walker, these original beasts contracted with distilleries all over Scotland, in many cases operating entire facilities with the sole purpose of producing one particular flavor note for the final mix.  It was only in later years that many of these distilleries saw value in their individual malts and began bottling them independently.  

BenRiach (Ben-Ree-Ach)

Benriach was one of these supporting actors in the theater of blended scotch for many years.  Owned by Glenlivet, then by Seagrams, and finally by Pernod Ricard, Benriach made variations of speyside whiskey for blends from the 1960's until the early 2000's.  In 1972, Chivas had a need for a peated malt in certain selected blends and contracted with BenRiach to produce it.  BenRiach's peated range became one of the signature tastes of the distillery along with their wide range of non-peated barrel finishes.

In 2004, BenRiach was finally freed from its role as a corporate ingredient and the distillery was purchased by a group of independent industry heavy-hitters including Billy Walker.  All of the various unique recipes and barrels that had been created to add distinct flavors to blends began to appear in individual bottles.  The current BenRiach range is on of the most diverse you'll find from any distillery.  They use almost every wine barrel you could imagine, both peated and unpeated recipes, and of course combinations of peated recipes with different types of barrel-aging.  The most accessible peated BenRiach that you may come across is the Curiositas 10-year, which is a standard bourbon/oak barrel.  Here it is at Astor for $54.99.  If you're a smoke-lover, you absolutely can't go wrong with this bottle.  It's a bit off-the-beaten-path, chances are your friends haven't tried it, and it's a well rounded smoky beast at a tremendous value. 

The Peated PX

It seems to be a trend here at SmokyBeast, but far-and-away our favorite of all the BenRiach recipe/barrel combinations is the peated recipe aged in Pedro Ximenez barrels.  It's the same technique used by Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, and it's a knock-out.  So when we saw a 27-year old bottle, we knew we were in for a treat.  (After all 30-year old Lagavulin sells for about a thousand dollars a bottle, so it's not exactly easy to find old peated / sherried scotch!)  

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Champagne and a cigarette.  With one drop of water (literally one drop, from an eyedropper), fresh sawdust.  Deeper smoke, campfire stones, eggplant (go figure), slight rosewater, deep fruits - pomegranate.

Body:  Oh boy, here we go.  Nice thick oily, but not heavy on the tongue.  Deep deep smoke underlying sweet fruits, cherries, peaches.  Really amazing balance of sweet, smokey, and fruity.  Definitely tasting the dessert wines - tawny port, rich sherry.

Finish:  Wonderful finish.  I finished a small sip and started writing the 'body' section, and it's still evolving on my palate.  It seems to go from the syrup of the dessert wine, to the smoke of the campfire, and back two or three times.  Again with just a tiny drop of water (any more would be criminal) there's no burn, but you know you're drinking a very strong and deep spirit.


We tasted this beauty among several other whiskies that were comparable in price (the good stuff - $150-$250/bottle) through a selection of small samples from www.masterofmalt.com.  It blew away the competition.  Rarely have we tasted something with this much smoke (a true beast) but balanced with heavy sherry and wonderful sweet oily texture.  It's a truly refined dram.  A must try.  If you find it, think about buying it.  We don't take giving advice on a $200 bottle lightly, we know this is out of the range of most people, but seriously think about picking this one  up.  It will be something you keep on the shelf and reward yourself with a glass of when you do something really good.



  1. Nothing like a little reinforcement. The Benriach Peated / PX takes "Best Peated Whisky in this year's Malt Maniac awards!!

  2. can anyone advise , what would a Bottle of Benriach 1984 be worth right now, whats its value ? kvkellylee@gmail.com

    1. Hi KJ,

      Here are some recent auction results for Benriach 1984:

      1984 27 Years old, Tawny Port Hogshead matured / Peated: 308 Euro
      1984 27 Years old Tawny Port Hogshead matured / Peated: 313 Euro
      1984 b.June 2005 20 years old: 431 Euro

      Benriach is sort of a funny brand with a ton of different types of bottlings. We believe that the 1984 27yr Peated / PX bottle is superb whisky and will greatly increase in price over time, however it's not a particularly sought after brand in terms of collectibility so it's difficult to predict.

      Hope that helps. Cheers/SB