Most serious whisky drinkers already have a stance on peated whisky. Either they can’t stand the powerful aroma or they love it. Despite their differing tastes, the two groups have something in common: Neither would use the word “sweet” when describing what they love or hate about peated whisky.
But that’s the descriptor that comes up when people try the peated expressions from The BenRiach. You might assume the sweet comes from exposing the malted barley to smoke for a different period of time, but the answer has much more to do with the peat used by The BenRiach.
The process remains the same. But Highlands peat is different.
Not all peat is the same. Peat is the result of thousands of years of decaying vegetation, so its composition changes depending on location. Most peated whisky comes from the Islay region. Naturally, peat from a seaside region is going to impart a flavor that’s slightly briny, giving the whisky the almost-medicinal taste that’s so polarizing.
The BenRiach stands in stark contrast to other peated whiskies because it sources its peat exclusively from Scotland’s Highlands region. Using peat from forests gives the malted barley, and eventually the whisky, flavors like smoked applewood that create its distinctive sweet peat profile. Few other single malts could be described as both smoky and fruity.
The BenRiach distillery is situated in the beautiful Speyside region.
Most Speyside whisky features heavy notes of orchard fruit. Peated expressions from The BenRiach, such as Curiositas Aged 10 Years, are no exception, but those flavors are complemented by campfire smoke on the nose and followed by notes of smoked applewood and honey-roast sugar maple. Even the biggest peated whisky critics can appreciate the ways those complex flavors interact.
Maturation is another key factor that influences how many people feel about peated whisky. It’s common to be introduced to the category through a younger expression, which paints an incomplete picture of peated whiskies. Because the longer a peated whisky is aged, the more mellow and subtle that smoky flavor becomes. The result is that lots of whisky fans try an intense expression and assume they won’t like any peated whisky.
The malted barley is what gives The BenRiach such a distinct and irresistible flavor.
If that’s your relationship with peated whisky, you would be wise to try a more mature expression like The BenRiach Authenticus, which is aged 30 years. There’s peat on the nose, but those extra years give the whisky a taste that includes soft and creamy vanilla, summer fruits and a slight hint of cocoa. It’s the kind of expression that shows there’s more to peated whisky than smoke.
A common opinion is that peated whisky is an acquired taste. While that may be true of Islay peat bombs, The BenRiach’s fruity and smoky profile has instant appeal. It’s the perfect entry point into the world of peated whisky.