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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Benriach Curiositas Whisky Review!

A very nice peated main-lander, which represents great value for money, and is a worthy competitor for the entry-level peaty beasts from Islay.

Having recently attended an excellent Benriach tasting at Malt Traders, presented by Benriach's brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan, which included the brand-new NAS un-peated cask strength expression (definitely one to look out for when it arrives), it's about time I reviewed another of their peated whiskies. Interestingly, this one surprised a few of the attendees who thought they didn't like peated whisky, until they tasted this one!

I've tried this 10 yo 'Curiositas' expression a few times now, and it never fails to impress. As you can probably guess, the name is Latin for 'curiosity' (most of Benriach's peated malts are given Latin names, to set them apart from the rest of the range), which I believe refers to peated Speyside malts being a little uncommon, although that's not so much the case these days.

Benriach use malt peated to around 55 ppm for their peated expressions, quite a high level for a main-lander, which to my knowledge is beaten only by Benromach's Peat Smoke. This is peat from the mainland of Scotland though, so it doesn't have the medicinal or coastal flavours we'd get from the Islands. Which is probably why it suits the non-'peat head' a little more than some.   

I've reviewed Benriach's PX-finished 'Heredotus Fumosus' and Port-finished 'Solstice' previously, but so far I personally prefer their bourbon cask-matured peated expressions, namely this 10 yo Curiositas, and the 17 yo 'Septendecim'. It should be noted that there is a 40% version of the Curiositas, but as far as I can tell that was only for the UK market, while the rest of us enjoy the that's-more-like-it 46% version. This one is priced at around $90, which puts it near Ardbeg 10, my yard-stick for bang-for-buck peated single malt. How does it stack up?
Benriach Curiositas 10 yo, 46%. Speyside, Scotland. 
Ex-bourbon cask matured, peated to 55 ppm. Non chill-filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Light gold.

Nose: Peaty & ashy initially, which fades slightly with more time. Some flat cola, a nice floral sweetness, vegetal & herbal peat, and a little fresh earth. Hint of sweet tropical fruit, and something a little dusty as well.

Texture: Very nice. Medium-weight, no heat. Phenolic, but nicely balanced. 

Taste: Spicy, chunky peat up front, a little hot ash. Some heathery honey sweetness. The peat dominates, but I don't mind!

Finish: Medium-length, still some spicy peat, and some nuts - cashews, I'd say. A little chilli spice, some buttery oak, and some of that cola from the nose. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: A great little peated malt from the mainland, without the notes some find offensive in our beloved Islays. It's easy drinking and great value for money, but without sacrificing flavour or texture. Very enjoyable, but I do prefer the 17 year old 'Septendecim'. It's a little more complex, as you'd expect, and it's not priced too far above the 10. But if you're after an affordable and approachable peated mainland whisky, or perhaps if you're not a fan of peated Islay or Island whiskies, this is certainly one to consider. As for how it compares to the Ardbeg, personally I'd give the Ileach the win, but I suspect quite a few folks would swing the other way. It's certainly a close thing, and really just comes down to personal preference.

On a bit of a (potentially) sad note, Billy Walker and his partners in Benriach Distillery Company, who own Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries, recently sold their entire business to US company Brown-Forman, owners of Jack Daniels and a couple of other non-Scotch distilleries. Time will tell what effect this has on the brilliant work these three fantastic distilleries have been doing, but apparently at this stage all staff will be staying on, including Walker himself. Personally, I hope these distilleries continue just as they are, and the new owners let them do their thing. They've been very successful so far, and if it ain't broke...

Thanks to Benriach's Australian importer/distributor World of Whisky for the sample of the Curiositas.

Cheers!