The final installment of the Port & Peat bottle share and this time it’s a whisky I’ve actually tried before. The BenRiach Solstice has been around for a couple of years and it’s fairly easy to get hold of at shops, and even a wee taster at festivals is pretty easy.
So, maybe together with the Talisker Port Ruighe this is the one that most people will be familiar with. BenRiach is a distillery known for versatility. Their quality is consistently high, but they use all kinds of casks to varying degrees of success. Apart from their casks which they use both for maturation and finishing (pay attention when buying single casks!), they also vary their distilling process quite a bit with peated and unpeated batches, and some batches are triple distilled.
Of course, this means there will be expressions that you will not like as much as others, but that’s with any distillery that does this (think of Springbank, Bruichladdich and Arran). I’m usually not a big fan of wine casks and will not ever buy those without trying them first. The Port finishes and maturations have been pretty great though, and since this one is in the bottle share, and I’ve tried it before you might be able to guess the outcome of this review.
We’ve considered adding one of the new single casks to the bottle share, but since it was a quick one that we wanted to keep low in price (€ 45 for 4 x 10 cl) we decided against it. The 1984 Port Finish that just came out would add € 35 to the grand total per person, so that seemed a bit out of balance.
The peatiness is quite different from the previous three Port & Peat thingies. Where those were all coastal whiskies, this one is not and the lack of salinity stands out. I guess the casks used here were used for tawny port previously since there’s scents of hazelnut and strawberry. It’s very light and delicate behind that and floral even. There’s an earthiness here too. Dark chocolate and praline. After half an hour I suddenly get massive scents of barbecued pork. Like the bark on good ribs.
The palate continues down the barbecue track with more oak and more meatiness. Some pepper. It’s quite strong on the port flavors, but not too strong. Between the oak and barbecue there’s a certain greasiness going on. It’s quite appealing. The combination of flavors make for a pretty gentle dram, although it’s at 50% and there’s a lot going on.
The finish is somewhat lighter and here it kind of shows that this is a finish instead of a maturation. The flavors of white oak show up a little bit, and the floral bits I also found on the nose show up again too. I don’t think those would’ve been present without some years in a bourbon cask previous to the finish. Late in the finish the barbecue pops up again.
In short: I like BenRiach and I like Port finished whiskies. This is a golden combination. I tried the 15 year old version a couple of years ago and enjoyed that as well. That was a bit more sooty than this one and that would have been a nice addition.
The flavors of this dram are pretty great. I think in this case a finish works better than a maturation since I think the spirit of BenRiach would otherwise have been overpowered. The port layer is just thick enough to enjoy, and have significant impact without it being just about red fruits and old, wet oak. Good stuff!