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Darkness is a range of “intensely sherried” whisky from Atom Brands, the people behind That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Pour & Sip, The Character of Islay and Master of Malt.
The Darkness collection comprises of whisky that’s been finished in quarter casks, sometimes called Octaves. These 64-litre vessels are made from the staves of European Oak Butts that are seasoned with Sherry upon their completion. Their smaller capacity makes for a significant increase in contact between liquid and oak, encouraging far greater interaction between the two, in a much shorter timescale.
Darkness celebrates the powerful impact such interaction can have on the final character of a whisky, with each bottling presented at natural colour and non-chill-filtered.
Darkness 8 Year Old
The flagship of the range, this 8-year-old single malt comes from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. It fits into an intriguing sub-category of the Speyside style that includes heavier, meaty spirits that have been condensed the old fashioned way, in copper worm tubs. Think Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Craigellachie, Cragganmore or even Mortlach. I’ve highlighted that last one for no particular reason. None at all. In fact, I turned it bold completely by accident. In fact, don’t even look at it. Just move on.
The whisky was matured for 8 years in a bourbon cask before being finished for six months in an oloroso-seasoned octave. It is bottled at 47.8% and retails at £50.
Smell: Unsurprisingly there’s rich sherry on the nose. Raisins and prunes and new leather and walnut… Also cherry and tobacco leaves. Some sulphury funk too with struck matches, dark chocolate and old oak char. Underneath it all, there’s a little creamy vanilla and even some orchard fruits.
Taste: Woody arrival with juicy raisins and sultanas. Cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Dates. More oak towards the finish.
Thoughts: A lot of intense sherry oak flavour for a reasonable price. It’s a rather one-dimensional affair but that’s sort of the point. This is sherry seasoned oak stamping its identity all over a single malt whisky. To be fair though, it seems like this particular spirit can take it. Maybe not one for the purists but it’s a lot of fun regardless.
Benriach 7 Year Old Oloroso Cask Finish
Benriach was founded in 1898 but closed after just two years in operation thanks to the industry-wide downturn that became known as The Pattison Crash. The distillery stood in silence for six decades before it was brought back to life during the post-war production boom of the 1960s. It formed part of Billy Walker’s mini-empire until it was sold in 2016 to Brown-Forman, of Jack Daniel’s fame.
This single malt is aged for a total of 7 years, including 12 months in an oloroso-seasoned octave. Bottled at 56.8%, it retails at £50.
Smell: I was a little worried that I’d basically be repeating the same tasting notes for each dram in this review but the Benriach lacks the intense funk of its predecessor. The sherry remains the central focus of course but there’s also some of those Speyside orchard fruits and even some grassy malt under it all. Nice touch of oak char too.
Taste: Lighter bodied with nice woody spice. Cinnamon and clove with ginger. Then comes the juicy raisin sweetness with some red apples. Dry spiced-oak finish.
Thoughts: It’s a young malt but you get plenty of flavour for your £50. With a little spirit character coming through, there’s even a wee touch of balance about it.
When I first read the label I thought it said Benrinnes and I got very excited because it’s become one of my favourite Speyside distilleries and does very well with sherry maturation. Noticing that it actually said Benriach wasn’t too much of a disappointment though because it’s a spirit that seems to adapt to almost anything. Often described as a chameleon malt, Benriach has been peated, unpeated, wine-matured, sherry-matured, bourbon-matured, port-matured and triple distilled and always seems to come out of it rather well.
Due to the different nature of the spirit, this dram isn’t quite as intense as the flagship 8-year-old but at the higher strength of 56.8%, we get a bit of fiery spice and a lengthy finish for roughly the same price.
Irish Single Malt 14 Year Old Oloroso Cask Finish
This single malt comes from an undisclosed distillery in Ireland. Part of a parcel of stock bought by That Boutique-y Whisky Company, a portion was held back in order to be re-casked in an oloroso-seasoned octave. This was a complicated undertaking as spirit must be put into cask in Ireland in order to be called Irish Whiskey. Once the Boutique-y portion was bottled, the remainder had to be returned to Ireland along with a bespoke octave cask in order to be refilled there and then returned once more to the UK for bottling.
At a strength of 57.6% abv this 14 year old Irish single malt whiskey retails at around £100.
Smell: An altogether more perfumed affair. Lots of oranges. Jasmine. Cinnamon. In truth, the heady spice overwhelms the sense a little. Then there’s the grain itself, still quite noticeable even after 14 years. Caramels and toffee. Even a bready note.
Taste: Really interesting arrival that’s quite unlike the two drams that came before it. There’s an oakiness that could have you mistakenly place the whisky in the old age rather than the teenage category. Then comes sultanas and brambles. Even a little blackcurrant. Oak char. Interesting little sherbet fizz note on the finish. A rather fascinating dram.
Thoughts: Quite a jump in price here though 14 is a decent age and we’re working off a cask strength of 57.6%. Also, given the palaver involved in filling the octave in the first place we can perhaps excuse a slightly higher cost, so long as the whiskey is good. Which fortunately it is.
I have to confess that I haven’t tried many Irish whiskies with such a strong sherry influence and so didn’t really know what to expect here. I’m rather impressed though. The spirit character doesn’t get lost. Instead, it works with the sherry octave to produce something that seems much older than it actually is. Deep, complex, rewarding and completely intriguing.
If you would like to buy any of the whiskies featured in this article, you can do so at Master of Malt.
Buy Darkness 8 year old here.
Buy Darkness Benriach 7 year old here.
Buy Darkness Irish Single Malt 14 year old here.
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For more on Darkness Whisky visit here.