gavin smith

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by Gavin D Smith, 02/07

BenRiach distillery, situated just south of Elgin in the Speyside heartland of Scotch malt whisky, represents one of the industry's success stories.

In 2004 The BenRiach Distillery Company Ltd was formed by a consortium of businessmen, led by whisky industry veteran Billy Walker, who acquired it in mothballed condition from Chivas, along with a substantial inventory of stock. The distillery subsequently reopened later that year.   

BenRiach had been established in 1898, during the great Speyside whisky boom, by John Duff & Co, owners of the neighbouring, and much higher profile, Longmorn distillery. It was silent from 1900 to 1965, when it was substantially rebuilt before re-opening, though its floor maltings continued to operate during that time, and only closed in 1999.

BenRiach is currently working close to full capacity, turning out upwards of one million litres of spirit per annum, and, according to Billy Walker, "The independent ownership of BenRiach and, I think, other distilleries, is being welcomed by consumers but also by independent retailers. Our retail target is the boutique, high quality wine merchant or off-licence, not the big chains.

"We can be creative in the range we bring to market because of the great inventory we acquired from Chivas," he explains, and the current core range includes 12, 16, 20, 25 and 30-year-old expressions. Also within the principal range is a heavily-peated 10 year-old, named Curiositas, which has caused a great deal of interest. It brings together, peat, fruit and heather notes, along with some oakiness in the finish.

As Billy Walker points out, "Chivas used to make batches of heavily-peated malt from time to time on the Benriach floor maltings, and we are saying that this style is not unusual in the history of Speyside whiskies. The gentle, mild Speysides of today don't really represent how it was 70 years ago, for example."

Curiositas was followed by a 21 year-old heavily-peated BenRiach, named Authenticus. Billy Walker reckons that "although it's diminished with time, I think originally this would probably have had the same level of peating as Laphroaig."

Last summer saw a positive outpouring of new expressions from BenRiach, including two new aged releases, limited to 3,000 bottles per year, and seven single casks offerings, dating from 1968, 1972, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1984, and 1986, some distilled from peated malt and other from unpeated malt. And Benriach isn't finished yet. Look out for another raft of releases in the near future.

The BenRiach, Age Over 25 Years
50%ABV. The nose offers mature fruit and malt notes, with bananas and figs. A wisp of smoke? Malt and ginger on the palate, with Sherry and peat. The finish is very long and malty, with a touch of oaky spice. 82.99 from specialist retailers.

The BenRiach, Age Over 30 Years
50%ABV. Initially extremely floral, with wine gum notes developing after prolonged exposure to the air. Very fruity and full bodied in the mouth, with Oloroso Sherry and gummy spiciness. The finish is medium to long, with a suggestion of cherryade and rich oak. 125.00 from specialist retailers.

For whisky-pages the single cask stars date from 1968 and 1984, encompassing very different dimensions of the BenRiach spirit.

The BenRiach 1968
52.0%ABV. Oily on the nose, with fruit, molasses and figs. Bold and predominantly fruity (blackcurrants) on the palate, with medium-sweet Sherry in the background. The finish is extremely long, with ginger and Opal Fruits. Excellent when drunk at cask strength, but water tends to flatten this veteran a little. Nonetheless, in excellent order for a 37-year-old whisky. Highly recommended, but keep it neat! 185.00 from specialist retailers.

The BenRiach 1984
Cigarette packets, elastoplast and sweet cherries are nicely balanced on the nose. The palate demonstrates more obvious smoke, with peat, sherry, oranges and plums coming through as the flavours develop in the mouth. The finish is long, with Oloroso Sherry fading into gentle smoke. 75.00 from specialist retailers.

BenRiach whiskies are available from specialist retailers. See also


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