Benriach / BenRiach (Pronounced: ben REE-ak)
Linkwood, Longmorn, Glen Elgin
Bourmade Spring (fairly hard water, Ca. 180 PPM Calcium)
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
2,800,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Billy Walker & others (since 2004)
Longmorn, Elgin, Morayshire, IV30 3SJ, Scotland
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2002 - After Pernod Ricard bought Chivas Brothers
(owners of Benriach) in 2001 they didn't waste a lot of time...
Just one year after the purchase they decided to mothball the Benriach distillery in October 2002.
2004 - Benriach was revived when Intra Trading purchased the distillery. People involved are Scotsman Billy Walker (former operations manager with Burn Stewart) and two South African partners (Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter).
2006 - Benriach releases over a dozen new bottlings; most of them vintages, but a 25yo and a 30yo as well.
It remains to be seen if they have enough stocks of old casks lying around to maintain the profile of these bottlings between consecutive batches. The Benriachians seem confident; they also released a 40yo bottling in 2007.
2011 - For the first time since the relaunch, Benriach manages to produce more than 10,000 casks in a year.
2012 - The owners of Benriach and Glendronach manage to get a loan of £27 million from Royal Bank of Scotland. This puts them in the same league as large corporate players like Diageo and Pernod Ricard - and forces them to realise the same kind of high profit margins to keep the investors happy. Ah, well - that's business I guess...
And it's not all 'questionable' news from my perspective - in November 2012 Benriach announced that they had revived the old malting equipment. So, (part of) the malted barley that is required for the BenRiach single malt whisky will be produced 'on site' at the Benriach maltings again. For many years, the trend was towards closing small maltings at the distilleries and switch production to large, central maltings that could efficiently provide malted barley to many different distilleries. With this move, Benrich seems to be going "against the grain"...
2013 - On March 22, Benriach sent a press release about their acquisition of the Glenglassaugh distillery.
Excellent news as far as I'm concerned - When Billy Walker & friends bought Benriach in 2004 they managed to
quickly re-establish the brand and build on that. Their acquisition of Glendronach was another success story.
bought Benriach in 2001, but closed the distillery again in 2002, almost immediately after they acquired it - just like Longmorn Distillers had done more than a century earlier. It would almost seem like Benriach (meaning 'speckled mountain')
doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in its owners...
Fortunately, Benriach was reopened again in 2004 by yet another new owner. Scotsman
Billy Walker (a former operations manager with Burn Stewart) and two South African
partners (Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter) purchased the Benriach distillery in 2004.
They did a remarkable job and turned Benriach into one of the 'hottest' distillerries.
The new owners wasted no time. They resumed production again in the very same
year and launched 12, 16 and 20 year old expressions of Benriach. They also took
the opportunity to redesign the company logo and the packaging of the bottles.
The picture at the left shows the new Benriach labeling - more informative and
easier on the eyes than the design they used in the 1990's, shown at the right.
They followed these initial releases with an ever expanding line of special releases like the peated 'Curiositas'. When Benriach was owned by Seagram, the distillery also produced some batches of more peated malt whisky. The 'Curiositas' contains some of this peated whisky. Some 'whisky fundamentalists' don't like the fact that a Speyside distillery produces an 'Islay style' whisky, but a 10yo 1994/2005 bottling from Signatory that I've tried at PLOWED HQ during Feis Ile 2005 was excellent. In fact, I think it was actually superior to some independent Islay bottlings of a similar age. And let's not forget that the use of (at least some) peated malt was actually not that uncommon in the Highlands and Speyside in the past.
The Benriach distillery is located near Elgin in the 'Lossie' part of Speyside,
just inbetween Linkwood and Longmorn. It was built in 1898 by John Duff,
who had constructed the Longmorn distillery a year earlier. Unfortunately,
financial problems forced him to sell both distilleries soon afterwards.
Benriach was purchased by the Longmorn Distillery Co Ltd. who promptly
decided to close it again in 1900. After remaining silent for more than half
a century, Benriach was eventually sold again and rebuilt by new owners;
The Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd. in 1965. They sold Benriach on to Seagram
in 1977, who went on to install a second set of stills (wash & spirit) in 1985.
Seagram's didn't introduce their own official bottling until 1994 - and to be
perfectly honest the 10 years old OB from the 1990's didn't tickle my fancy.
But why was Benriach closed so soon after it was built in 1898? John Duff, founder of Longmorn and
Benriach (a.k.a. Longmorn #2) was one of many whisky entrepreneurs to suffer from the effects of
'The Pattison whisky Crisis'. During the late 19th century there was a massive whisky boom and
during the 1890's no less than 33 new distilleries (21 in Speyside alone) were opened to meet
the growing demand. It all came crashing down in 1899 when major players Pattison's Ltd. from
Leith went into liquidation. Their bankrupcy caused the bubble to burst and infected the industry.
This caused Benriach to be closed down between 1900 and 1965.
Recent bottlings of older casks of Benriach (both by the new owners and a few independent bottlers) have proven to me that Benriach has always been a hidden gem; all it needed was some attention to detail to bring out the beauty that's stashed away in their warehouses. I imagine that some fabulous casks were simply vatted into oblivion during the 1990's.
Although Benriach has a maximum production capacity of 2,800,000 litres
of pure alcohol per year, only a third of this capacity was used around 2005. Around 2008
they already produced some 1,800,000 litres of alcohol per year, and they expect to
increase production further in the foreseeable future. Well, that means that they still have
potential for growth without having to invest in extra equipment in the near future...
Even though the flying re-start of Benriach was only a few years ago, they are already able
to offer a portfolio with a wide variety of whisky styles and types. They have the 'classic'
Speyside style, lightly peated malts, heavily peated malts & various wine finishes. And that
isn't all - they also have some small quantities of triple-distilled Benriach. Some of this was
produced by Chivas back in 1998 and the new owners also ran a small trial in February 2007.
Both vintages were filled into first fill bourbon casks, although they plan to re-rack the 1998
into 2nd fill sherry casks for a period of time. Release date is currently unknown.
1) Although the Benriach distillery itself was mothballed between 1900 and 1965, its floor maltings remained in constant production during this period. They provided malted barley for the nearby Longmorn distillery. They were closed in 1999 but if all went according to plan they were restored to their former working glory in 2008.
2) When the new owners took over they 'tweaked' the name from Benriach to BenRiach.
3) The stills at BenRiach are said to be exact replica's of the original stills of 1898.
4) The barley varieties 'Optic' and 'Callar' are used to produce the BenRiach malt whisky.
5) BenRiach is one of almost two dozen malt whisky distilleries that were founded during the 'whisky boom' of the
late 19th century and which have managed to survive until this day. The other survivors include Aberfeldy, Ardmore, Aultmore, Balvenie, Benromach, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Craigellachie, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray, Glenrothes, Glentauchers, Knockandu, Knockdhu, Longmorn, Tamdhu and Tomatin.
Benriach 17yo Rioja Wood Finish (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Very complex and expressive. Fruits with coffee and smoke in the background. Compressed fruits.
The spicy component grows more pronounced over time. Some woody notes emerge after a few minutes.
Taste: Heavy, sweet and fruity. A smooth and solid presence; almost like a first fill Oloroso cask, but different.
Score: 87 points - some recent finishes from Benriach were not too impressive, but this works just great.
Benriach 20yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Mellow, faintly fruity and some organics in the background. Just a little flowery. Wonderfully balanced.
Some sweet "bakery" aroma's. Quite rapid development during the first few minutes. Quite a unique whisky.
Taste: Bittersweet and slightly perfumy start. Malty centre. A very smooth whisky from start to finish.
Score: 85 points - a solid, expressive and fairly complex single malt whisky. Very recommendable.
Benriach 30yo (50%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Very big and expressive. Heavy fruits; passion fruits and pineapple. Whiff of phenolics. Expressive.
It's really an odd profile; flowery and fruity, but some profound peaty and smoky notes in the background.
Taste: Gritty start. There's a lot to enjoy, but for me it leans a little too much on the perfumy side.
Score: 85 points - bit it could have been 86 or 87 it hadn't been for the perfumy elements I'm not crazy about.
Benriach 10yo Curiositas (46%, OB, Peated Malt, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Fresh peat, followed by light, sweet citrus tones. Not terribly complex initially, but very pleasant.
It gains more depth over time; first farmy notes, then more organics emerge after circa ten minutes.
Taste: Peaty; initially not as sweet as the nose suggests. It grows sweeter in the smoky centre. Tar?
The fairly gritty centre is followed by a long, smoky and leathery finish. Hint of beer?
Score: 82 points - this feels decidedly younger than earlier expressions of the 'Curiositas'.
Benriach 15yo Dark Rum Finish (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Quite sharp and a little 'veggy'. Acetone? Glue? Hint of oil? Just not a lot of 'nose'.
There's not much happening, apart from some subtle tobacco notes in the background.
Taste: Light and altogether rather thin. A little veggy, just like the nose. Dry 'plywood' finish.
It feels quite rough and spirity, like a farmer's distillate. I can't put this in the 80's in good conscience...
Score: 78 points - it seems Benriach might be running out of cherries to pick...
Benriach 16yo (43%, OB, +/- 2009)
Nose: Light and gentle - and some subtle salty notes? A little later straw and rice crackers.
Whiff of lemon in the background. Then some nutty notes emerge. Altogether this is fairly subtle.
Chloride. There is complexity, but you really have to wait for it - for fifteen minutes at least.
Taste: Oy… Fairly unstable during the first few minutes. Solidifies in the sweeter centre, but not enough.
Fairly harsh finish. You need to give it at least ten minutes before it reaches the 80's.
Score: 80 points - a whisky you have to 'work' at...
Benriach 33yo 1976/2009 (47.4%, OB for The Whisky Fair, Cask#3558, 162 Bts.)
Nose: Faint tropical fruits. Passion fruits. Banana. Whiff of smoke in the distant background. An incredibly enjoyable profile; different fruits emerge as time goes by. Spices. Rotting milk powder (a smell I remember from my youth).
Taste: Very soft and fruity (passion fruit and gooseberry), but solid at the same time. Hint of pine?
A nice amount of tannins in the background of the finish. Tethering on the good side of perfumy.
Score: 88 points - the passion fruits are really the defining elements in this malt whisky.
Benriach 15yo Madeira Finish (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Polished and a little malty. Not very expressive one way or the other, but it hangs together very well.
Some spices emerge after a minute, followed by fruits. Subtle development that earns it another point eventually.
Taste: Smooth solid mouth feel - just like the nose it doesn't really pick sides.
The nose opens up a little, but the palate remains pleasant but a little simple.
Score: 81 points - not quite as expressive as earlier expressions, I'd say.
Benriach 20yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/-2008)
Nose: Restrained fruits beneath the surface at first, growing spicier. The spices keep evolving.
After a few minutes more organics emerge, adding complexity and pushing the score from 83 to 84.
Taste: Slightly bitter start before opening up into a big, smooth centre. Smoky, fairly harsh finish.
Score: 84 points - but I should point out that it doesn't have a lot of 'staying power'. A tad thin...
Benriach 23yo 1984/2008 (54.2%, The Single Malts of Scotland, C#194, 214 Bts.)
Nose: Clean with light peaty notes. No peat monster, just a crisp 'coastal' profile. Emerging organics too.
Grows heavier, peatier and more complex with diesel notes after a few minutes. The score kept going up.
Taste: Solid and much peatier than the nose suggests. Diesel and a pinch of salt.
Good mouth feel with a decent amount of fruits in the centre. More chemical (diesel) in the finish.
Score: 88 points - although I should point out that this doesn't stand oxygen very well.
Benriach 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: Spicy. Wet dog. Sweet and sweaty. Quite complex and expressive. Some rough edges though.
Taste: A powerful presence with a whiff of smoke. However, it lacks the complexity of the nose.
Score: 79 points - just a smidgen too rough on the palate to reach the 80's.
Benriach 31yo 1975/2007 'Lightly Peated' (53,7%, OB, Port Pipe, C#4451, 707 Bts.)
Nose: Passion fruit? Quite subtle start. Furniture polish? Sweaty. Passion fruits coming back to haunt me.
Taste: Lovely sweet fruits. Very complex on the palate with loads of development. Liquorice.
Quite unique - with liquorice, smoke and leather popping up now and then. Needs time.
Score: 90 points - another solid surprise in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007.
Benriach 15yo 1991/2006 'Tawny Port Wood' (53%, OB, C#6921, Port hogshead for Taiwan)
Nose: Very aromatic start. Wonderful, but drops off quickly. The harsher notes remain. Let's add some water...
Not much change in the profile with water; perhaps a hint of rubber... Could be better integrated.
Taste: Sweet with a clear port influence. Even sweeter in the middle, turning a tad smoky in the finish.
Score: 83 points - although I could have put it in the upper 80's after the first few whiffs.
Benriach 37yo 1968/2006 (52%, OB, Hogshead #2712, 157 Bts.)
Nose: Woody, Polished. Some strange fruit. Cassis. Strawberry jam? Faintest hint of peat? Black currants?
Cassis? Quite unusial how the 'cassis' dominates. Over time more organics in the nose. Very interesting.
Relatively subtle in the nose but I like it. The nose is a tad light for my tastes but it's definitely hugely enjoyable.
Taste: The wood is quite prominent on the palate, though - but the tannins are lovely. Quite unique.
Score: 93 points - it wandered well into the 90's when I gave it enough time (and water!). Great stuff...
Benriach 30yo 1976/2006 (53%, OB for LMDW, Cask #3557, 222 Bottles)
Nose: Soft and malty. Peaches? Nectarines. Passion fruits - must be old. Hint of mint?
Opens up sweet and beautifully. Vaguely coastal. Can stand a little water - and loads of time.
Palate: Beautiful soft fruits. Nectarines & peaches. Smoky burn, evolving to strong fruity tannins in the finish.
My kind of palate, but not as complex as the nose. However, the fruits evolve beautifully. Fairly rough finish.
Score: 90 points - one of the big surprises of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007 for me.
Benriach 30yo (50%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: Rich and polished - but not terribly expressive at first. Tea? Lapsang Souchong.
Whiffs of peat, diesel and organics lurking in the background.
Taste: Very refined, deep fruitiness on the palate. Beautiful! Almost like a 'liquid jam'.
Touch of wood and some leather - just enough to add to the balance. The wood grows dominant in the finish.
Score: 88 points - not quite expressive enough to reach a gold medal in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006.
Benriach 10yo 1994/2005 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, C#2026, 402 Bottles)
Nose: Peat - and lots of it. Sweet as well with lots of organics to fill out the overall profile.
I heard that Seagram's did some peated batches, but I never imagined they would be this good.
Taste: Dry and, again, peaty. A very 'serious' profile - but I love it! I hope they have more casks.
Score: 84 points - making it my favourite young expression of Benriach so far. Hot stuff...
Benriach 11yo 1994/2005 (59,7%, Signatory, Heavily peated, Port Pipe finish, C#05/355/1, 863 Bts.)
Nose: Hey, this is interesting. Meaty. I usually get that as a 'secondary' smell, but here it's right on the surface.
Peat as well. This is certainly unlike any of the other Benriachs I've tried, but I love it. Quite unique...
Taste: On the palate it's very interesting as well with meat, leather and liquorice joining the peat.
Score: 91 points - but I should point out that most maniacs scored it lower than that...
Benriach 28yo 1976/2005 (56.9%, Signatory, Cask #9442, Sherry butt, 426 Bottles)
Nose: Aaah. Lovely sweet start with faint hints of cookery and medicine in the background. Very expressive.
Taste: Brilliant! Smooth & powerful at the same time. Fruity; loads of coffee in the background. Gooseberry.
Score: 89 points - just my kind of profile. No subtlety here... The mouth feel is really excellent. Succulent.
At times I was even inclined to increase my score to 90 points, but in the end it stays at 89 points.
Benriach 34yo 1968/2003 (49.8%, Hart Brothers)
Nose: Malty and creamy just like the 12yo 1969, but with more fruity notes. Slightly dusty.
More spices after a minute - and then farmy organics as well, growing stronger. Intense.
Maybe a faint hint of smoke and even something medicinal? Dentist? Very, very interesting.
Taste: It starts out sweeter than the 12yo, but the bitter elements soon become dominant.
It's a little fruitier than the 12yo on the palate too. After a while I got a hint of liquorice.
A tad watery and not all that special. In fact it's downright disappointing after the nose.
Score: 84 points - once again, the palate pulls it down from the upper 80's. Too bad.
A magnificent nose, though. Another malt much more suitable for nosing than for tasting.
Benriach 34yo 1968/2003 (50.4%, Duncan Taylor Peerless, Cask #2593, 137 Bts., D. 11/'68 Btl. 01/'03)
Nose: Sweet, creamy and malty. None of these bottlings has the 'oily' character of the 10yo OB.
Opens up to the most fragrant and expressive nose of the three. Here I got some liquorice.
Unfortunately, where the others opened up with time, this showed little further development.
Taste: Flatter than the other two. It feels a little uneven. No fun at all - a real spoiler here.
The palate of the other two was just less impressive than the nose. Here it's sub-standard.
Score: 77 points - I really can't classify this as a 'recommendable' malt. Just a tad above average.
Benriach 10yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000, 100cl)
Nose: Flat and oily. Faint sweetness. Not very expressive at first I must say.
It grows creamier and nuttier over time but in the end it remains rather shallow.
Taste: Very restrained at first. Then it becomes sweeter. Yes, that's more like it.
It grows a little sour and bitter in the centre. Not a lot of excitement here.
A very short finish - one could almost describe it as a 'photo-finish'...
Score: 70 points - close to the 'house style': Grainy, slightly oily, maybe flowery?
Benriach 12yo 1986/1998 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Casks #4804 & 4805, 70cl)
Nose: Peculiar start. A lot of development; it grows notably weeter with time.
It became grainier with notably more chloride after I added a splash of water.
Taste: Malty. Sweetish wint a hint of pine. Plywood? Sticky. Not entirely balanced.
Toffee smotthness after adding some water. Bitterish finish. Below average.
Score: 73 points - just a smidgen better than the young OB's of the 1990's, I'd say.
Benriach 10yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995, 70cl)
Nose: Somewhat grainy and slightly oily. Very soft, but it slowly grows more interesting.
A pleasant nutty, flowery sweetness. Enjoyable, but not particulary interesting, I'd say...
Taste: Rather soft with a powerful afterglow. A real summer-malt - nice but dim.
Score: 71 points - and it comes in one of the plainest bottles I've seen...
Benriach 12yo 1969 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Bottled +/- 1981)
Nose: Malty and creamy, growing spicier. Delicate, but not weak or 'middle-of-the-road'.
Quite expressive, and further proof that the 'CC' range wasn't always synonymous with 'bland'.
Gooseberries. Cardamom? Fennel? Nothing really stands out, but it grows ever more spicy.
Amazing development over time - no big shifts in character, but ever changing nuances.
Taste: A tad bitter at first. Malty. Fairly flat and dry, decisively pulling it from the upper 80's.
The faint bitterness is always present - a bit like grape skins or seeds. Not really my style.
Score: 82 points - the nose is spectacular, but it's hardly anything special on the palate.
It might have done better at a higher proof, giving the palate some more 'substance'.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Benriach Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Benriach page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Benriach expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or