The Benriach distillery is located near Elgin in the 'Lossie' part of Speyside,
between Linkwood and Longmorn. Benriach was constructed in 1898 by John Duff,
who had built the Longmorn distillery just a few years year earlier. Unfortunately,
financial problems forced John to sell both distilleries soon afterwards.
Chivas bought the Benriach distillery in 2001 - but closed the distillery again in 2002,
almost immediately after they acquired it. That’s exactly what 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...
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 in 1965; The Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd.
Glenlivet 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 10yo official bottling
until 1994 - and to be perfectly honest that expression didn't really tickle my fancy.
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 Benriach in 2004.
They turned Benriach into a 'hot' distillery again.
The new owners wasted no time. They resumed production again in that
very same year and then quickly launched new 12, 16 and 20 year old
expressions of Benriach. They also took the opportunity to redesign the
company logo (capitalising on the R) and the packaging of the bottles.
The picture at the right shows the new Benriach labeling;
more informative and alltogether easier on the eyes than the
plain design they used in the 1990's - shown at the left.
They also started releasing more single cask bottlings.
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 produced
some batches of more peated malt whisky as well.
The 'Curiositas' contains some of this peated whisky.
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 - and some of it ended up in the 'Curiositas' bottling. Some fundamentalists
objected to an ‘Islay style’ whisky from Speyside, but let's not forget that the use of (some) peated
malt was actually quite common in Speyside and other parts of the Highlands in in the past.
The (relative) independence of BenRiach ended again on June 1, 2016 after Brown Forman aquired it. .
Benriach is located in the ‘Lossie’ area of the Speyside region.
Its closest neighbours are the Linkwood, Longmorn and Glen Elgin distilleries.
The process water for Benriach is relatively hard (Ca. 180 PPM Calcium) and
comes from the nearby Bourmade Spring.
The distillery offers tours, but not on all days of the week. Visitors are welcome
on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but booking in advance is required - and there’s a £35.00 fee.
Many other distillery tours are cheaper - but on the other hand Benriach now has its own traditional maltings.
1) Benriach was built in 1898 - but closed again within two years. Why so soon?
Well, John Duff (founder of both Longmorn and Benriach) was one of dozens of whisky
entrepreneurs to suffer from the fallout of the 'Pattison whisky Crisis' of 1899. During
the late 19th century there was a massive whisky boom and during the 1890's no less
than 33 new Scotch distilleries 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 entire industry.
3) 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.
6) 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. 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.
4) The stills at BenRiach are supposedly exact replica's of the original stills of 1898.
5) The 'Optic' barley variety is used to produce the majority of the BenRiach Scotch malt whisky.
2) In the early years the name ‘Longmorn #2’ was used for Benriach.
In later years it took the distillery about a century to get over its inferiority complex.
2002 - After Pernod Ricard bought Chivas Brothers
(the owners of Benriach) in 2001 they didn't waste a
lot of time... Just one year after the purchase they
decided to mothball the distillery in October 2002.
2006 - Benriach releases over a dozen new bottlings;
most of them vintages, but a 25yo and a 30yo as well.
2013 - On March 22, Benriach announced their acquisition of the Glenglassaugh distillery in a press release.
2017 - Billy Walker leaves the company - not really unexpectedly. He was (sort of) replaced by Rachel Barrie.
Not long after this management change, the Peated Cask Strength Batch 1 is released. Without age statement...
2004 - Benriach was revived when Intra Trading
purchased the distillery. The people involved are
Scotsman Billy Walker (a former operations manager
with bottler Burn Stewart) and two South African
partners (Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter).
The name is also ‘changed’ to BenRiach.
2012 - The owners of Benriach / 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 their investors happy. Ah, well - that's business I guess...
On the bright side: in November 2012 Benriach announced that they had revived the old malting equipment.
From now on, part of) the malted barley that is required for the BenRiach single malt whisky will be produced
'on site' at the Benriach maltings again. With this move, Benrich seems to be going "against the grain"...
2011 - For the first time since the relaunch, Benriach produces more than 10,000 casks in a single year.
2008 - The owners of Benriach acquire a second
distillery: Glendronach in the Deveron area.
2016 - On June 1, 2016 after Brown Forman aquires the BenRiach group and its three distilleries. .
Benriach 19yo 1991/2011 (57.9%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, C#32284, 238 Bts.)
Nose: Big, rich and fruity start. It settles down after half a minute, though. It needed water.
With quite some water the nose grew much sharper. It also seemed to move in a perfumy direction.
Taste: Quite sharp at cask strength. All I got was plums and apricots, so I quickly added some water.
Diluted to +/- 50% ABV this whisky showed much more lilac / lavender notes - not something I'm a fan of.
Score: 81 points - still a fairly decent malt whisky, but it doesn't live up to the initial promise.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 other malt maniacs scored it lower than that...
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 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 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'.
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.
The rich, pungent smell of rotting milk powder (a fairly specific 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 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.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Benriach malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Benriach I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Benriach.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.