The Benrinnes distillery (sometimes spelled as 'Ben Rinnes') was built
near the site of an earlier distillery which was erected near the Whitehouse
Farm in Banffshire in 1826. It was perhaps not the most fortunate choice of
locations: the first Benrinnes distillery was destroyed by a flood in 1829.
Ordinary people might have given up, but not the Scots...
The production capacity of Benrinnes was expanded significantly in
1966 by increasing the number of stills from three to six. In 1970 the
distillery also switched from mechanical stoking to internal heating.
So, by this time most of the original features had been changed.
Another distillery was constructed nearby in or around 1835.
The ownership of this new distillery changed several times before the
company John Dewar & Sons acquired Benrinnes in 1922. They didn’t
get to enjoy their new Scotch distillery for very long by themselves,
because John Dewar & Sons merged with the DCL in 1925.
(DCL is short for Distillery Company Limited - now part of Diageo.)
Benrinnes was completely rebuilt in 1955/1956 and the traditional floor
maltings were replaced by a so-called 'Saladin Box' in 1964. This is a
giant flat box that mechanically turns the germinating barley inside and
allows air to pass through it. The Saladin Box (named after inventor
Charles Saladin) was removed again in 1984 when Benrinnes stopped
making its own malted barley.
And that's not the only unique feature of the distillery; Benrinnes is one of the
few distilleries in Scotland that still uses so-called 'worm tubs' to cool off the
vapours and condensed spirit from the running pot stills.
In 1974 the production regime at Benrinnes was changed yet again when the
distillery switched to a 'partial triple distillation' system. The so-called 'feints
and low wines' that are produced in the second distillation (in the first spirit still)
are distilled again in the second spirit still.
The late 1990's were significant for Benrinnes too... In 1998 UD (United Distillers,
part of Guiness Group) and IDV (International Distillers & Vintners, part of the
Grand Metropolitan Group) merged into UDV (United Distillers & Vintners).
I'm not entirely sure how the large corporations are legally linked exactly, but
UDV is synonymous with Diageo - Scotland's largest whisky producer by far. .
During the 1990s and early 2000s the only widely available bottling of Benrinnes
was the semi-official 'Flora & Fauna' expression, first released in 1991. The only
other semi-official release of Benrinnes was a 21yo United Distillers Rare Malts
(UDRM) bottling distilled in 1974. Fortunately, independent bottlers have made
dozens of different expressions available to malt whisky lovers worldwide.
Especially Gordon & MacPhail has been active in this respect.
The Benrinnes distillery is one of the ‘workhorses’
of Diageo and they haven’t been very interested in
developing the brand for the general public.
The surroundings of Benrinnes are beautiful,
but the distillery buildings are not much to look at.
They do not offer guided tours anyway, so visitors
have to look elsewhere to satisfy their curiosity.
One other ‘feature’ of Benrinnes is its location near the River Spey that flows through the region.
This doesn’t make the distillery unique - quite the contrary in fact. But a possible theme for a whisky trip through
the Speyside region could be: distilleries along the Spey river. Such a tour could (for example) lead downstream
past distilleries like Tormore, Tamdhu, Cardhu, Knockando, Dailuaine, Aberlour, Macallan and Glenrothes.
1) Worm tubs were once a common feauture among Scotch malt whisky
distilleries, but by 2005 there were only 13 other distilleries that were still
using this cooling system; Balmenach, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Edradour,
Glen Elgin, Glenkinchie, Mortlach, Oban, Old Pulteney, Royal Lochnagar,
Speyburn, Springbank (on their wash still only) and Talisker.
2) The mysterious 'Stronachie' malt whisky appeared in 2003.
There used to be an actual 'Stronachie' distillery around a century ago,
but this new bottle turned out to be a 'bastard malt' that has very little to
do with that historical distillery. Stronachie is presented as a composition
'inspired' by the profile of an old bottle of Stronachie from 1904 that was
found somewhere. However, organoleptic tests and rumours indicate that
those bottles of Stronachie in fact contain Benrinnes 12yo malt whisky.
6) In 1964 the traditional floor maltings were replaced by a more modern invention called 'Saladin Box'.
This Saladin Box at Benrinnes was used until 1984, when the distillery started buying its malted barley elsewhere.
3) In 1896, the Benrinnes distillery was seriously damaged by a large fire.
The owners used this as an opportunity to completely refurbish their distillery.
Around the same time the exciting and useful novelty of electricity was introduced.
7) Until 1955 there were farming activities on the distillery site as well - possibly including barley cultivation.
4) The 'looks' of Benrinnes are not great - the distillery isn’t particularly attractive and fairly modern.
That's not because it was built quite recently (the first distillery buildings at the current site were built in 1835),
but due to the fact that the entire distillery was reconstructed (yet again) in the late 1950's.
5) During the aforementioned reconstruction, the number of stills was extended to six at that time - arranged in
two sets of three stills to enable some form of triple distillation. This fairly unique set-up operated until 2007, when
the configuration was changed to two wash stills and four spirit stills.
8) The malt whisky from Benrinnes has always been popular with blenders for their blended Scotches.
For a long time there was no need to market the whisky to the general public, so the very first ‘official’ bottling
didn’t emerge until 1991 - a 15yo expression in the ‘Flora & Fauna’ series.
2007 - Benrinnes used some type of ‘triple distillation’ (or two-and-a-half distillation) between 1955
and 2007. The distillery used its six stills as two sets of three stills in a way similar to the method that
is still used at the Springbank distillery. Nowadays, the arrangement of the stills resembles that of
other Scotch whisky distilleries more closely. These days, 2 wash stills and 4 wash stills are used.
2009 - For more than a decade Benrinnes was one of the 'ugly stepchildren' of Diageo, but the
distillery received a little more attention in 2009. In that year an expression was released in the
insanely (over)priced 'Manager's Choice' range. This series seems to be mostly aimed at collectors
who were willing to look at this release as an investment opportunity. The managers of a number of
Diageo's distilleries got together on February 17 to select "the very best casks" from each distillery.
I haven't tried them myself, but I’ve heard that Diageo's very best wasn't always very good...
2014 - A 21 year old official bottling of Benrinnes is introduced as a ‘Limted Release’.
Looking at the dates, the whisky from these casks all dates from the time of ‘United Distillers’ and
IDV - before these two large whisky corporations merged into the giant Diageo in 1998.
2016 - An 18yo independent bottling of Benrinnes was released by That Boutique-y Whisky Company.
In the same year at least one other private bottling saw the light of day: a 19yo 1977/2016 by The Ultimate.
Benrinnes 13yo 1996/2009 (57%, A. D. Rattray Cask Collection, Sherry Hogshead #6461, 315 Bts.)
Nose: Sweet, smoky and woody. Toffee and coffee. An extremely heavily sherried profile with lots of fruits.
Lighter fruits in the top of the nose. Spices emerge after a few minutes, growing complex and dominant over time.
Taste: Big and sweet with a smoky undercurrent. Perhaps not terribly refined, but right up my alley.
Quite some tannins at the end of the finish. The sweet, fruity notes provide a brilliant balance.
Score: 87 points - which makes it one of the very best expressions of Benrinnes whisky I've tried so far.
In fact, I was inclined to increase my initial score to 88 or even 89 points after a second try. Excellent!
Benrinnes 26yo 1982/2009 (57.4%, The Bottlers, Refill sherry butt c#3229)
Nose: Wow! Massive sherry and cookies. Raisins and plums. Marzipan and a hint of smoke. Lovely & complex.
A lovely sweetness. More spices emerging after a minute or two. Cinnamon. Clove. Speculaas spices.
Taste: Hey! So much oak and tannins that it almost feels like an Islay malt. Heavy smoke as well.
Score: 92 points - which makes this by far the best Benrinnes I've tried so far. It's extreme though...
Benrinnes 15yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, 70cl, bottled +/- 1998) - my first ever bottle of Benrinnes.
Nose: Sweet & sherried. Fruity with a hint of smoke. Very appealing from the start. Maggi? Stock cubes.
Plenty of the lovely 'organics' that I love in some sherried malts. Furniture wax. Old fruits. Exquisite!
Amazing! Wood (wet, dead oak burning in the autumn). With a drop of water the nose improves even further.
Taste: Sherried with notable leathery notes. Bittersweet. Sherry dryness with smooth episodes.
Very nice. Oaky and smoky. Orange. Long, dry finish with sherry moving back and forth.
Score: 83 points - for a long time my first ever whisky from Benrinnes remained my favourite.
Benrinnes 12yo 1989/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice)
Nose: Sherry. Some smoke. A little alcoholic. Pleasant composition. Quite light.
Starts strong and becomes even more powerful after a minute. More smoke.
Taste: Sherry and smoke. Woody. Deep flavours, but a bit 'muddy'. Liquorice feeling.
Score: 79 points - another Benrinnes that approaches recommendability. Above average whisky.
Nothing wrong here, but just not remarkable enough for a score in the 80's.
Benrinnes 1985/1999 (43%, Mac Kullick's Choice, Distilled in May 1985, Cask #1213)
Nose: Grainy and 'veggy' over a soft sweet underground. Not much depth at first. Soft pepper? Maggi?
Sweetish with a hint of dust. Fresher with time. Remains restrained. Lighter and grainier than other bottlings.
Taste: Hot. Gritty with a hint of coffee in the centre. Too thin. Astringent, dry finish.
Score: 73 points - I'd have to classify this as 'below average', but not very much.
This 'Mac Kullick' is fairly MOTR and hardly the best example of Benrinnes available.
Benrinnes 21yo 1974/1995 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry butt, C#2579, 695 Bts.)
Nose: Reasonably sherried with some sulphur and a lot of spices. Cinnamon. Furniture polish too...
Taste: Smooth start, blossoming into a solid centre with sherry, fruits, wood and some smoke.
Not really sweet enough for my tastes. Pretty good mouth feel though... Definitely recommendable.
Score: 83 points - although I had it at 82 points for a long time. This one hangs together very well.
Benrinnes 1972/1995 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old Map Label)
Nose: Oh boy!!! Extremely rich and sherried - not your average 'MOTR' CC. Grassy elements and organics.
Spices. Salmiak. Brilliant. Something veggy. Whiff of smoke. It also sweetens out after a little while.
Taste: It starts very odd as well - but not is such a good way as the nose.
Fortunately, it sweetens out and becomes very big and chewy on the palate.
Nice - but then it dries out again in the finish, leaving a coffee-like bitterness.
Score: 86 points - a great malt, but I don't like the palate enough to go higher.
Benrinnes 1978/1995 'Centenary Reserve' (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 70cl).
Nose: Fruity with a whiff of peat. Quite fresh with a soft, beguiling sweetness.
It grows notably oilier after a while. Interesting development but little 'volume'.
Taste: Soft start. A wonderful toffee sweetness emerges quickly - and disappears again.
No sweetness left after 5 minutes. Fresh burn. Bitter in the finish with flashes of liquorice.
Score: 77 points - not quite what I expected w.r.t. style and performance.
Still, I don't think oxidation (this bottle has a screwcap) is to blame here.
Benrinnes 1968 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice, Old Brown Label, no bottling year specified)
Nose: Sweet & floral. Some nutty elements. Organics. Orange. Fat York Ham. Peaty over time.
Taste: Not very well defined. Tea? Short finish. Just a tad too bitter for my tastes.
Score: 79 points - very close to 'recommendable', but not quite...
I guess that makes it an 'average' Benrinnes.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Benrinnes malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Benrinnes 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 Benrinnes.
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.