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Benriach (pronounced: ben-REE-ak) is one of the bigger success stories in the whisky world of recent years. Since being sold to Billy Walker in 2004 it has undergone a major regeneration and people are now well aware of just how great a whisky it can be.
With an ever increasing portfolio of malts it seems that things are only going to get better for Benriach in the coming years.
Founded: 1898 Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit Water source: Bourmade Spring (hard water) Capacity: 2.8 Million Litres Owners: Billy Walker
Benriach was closed in 1900, one of several victims of the pattison crisis, and did not reopen until 1965 when it was rebuilt by new owners The Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd. It was reconstructed, in the fashion of the time, as a modern distillery. It retained the single pair of stills but had much of the original equipment replaced. However, due to the advantages of floor maltings and modest production levels, the spirit it produced was of fascinatingly high quality.
There are not many examples of the old Benriach bottled at a young age, save for a few examples by G&M in their old Connoisseurs Choice series. The majority of examples have all been well-aged ones, they are by and large fantastic drams. Fruit is their central signature, old Benriachs are full of notes of green fruits, pink grapefruit, floral aspects, tropical notes and lush malty tones. The best ones seem to be from between 1968-1976 and many casks, both official and independent, have been bottled for various markets that show this beautiful profile.
During this era the distillery also began to produce peated variants, a tradition that has carried on till this day. It has made life easier for Billy Walker and co as they have had a variety of styles and casks to play with as a result. The aged peated Benriachs are characterized by sweet phenols, an oily medical note and some gristy smoky flavours underneath. They are often excellent but perhaps dont shine as brightly as the classic, fruit heavy aged expressions.
Under the new ownership of Seagrams, Benriach had a second set of stills installed in 1985, however it would still be several years before the owners got around to actually releasing it as a malt.
1985-2002: Tentative Steps, Pear Drops and Cereal.
The character of Benriach in these years was a little more restrained on the fruit front. The common hallmarks are a more overt cereal note with lots of citrus, some minerals and a slight dryness. This character is very evident in the official 10yo that was finally launched in 1994. Peated batched were also distilled during this time along with a few batches of triple distilled spirit in 1998. The peated stock from the eighties onwards varies from the older examples in that it is drier, oilier and more exemplary of peated malt in a very technical way. Some examples distilled in the mid nineties bottled by Signatory are excellent and knock many Islay drams clean out of the water. The triple distilled spirit has just recently seen its first release and has so far been met very favorably.
Benriach was sadly closed by new owners Pernod Ricard in 2002, although thankfully this paved the way for Billy Walker in 2004.
2004-Present: New Lease Of Life
Since its reopening Benriach has continued to grow steadily year by year, both in brand terms and in production levels. The new range is seemingly an ever changing line up that is always interesting and varied. They have delved, like so many these days, into the murky world of wine finishes, and while these expressions are never as good as their more natural releases, they are not terrible either. The best examples are the aged bottlings but the standard and younger examples are also benefitting hugely from consistently excellent cask selection and vatting. The malts all betray the quality that lies at the heart of Benriach and hopefully this attitude and quality is here to stay at Benriach