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Benrinnes (pronounced: ben-RIN-es) is one of those medium-obscure distilleries with a widely respected distillate that is well represented by the independents but largely ignored by its owners. A robust and muscular whisky, it has long been favorable with blenders as a backbone-giving component in blends but also with drinkers for its oilier, more beefy slant on the common speyside character.
Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit
Capacity: 2.6 Million Litres
Water Source: Scurran and Rownantree Burns
. Owners: Diageo
1955-1984: Slow Expansion
In 1955 Benrinnes was largely rebuilt, this triggered a slow process of modernization in the production of whisky at the distillery. In 1964 the floor maltings were decommissioned and a Saladin Box malting system installed in their place. Further expansion happened in 1966 when the number of stills was doubled from three to six, this signaled a change in the distillation regime, Benrinnes would now be partially triple distilled with the feints and low wines from the middle distillation redistilled in the third still. These stills were converted to internal steam heating in 1970. Eventually on site malting was halted entirely at Benrinnes in 1984 with the removal of the Saladin box.
There are a handful of bottlings from this era in Benrinnes history, most of them are by Gordon & MacPhail, although some of the lower strength ones are not particularly exceptional. Sherry casks have always been the predominant wood type filled at Benrinnes and this has contributed a lot to its profile over the years. Benrinnes is a naturally oily, muscular and meaty distillate, one that is enhanced greatly in active sherry wood, the weight and stamina of the spirit binds to the fruity power of sherry exceptionally well. The best examples are clean, mineraled, oily, flinty and full of dense fruity character. Even up to the mid eighties when onsite malting stopped and Benrinnes finally became a more modern site, the distillate remained a very chunky and boisterous one. The best example from these early years is a 19yo 1968 bottled by G&M for Sestante in Italy. Unlike many examples it is matured in refill wood and is therefore an excellent, natural example of the spirit. It is a big, herbaceous, spicy and complex dram, one that is well worth seeking out. The 1974 Rare Malts 21yo also offers a suitably austere and old school example of refill matured Benrinnes if you can find it.
1984-Present: Big, Resilient and Old School.
Since the mid nineties bottlings of Benrinnes have increased in number quite significantly. There are now many variants from most of the main bottlers. Excellent examples can be found from Signatory, The Bottlers and even some fine official examples have been released in recent years. The standard 15yo Flora & Fauna remains a benchmark example of the make with big orangey, sherry qualities and plenty of meaty, smoky complexities underneath. There was also a great heavily sherried 23yo in the 2009 special releases package, this showed Benrinnes in all its full on oily, sherried power.
One of the reasons that Benrinnes has managed to retain such an old school and full-bodied quality is the continued use of worm tub condensers at the distillery. Worm tubs offer less intense copper contact during the condensing process at the end of distillation, thereby retaining many of the slightly heavier and oilier congeners and compounds in the distillate.
Benrinnes seems set to continue as a successful blenders favourite. While Diageo dont seem to be in a hurry to offer more single malt examples of Benrinnes, thankfully the independents are doing a fine job of providing us with many varied and fascinating examples. Benrinnes is never a boring malt and, unlike many of the more obscure distilleries, it is actually a very flavorsome and often excellent dram, lets hope it remains so.