Benriach

Benriach (pronounced: ben-REE-ak) is one of the bigger success stories in the whisky world of recent years. After being sold to Billy Walker in 2004 it underwent a major regeneration and was rediscovered by malt whisky fans as the great distillery that it is. In 2016, American...

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Benriach (pronounced: ben-REE-ak) is one of the bigger success stories in the whisky world of recent years. After being sold to Billy Walker in 2004 it underwent a major regeneration and was rediscovered by malt whisky fans as the great distillery that it is. In 2016, American drinks behemoth Brown-Forman bought Benriach and its sister distilleries Glenglassaugh and Glendronach for £285m. With its reputation now established and 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

1965-1985: Reopening and early years.

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, retaining the single pair of stills but with 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, and by and large they are 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 to this day. This made life easier for Billy Walker after the 2004 takeover, as they had a variety of styles and casks to play with as a result. The aged peated Benriachs are characterised by sweet phenols, an oily medical note and some gristy smoky flavours underneath. They are often excellent but perhaps don't shine as brightly as the classic, fruit-heavy aged expressions.

In 1985, during Seagram's ownership, Benriach had a second set of stills installed. 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 10-year-old that was finally launched by Seagram in 1994 - a dull, uninspiring whisky indicative of the neglect suffered by the Benriach brand in this dark period.

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 and later bottled by Signatory are excellent and knock many Islay drams clean out of the water. The triple-distilled spirit first released during the Billy Walker period was also met very favourably.

Benriach was sadly closed by 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 range released by Billy Walker was always interesting and varied. They also delved, like so many these days, into the murky world of wine finishes, and while these expressions were never as good as their more natural releases, they are not terrible either.

The best examples, which first appeared almost immediately after the Walker takeover, were a string of batches of long-aged vintage bottlings but the core range also benefitted hugely from consistently excellent cask selection and vatting.

In 2017, Brown-Forman recruited Dr. Rachel Barrie from Morrison Bowmore to be Master Blender for their Scottish distilleries, and in late 2020 the Benriach range was revamped and relaunched with both peated and unpeated expressions in the core range. The malts all display the quality that lies at the heart of Benriach and hopefully this progressive quality-focused attitude is here to stay.

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