Benrinnes is a distillery that quietly goes about its business without too much bravado or fanfare. It’s been around since 1826, which puts it amongst the 2nd wave of legal distilleries after the forefathers of 1824. Yet Benrinnes for malt enthusiasts is a distinctive Speyside whisky. A powerful exponent and full bodied. Often not for the faint of heart.
From around 1974 and until 2007, the distillery followed a partial triple distillation process much like that at Springbank distillery. Nicely bringing us – DJ Mike Smash linkage – to this independent bottling from Cadenhead’s. I’ll admit I’ve struggled to keep up with the monthly outturns recently. You’re often left with the feeling of chasing shadows and whilst I’ll enjoy a whisky from this independent bottler, by the time I’ve written the piece and the tasting notes its long gone at retail. So we’re going to try and speed things up a little when these releases hit the shelves.
On a side note can I say that the current April 2018 outturn has a younger Benrinnes at 13 years of age that I haven’t tried as of yet. However, it does have a cracking Pulteney from 2006, bottled at 12 years and a robust 56% strength. For around £55 its a corker and underlines how good this distillery can be. I also have the Dalmore from 2001, bottled at 16 years of age and double matured with a sherry cask being utilised. The review of that will follow later in May as it’ll be opened for a tasting.
This particular Benrinnes came from the March 2018 Small Batch outturn. It’s certainly still available at the Edinburgh Cadenheads shop but you may need to hunt around elsewhere. It’s a vatting of 3 bourbon barrels, resulting in an outturn of just 408 bottles priced at £76 and a strength of 54% volume. This sample was kindly provided by the team at the Edinburgh shop. In the last year, the Campbeltown team have bottled a couple of Benrinnes’ around this age with the 20 year old Club bottling from 1997 proving to be a very good whisky. Chances are these vatted casks come from the same batch, as an independent such as this will buy in bulk.
Anyway, back to Benrinnes itself and its partial triple distillation. Auchentoshan – apologies for swearing – is set up in the classic style to achieve this. Then there are pretenders, or more likely distilleries who for whatever historical oddity have done things differently opposed to the standard double distillation we see across Scotland. The reasoning for this and why, for the most part, has been consigned to the void of history. Where possibly you’ll find that enjoyable bottle of Auchentoshan. Joking aside, some of the proprietors of this style are the aforementioned Springbank and the Beast of Dufftown, Mortlach. In essence, the feints and low wines produced during the important 2nd distillation in the 1st still are further distilled in the other still. This gives Springbank its 2.5 distillation and the marketing bods at Mortlach thought it was more 2.81 times for them. Mortlach is slightly different due to its famous still dubbed Wee Witchie where the spirit is triple distilled before being added back into the other still distillates that are just 2 times. Both Mortlach and Benrinnes are united by their use of worm tubs, which have been adopted by some of the newer distilleries we’re seeing built now.
A worm tub’s job essentially is to turn the vapours back into liquid form. By doing so you have your new make distillation. Whilst it is made from copper like the still itself, the worm tub is less effective than modern day condensers that efficiently remove the heavy compounds that many distilleries seek to remove such as sulphur and the oils. Here’s a photograph of a knackered shell and tube condenser at Knockdhu distillery:
These things aren’t cheap and you can see the patchwork repairs on some of the internal copper tubes. However, they more than pay for themselves with many distilleries working flat out. Interestingly, Knockdhu utilises both methods. Around the back it has worm tubs around 100 metres in length, coiled and submerged in a cold water tank.
Those distilleries that rely on worm tubs in the traditional sense will produce a heavier, meatier and savoury style of spirit. Fill this into a sherry cask and bingo! You have a rather robust, divisive and characterful style of whisky. Mortlach is synonymous for its preference for sherry casks and a face belting dram. Benrinnes as well can pack a punch, but remember as of 2007 it stepped away from the oddity of partial distillation. Instead, now the 2 wash stills and 4 spirit stills are utilised in a more commercial and practical manner. Of course, what we have here is the older now discontinued style. However, before we jump into the review you may ask why the switch in 1974? Good question, I don’t have an answer but more than likely was the need for a certain style of malt to fulfil blending requirements. Rather than build a completely new distillery it’s easier just to adapt what you have?
Cadenhead’s Benrinnes 20 year old – review
Colour: olive oil.
On the nose: forceful in some respects with resin, pencil shavings and wood spice. Buttery popcorn follows with almonds and a delightful oily quality. Struck flint, honeysuckle, a sprinkling of sweet tobacco and an overly ripe red apple. Digging further a chocolate brownie, marzipan, pomegranate and caramel. A splash of water brings out more citrus notes with orange sherbet and lemons.
In the mouth: all that richness and body on the nose comes through. More of that resin oiliness backed up with charcoal, hazelnuts, a creamy caramel. Juicy apples, a lightly honeyed ham and sweetcorn. Adding water like the nose reveals more of those citrus elements with lemon drizzle cake and marzipan coming through.
Very happy with this Benrinnes, as for the price you’re receiving a whisky that has character and a real attitude. It’s an interesting whisky and one that many can appreciate, but hopefully not too much as I need to pick up a bottle myself.