Ask yourself what does BenRiach represent? To some, it’s a personal favourite while to others an unknown quantity. Baggage that accompanied the splendour of GlenDronach when Brown-Forman paid a king’s ransom for the company in 2016 with Glenglassaugh following up at the rear.
Each and every one of us has a valid opinion and perspective. My own take on BenRiach is that I’ve yet to be moved or shaken by its whisky. It remains in my eyes an extremely interesting distillery. One that we almost lost to the ghostly closed ranks. The whisky chronicles of time reveal that BenRiach was closed almost as soon as it opened in 1897. This was a high point – a boom time – the crest of a wave, propelled by sheer optimism that had swept across the industry. Such fever when it does break tends to do so in dramatic fashion and this whisky ecstasy was no different. The frenzy was brought to an almighty thud by an industry scandal.
Recalling the Pattinson crash as it has become called still provides lessons to this day. Dodgy dealing and extravagant publicity from a leading firm of the period brought many companies and distilleries to their knees. The interlinked nature and reliance on orders, meant the failure of a principal source of whisky reverberated around many. We should not overlook the fact that the company were passing off whisky as XYZ when in fact it was far from the case. The ringleaders were financially ruined and jailed for their crimes.
And confidence was shaken and more than stirred, ladies and gentlemen. Consumers turned elsewhere and demand fell dramatically. Within the space of a decade, production across the industry had fallen by around a third. This means casualties far and wide. Write up a list of Scottish distilleries if you can. Admittedly I’m struggling to keep up with all the in-progress developments. Then, when you’re confident of your work, score through a third of the names making sure Glenlivet is right in there.
Devilish economics is harsh and ruthless. Established companies, distilleries were shaken including Glenfarclas. Many closed never to reopen and for BenRiach this might have been the case as well. The founders in 1897 had less than 3 years as a functioning site, before the doors slammed shut at the turn of the century. The distillery doors remained firmly closed for an incredible period of 65 years, until in 1965 a new owner brought new life to the site. Speyside’s most reclusive distillery was awake during the crest of another boom fuelled by blended scotch.
Yes, BenRiach represents a time capsule of a unique kind to an onlooker such as myself. Full of classic period features and littered in history except when it comes to the liquid. With no aged stock or single malt presence to call its own, it has been a case of starting from scratch. A period of closure arrived at its doors once again in 2002 before new ownership led by Billy Walker took on the challenge of this regional oddity.
Now questions about what is the BenRiach style would have been asked when the new owners took charge in 2004. What defines this distillery? How do you define what BenRiach truly is? In some ways, we’re still asking these questions today. I’ve had mixed experiences with the various official distillery releases that at times have descended upon the market like a ravenous rain storm. Cask finishes, age statements, colour, different types of distillates; all help to dilute what BenRiach truly is about.
In my recent Cadenhead’s BenRiach 10 year old piece, the theme of being unfashionable cropped up. Despite the annual releases and same marketing tricks that propelled GlenDronach to new heights in comparison, BenRiach has yet to capture the public imagination. This doesn’t mean it represents a bad or misaligned whisky; far from it in fact. That review underlined the message that we should step out from our comfort zones and try something else. The other theme I took from the experience was that BenRiach potentially is best suited to an independent release. Time will tell but for now, I have to thank Rose (@fromwhereIdram) in California, for a generous sample of this American exclusive release and the photographs. Another opportunity to sit down with an interesting BenRiach whisky on paper.
So, this BenRiach was distilled in 1994 before being bottled in July 2013 at 19 years of age and natural colour with no chill filtration. Residing in an Oloroso sherry butt, the cask #7352 produced 563 bottles at a pleasing 53.2% strength. The label suggests a finish of some kind. Perhaps a refresher that Billy Walker and BenRiach were known for doing such things with their vintages at times. It has long since sold out and the secondary market is your only option nowadays if you wish to track down a bottle.
BenRiach 1994 Peated/Oloroso Sherry – Jason’s review
Colour: Rolled tobacco.
On the nose: Very layered and it must be said fun! Chocolate fudge which I don’t enjoy personally but it works here. A fleeting cinnamon note before the autumnal characteristic kicks in with wet soil and roasted chestnuts. Salted caramel brings sweetness and seasoning followed by the familiar aroma of Arbroath Smokies fresh from the farmers market. There’s a lighter dimension below worth exploring. A flash of coconut ice, a faded vanilla and digestives. An oily quality and a festive streek with myrrh.
In the mouth: Tar-like and a Highland toffee. A little restrained not as detailed as the nose but does what it does very well. Ham hock with a beefy nature and earthy qualities. Liquorice and a toasted dynamic followed by more cereal biscuits and a sooty finish that evaporates leaving prolonged smoky quality. Drying to a certain extent and best summarised as chocolate soil.
BenRiach 1994 Peated/Oloroso Sherry – Rose’s review
Color: Burnt Orange
On the nose: Red apples baking, powdered clove then chocolate dipped candied orange. A rain-soaked leather jacket splashed with fresh mud. Nearly dried nail polish, dry ginger spice and then the earthy essence of sandalwood. The nostalgic smell of fading perfume on your favorite old ladies sweater.
In the mouth: Starts out with loamy soil under a coastal California redwood grove and then the strong and pleasant petrichor in the air after a long-awaited rain. Yes, I think I just ate dirt and tasted a smell. Back in the kitchen with some unsweetened baking chocolate, harissa powder, dry salty toffee peanuts. At the end a fireplace full of ashes and more sandalwood.
For what it’s worth and truth be told, this review has taken longer than it should have in a fast and furious world. Personally, I had forgotten how much this BenRiach had grown on me since, blink and 3 months prior, when my part of the review was submitted. I had given my verdict before moving on. Then Rose delivers her thoughts and I immediately think a 7 is generous. Yet only to be confronted by my own score…
A very good whisky that we’ve wrongly allowed to be a foreign exclusive. Such things need to be returned to Scotland asap.