Colour, or color to our North American readership, is a key selling point. In whisky terms, it can trigger a stampede for a release much along the lines of a Chanel logo or a Ferrari badge. The presence of a dark foreboding liquid can capture and torment the imagination.
Colour sells. Simple as that, really. When Cadenhead’s revealed their latest outturn, enthusiasts began to swarm around this fearsome looking BenRinnes. The photograph promised an illicit and intoxicating experience. The mere fact that the tasting notes promised old school fruits was enough for me; never mind that Mark Watt picked it out as his personal favourite. The trio of words combined can transport me to another era—potentially lost nowadays, but often glimpsed through the odd release and cask.
Compare and contrast is something we often proclaim here at Malt. We try to avoid the pulpit approach and adopt a more subtle nature. The lead photograph in this article is the reality, but what of the initial preview? What’s gone wrong between Campbeltown and the shop shelf. A little heavy-handed mock-up, perhaps?
Personally, I don’t put much emphasis on colour of a whisky and the illusion it can create. At times, the prospect can heighten the anticipation too much, and it overshadows the actual experience…an experience that delivers a damn good whisky sprinkled with the sadness of an extinguished promise. To ship everything in coloured glass would be my preferred option, as well as a blackened Glencairn for when the seal is broken. Then and only then can you extinguish the misleading nature of colour and the marketing tricks from some distilleries.
Founded in 1826, we’ve previously discussed the history of this distillery, situated near the Speyside distilling hotbed of Aberlour. Across the decades, the internals at BenRinnes have been prodded, chopped and changed to varying degrees. The adoption of a partial triple distillation process in the 1970’s brought about a distinctive style in the Speyside region. This was abandoned in 2007 in favour of a more regional style of distillation. BenRinnes still produces a distinctive style, though, often enhanced by a rich sherry cask. In many ways, it still stands alone in this iconic region. Post-2007 releases do still display a wonderful tenacity, and a friend still raves about a particular young release matured in a wine cask.
The distillate has a savoury and almost meaty characteristic thanks to the splitting of the feints and the use of worm tubs. The nearest equivalent would be its more famous neighbour in Dufftown, i.e. Mortlach, the Beast of Dufftown. Both distilleries, unsurprisingly, work wonderfully with a sherry cask. That said, each should come with a warning due to the occasional feature of sulphur. I’ve seen attendees reel at one particular BenRinnes tasting with shock.
Whereas I quite enjoyed the relentless onslaught of it all and the visual entertainment of those at the same table, BenRinnes often has a great deal to say and not all of it is welcome.
The Flora & Fauna bottling still remains the most widely available and affordable official release. Whenever I drop by a Diageo distillery, it’s often a common—and robust and entertaining enough—expression, especially when compared to more pedestrian releases in the range. For this Small Batch release, Cadenhead’s vatted 4 barrels, bottled at 57.5% strength. Expect to pay around £70 for a bottle; this release is still available at some retailers.
Cadenhead’s BenRinnes 2000 – review
On the nose: A baked vanilla cheesecake with lemon shavings. A freshly baked apple strudel with sugar icing, brown toast and syrup. A big splash of linseed oil; that theme continues with sunflower oil, aniseed, and a toasty degree of cask char. With water, an arrival of grated coconut, varnish and beeswax. More spicing and wine gums.
In the mouth: A bitter texture and a hint of the rugged power of BenRinnes. Roasted coffee beans, grapefruit, hazelnuts and chocolate. A sooty or smoky aspect? Black pepper, toffee. With water, the arrival of nutmeg and toasted oak arrives, alongside more of that linseed oil.
The lesson here is don’t believe that a colour gives you the full outline of the experience. I’m sure a few customers retreated from this purchase when the bottle was in their hands, or when the real image appeared online, and lacked that certain charismatic dark appeal.
The experience is what matters at the end of the day, and there’s a great deal to explore and enjoy within this BenRinnes. Okay, it isn’t a big name in whisky terms. For a Speysider, it has an unusual dirty, oily quality; this means flavour and interest. Speyside can be all about meadow fruits, honey and a gentle breeze. BenRinnes is the dirty undercurrent: the flipside and the nemesis of such a popular experience.
The added bonus is the Cadenhead’s affordable approach to pricing, which complements the overall experience. If you want to pay over £250 for another Speyside 18 year old that has been saturated in sherry casks for its maturation, please be my guest. In doing so, you’ll leave more BenRinnes for those of us who want an experience, and not just a colour.