Welcome to KWM Whisky Advent Day 16 – BenRiach Curiositas 16 Year
In your humble KWM Whisky Advent guide’s opinion, BenRiach has been one of the most consistently good whisky producers over the last decade. It was bought from Pernod Ricard by the new independent BenRiach Distillery Co. formed for the aquisition of the distillery in 2004. The distillery had been languishing under Pernod’s ownership for the previous 20 years after the industry downturn in the early 1980s. The distillery had been mothballed in 2002 as it was surplus to Pernod’s needs, but there was potential there. So Billy Walker, a Scotch whisky industry veteran, backed by a group of investors, made a play for the distillery. It was a bold move, the industry was still in the early days of a new upturn in demand. But when the keys were turned over and they had a look in the warehouses, they knew they had struck pay-dirt. BenRiach had been used as a utility distillery, producing peated malts when required and maturing whiskies in a wide variety of casks. They even found triple distilled whiskies, the world was their oyster.
The BenRiach Distillery was built by John Duff in 1898, adjacent to his existing Longmorn Distillery. The two distilleries were built to operate somewhat in unison, sharing warehouses and even a small rail line with a locomotive for moving casks. At various points in BenRiach’s history the distillery was referred to as Longmorn No. 2, and this is fortunate, because only two years after opening BenRiach closed its doors for the next 63. Two flamboyant brother’s from Leith had built and Enron like house of cards, inflating the industry’s bubble until it spectacularly burst in what is known as the Pattison Whisky Crash. BenRiach would have been lost were it not for the facilities it shared with Longmorn, including its malting floor.
In 1965 the Scotch whisky industry’s fortunes were again turning. 12 new distilleries were opened in the decade that followed and many closed ones like BenRiach were refurbished and brought back into production. While the buildings aesthetics and exteriors were maintained, BenRiach was completely rebuilt by its new owner, Glenlivet Distiller’s Ltd. In 1972 peated whisky was produced at the distillery for the first time, to supply demand for the Chivas Regal brand. In the 1970s no one foresaw the future popularity of and demand for BenRiach as a single malt, let alone a peated single malt. But it is our great fortune that the whisky was produced, because the new owners we open to any kind of style.
The distillery has thrived under the watchful eye of Billy Walker and his team. The distillery has a core range consisting of both peated and unpeated single malts, the majority bottled at 46% with natural colouring and without chillfiltering. There are also both peated and unpeated wood finishes, some available on an annual basis and others released as one offs. The distillery also periodically releases batches of specially selected single casks to specialist shops around the world to compliment their range. Over the last decade BenRiach has won great acclaim from the trade and connoisseurs alike. Let’s hope that too many others don’t learn of its charms… or it whiskies will become increasingly rare!
BenRiach 10 Year Curiositas - 46% – Andrew’s Tasting Note: “Nose: honey, ash and malt leap out of the glass with crisp citrus and melon; toasty oak and dried cranberries also develop with a freshly opened pack of tennis balls; Palate: the ash hits first with some baked apple and poached pear, the citrus is still there, but so is the whiff of a fresh tennis ball; very malty with building smoke, spices, melon and honey; dark muddy peat emerges over time with clove and Dutch licorice; Finish: long, malty and honeyed with the fading ashy embers of peat fires; Comment: if you didn’t know any better you’d swear this whisky was an Ileach!” – $63.99