The histories of some distilleries read like juicy soap operas, others like business seminar success stories, and then there are those, like BenRiach’s that are kind of quick reads, a little dull and mildly depressing until the end, when, just before you nod off into your nosing glass, you hear tell of rosy tidings for the future. It seems BenRiach jumped late into the distilling game (1890’s), really just in time for the Pattison Crash to basically wipe them out before they got going. The Pattison crash was apparently the bankrupting of a large malt buyer (Pattison’s) that decimated the Scotch scene in 1900, just two measly years after BenRiach began production. The Distillery pretty much shut down immediately, and with the exception of the occasional sneaky, furtive tryst by Elgin teenagers, the only action the place saw were the floor maltings carried out for neighboring Longmorn.
After being bought by Glenlivet Distillers, Ltd. in 1965, BenRiach operated sporadically until 1978 when it was purchased by Seagrams, who saw the value in the distillery’s floor malting capability. Seagrams, at the time, did not have an Islay malt in their stable and desperately needed some in-house peaty stuff for their blends. A couple of decades passed and production slowed once again, the distillery was eventually closed in 2002 after being bought by corporate giant Pernod Ricard.
Now comes the happy part. In 2004, the distillery was bought once again by the trio of South Africans Geoff Bell and Wayne Keiswetter, and Scotch vet Billy Walker. Bottling and distilling began almost immediately. The new make is restlessly maturing as we speak and the older stocks are being released in a variety of expressions, some traditionally Speyside-ish, like this 12 year old, and others uniquely peated malts.
The Nose: Very honeyed with some vanilla cream soda, nice malt and grain. Soft, floral notes maybe tulips?…there’s almost a clean laundry kind of thing. There’s also a little nail polish remover and oddly, just a faint note of red bell pepper.
The Palate: Honeyed still with more vanilla notes, but there’s an aggressive attack that belies the softness of the nose. The palate seems a kind of disjointed somehow, it lurches a bit, as opposed to rolling smooth to the finish. At the end, burnt wood and well-toasted bread…just a little char. There’s an oaky-greeness that comes off a bit harsh.
The Finish: Speyside-ish. Lingering oaky spiciness, stays a little green and harsh.
Thoughts: There’s a lot here that seems like classic (not too sherried) Speyside, nice floral notes, honey, oak and grain, but it also seems like it’s trying a little too hard. There’s that harsh green quality which makes it feel like a younger malt than 12 years. Still, there’s a lot to like here, and while it seems like BenRiach didn’t quite hit the complexity they were aiming for, there’s enough to whet my appetite for their other expressions.
The BenRiach 12 Year Old, Speyside