While reviewing whisky on this site I’ve become fascinated with some of the history surrounding Scotland’s distilleries. Their fortunes, and that of the spirit they produce, can often seem tied up in the wider historical context of Scotland itself and much like the country of its birth, the scotch industry has seen some troubled times.
BenRiach was constructed in 1898 next to Longmorn distillery in Speyside but this new venture was almost completely snuffed out before it really got going. The spirit ran for just two years before falling victim to cataclysmic events that were happening elsewhere in the industry.
In 1887 Walter G. G. Pattison and Robert P. Pattison, owners of an Edinburgh dairy wholesaler began blending whisky. Scotch was booming thanks to an epidemic of the philloxera beetle which almost completely destroyed the vineyards of France and with them, the potential to make Brandy. This paved the way for a surge in Scotch sales and massive investment in the industry. Pattisons Ltd achieved early success and rapid growth saw them buy shares in Glenfarclas, Aultmore and Oban distilleries.
The Pattison Brothers became known for their lavish spending… Their luxurious Edinburgh offices were clad in marble and each brother owned a spacious townhouse and grand country retreat. Their company employed more than 150 salesmen – more than any of their competitors and during one campaign they gave away 500 parrots that had been trained to say ‘Buy Pattison’s Whisky’. Their advertising bill in 1898 alone was a staggering £60,000.
It seems however, that Pattison’s success was largely built on credit, loaned by over-eager banks during the boom and when the industry began to see a downturn, lenders began to call in their debts. A spotlight was turned on the business practices of the Pattisons and all was not as it should be. They had significantly over-valued their properties and sold whisky stocks only to buy it back at inflated rates so that on paper it appeared more valuable and then they paid dividends from capital to try and keep up the impression that everything was running normally. The company collapsed, owing something in the region of £743,000 and causing a huge knock on effect as many smaller companies were caught in the blaze.
In 1901 Robert Pattison was jailed for 18 months for fraud and embezzlement and his brother Walter, jailed for nine. The ‘Pattison’s Whisky’ brand disappeared forever and left behind a vastly changed landscape. Pattisons largest competitor was the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) who were able to ride out the worst of the crash and snap up Pattison assets at bargain prices – leaving themselves in a much strengthened position (DCL went on to become Diageo – the biggest Spirits company in the world). Others though, were not so fortunate…
BenRiach was forced to close in 1900 and remained thus for 65 long years. Only it’s proximity to sister distillery Longmorn saved it from complete extinction – Longmorn had no malting floor and used the facilities at BenRiach next door, saving it from demolition. Then in 1965, during a new whisky boom, new distilleries were being built and old ones re-opened… and so production began again at BenRiach. Today the distillery is independently owned by the BenRiach Distillery Company who have since expanded by securing both GlenDronach and Glengassaugh distilleries in 2008 and 2013 respectively.
The whisky produced here is in many ways typical of it’s region although they have also defied tradition by experimenting with peated whisky – unusual in Speyside. Their 12 year old Sherry Wood is bottled at 46% ABV and usually retails at around £35 – £40. On the nose there’s Sherry Trifle, Brown Sugar, Cherry, Raisins and Orange while on the palate there’s Fruit Cake, Marzipan, Dark Chocolate and Caramel – even a touch of Maple Syrup.
The Scores: About the Scoring System…
Smell: 17.5 / 20. Very appealing nose. A dessert whisky if such a thing exists.
Taste: 18.5 / 20. Rich, sweet and very, very moreish.
Value: 9.5 / 10. 46%, Natural Colour, Non Chill Filtered, beautiful… and all for £35?? Yes please!
Total: 45.5 / 50. There’s no other way to put it, an excellent whisky at a great price.