Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
BenRiach and the crash…
BenRiach Distillery was established in 1898 on land adjacent to the Longmorn Distillery in Speyside. The timing of its opening could hardly have been worse, however. After just two years of producing spirit, the distillery fell victim to cataclysmic events that shook the Scotch whisky industry to its core.
In 1887, brothers Walter and Robert Pattison began blending their own whiskies as part of a successful wholesale business in Edinburgh. Scotch was in great demand and the newly formed Pattison’s Ltd found great success in the emerging market, investing in distilleries like Glenfarclas, Aultmore and Oban.
The brothers became known for their flamboyant and lavish lifestyle. Their offices were clad and marble and the pair split their time between spacious townhouse accommodation and grand country retreats. In their heyday, they employed more than 150 salesmen and developed some revolutionary tactics when it came to marketing. One story claims they sent 500 parrots, trained to say “Buy Pattison’s Whisky”, to their stockists. The company’s advertising bill for 1898 alone was a staggering £60,000.
However, much of the Pattison success had been built on credit, loaned by over-enthusiastic banks during the whisky boom-time. The moment the industry suffered a slight downturn, the lenders started to call in their debts, shining a spotlight on the shaky business practices of the Pattisons and exposing some very dodgy dealings. Inevitably, the company collapsed, leaving debts of £743,000 and creating a tidal wave of a knock-on effect that would have wide reaching consequences.
Robert Pattison was jailed for 18 months for fraud and embezzlement while his brother Walter, was put away for 9. The Pattison’s Whisky brand disappeared forever and left the whisky landscape vastly changed. Giants like the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) were able to ride out the worst of things and even snapped up Pattison assets at bargain prices, which left them in a strengthened position when the dust finally settled. DCL, of course, eventually became the global drinks behemoth that is Diageo. Others weren’t so fortunate…
BenRiach Distillery was forced to close in 1900, just 24 months after opening. It remained silent for 65 long years. Only its proximity to Longmorn saved it from complete demolition as the neighbours continued to utilise BenRiach’s malting floor. Then, in 1965, a new whisky boom saw new distilleries being built for the first time in decades and old sites, mothballed for years, were re-opened. Production finally recommenced at BenRiach and the distillery is still going strong today.
Today the distillery is owned by The BenRiach Distillery Company, forming something of a trio with GlenDronach and Glengassaugh.
The whisky produced at BenRiach is in many ways typical of its Speyside region though they have also defied tradition by experimenting with peated malt.
The 12-year-old Sherry Wood is bottled at 46% ABV and usually retails around £35 – £40.
Smell: Sherry trifle, brown sugar, cherries, raisins and orange zest.
Taste: Dark fruit cake. Marzipan. Dark chocolate and caramel. Coffee. Maybe even a wee touch of maple syrup.
Thoughts: It’s natural colour, non-chill-filtered and really quite delicious. For £35? I can’t really argue with that. It’s an excellent sherried Speyside at a fantastic price.
BenRiach has some really typical Speyside characteristics but it also has some chameleon-like features. It can take on different casks and feel like that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s very much the case here. Maybe not a full-on Sherry bomb but a healthy layer of the fortified wine with a solid Speyside underneath.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.