Recently while reviewing whisky I’ve been writing about some of the historical events that have taken place around Scotland’s distilleries. Their stories are intertwined with those of the land and the people around them and I find it fascinating how sometimes unrelated events have shaped the fortunes of these places and the spirit they produce.
The subject of this weeks review is BenRiach Distillery in Speyside. Built in 1898 next to Longmorn Distillery, BenRiach’s story starts as a tale of bad timing and even worse luck. It was open for just two years before it fell victim to cataclysmic events happening elsewhere in the whisky world.
In 1887 Walter G. G. Pattison and Robert P. Pattison, owners of an Edinburgh dairy wholesaler moved into the world of whisky blending. Scotch Whisky was going through a boom at this time – an epidemic of the philloxera beetle destroyed the vineyards of France and with them the ability to make Brandy. This paved the way for Scotch to take it’s place in drinks cabinets everywhere. Pattisons Ltd grew rapidly and bought shares in Glenfarclas, Aultmore and Oban Distilleries.
The Pattison Brothers became known for lavish spending… Their luxurious Edinburgh office was clad in Marble and they each owned spacious townhouses and country retreats. Their company employed over 150 salesmen – more than any competitor and at one time they gave away 500 parrots trained to say ‘Buy Pattison’s Whisky’. Their advertising bill in 1898 was a staggering £60,000!
As we all know though, good times can’t last forever and it turned out Pattison’s success had largely been built on credit, loaned by over-eager banks during the boom period. As things started to turn sour, a spotlight was shone on the business pracitces of the Pattisons and all was not as it should be. They had significantly over-valued their properties, sold whisky and then bought it back at inflated rates so that on paper their stocks appeared more valuable than they actually were and they paid dividends from capital to keep up the impression that everything was running normally. The banks ceased lending and creditors began calling in debts. In all, there were nine companies and several small suppliers caught in the fallout as Pattisons disintegrated – owing something in the region of £743,000.
In 1901 Robert Pattison was jailed for 18 months for fraud and embezzlement and his brother Walter was jailed for nine. The brand ‘Pattison’s Whisky’ disappeared forever and left behind a much changed whisky landscape. One of Pattisons largest competitors was the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) who, due to their size, were able to ride out the worst of the crash and wasted no time in snapping up the Pattison’s assets at bargain prices – putting themselves in a much strengthened position (DCL went on to become Diageo). Others though, were not so fortunate…
BenRiach distillery closed 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 so used the facilities at BenRiach next door, saving it from demolition. Then in 1965 during another whisky boom new distilleries were built and old ones re-opened…. Production began again at BenRiach. Today the distillery is independently owned and the BenRiach Distillery Company has 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 – unheard of in Speyside. I’m going to review the 12 year old Sherry Wood which is bottled at 46% ABV and usually retails at around £35 – £40. On the nose I get Sherry Trifle, Brown Sugar, Cherry, Raisins and Orange while I get flavours of Fruit Cake, Marzipan, Dark Chocolate and Caramel and even Maple Syrup on the palate.
The Scores: About the Scoring System…
Smell: 17.5 / 20. This is very appealing to me. It’s like a dessert whisky if there is such a thing.
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 – this is an Exceptional whisky for the price.