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In 1897, John Duff of Longmorn distillery decided to expand his business by creating a second distillery on neighbouring land. Named BenRiach, the new distillery lasted all of two years before it fell victim to an industry wide downturn that would come to be known as the ‘Pattison Crash’. BenRiach closed its doors in 1900, and the site would have been completely demolished were it not for the malting floor still being used by the distillers at Longmorn next door.
After more than 60 years of silence, BenRiach once more sprang to life when it was acquired by Seagram’s in 1965 but when they were in turn bought out by Pernod Ricard in 2001, the still house quietened once more. Then, in 2003 a consortium led by master blender Billy Walker came to the rescue. BenRiach relaunched and quickly established itself amongst whisky connoisseurs as a dram to look out for. With success came expansion and soon the GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries were added to the company portfolio, creating an exciting range of some of the most in-demand drams on the market.
All seemed to be cruising along nicely for BenRiach until the surprising announcement in 2016 that the owners were selling to US-based corporation, Brown Forman – owner of the famous Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. The news was met with trepidation in some quarters, with many onlookers concerned that their beloved drams could be radically changed as a result of the takeover. As yet however, core range expressions seem largely unchanged where BenRiach is concerned and with the appointment of Rachel Barrie, formerly of Bowmore, as master blender, the spirit’s future would appear to be in safe hands.
Unlike many of its Speyside neighours, BenRiach spends part of the year producing peated whisky, a once-common practice that largely ended with the arrival of the Strathspey railway. Good transport links with the south brought alternative fuel in the form of coal, ending the need for peat fires and changing the character of the region’s whisky forever. Here though, BenRiach have revisited the taste of yesteryear with a 10 year old single malt dubbed ‘Curiositas’…
Smell: Peat Smoke rises from the glass to meet you but gives way to Heather Honey and Fudge with Toffee, Lemon and Chargrilled Meats.
Taste: Caramel and Orange at first. Peat Smoke is more subdued than on the nose. Barbecue, Aromatic Smoke and Lemon with Peppery spice throughout.
Thoughts: This dram offers something a little different for those that like it smoky and it’s bottled at 46%. Great value at £35! It’s got a pleasant oiliness, thanks to that higher strength and lack of chill filtration making it quite unlike the majority of well-known Speyside drams. It also retains a unique identity when compared with more commonly peated west coast spirits. An affordable, unusual and most importantly, tasty wee dram.
*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.