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BenRiach distillery was founded by John Duff in 1898. Duff was born in Aberchirder and spent some time working at GlenDronach in his youth but in 1876 he set out on his own by designing and building the Glenlossie distillery before leaving for South Africa where he hoped to kick-start a new whisky revolution. Meeting with little in the way of success, Duff travelled instead to the USA where he once again struggled to achieve his goals and eventually decided to return home to Scotland.
Upon returning to his native land, Duff opened the Longmorn distillery and expanded his budding empire within just five years, constructing BenRiach on neighbouring land. It seems however, that despite a reputation as a producer of the finest spirits, Duff as a businessman was rather short on luck and felt the full force of the industry-wide slump that came to be known as the Pattison Crash. BenRiach was mothballed after just two years in operation.
The distillery remained silent for more than 60 years until it was acquired in 1965 by Glenlivet Distillers Ltd. Production resumed and by the time the plant was being sold to Seagrams in 1978, distillation was once again in full flow.
When Seagram’s was absorbed by Pernod Ricard in 2001, BenRiach slowed production to a crawl, operating for just three months in the year. Then, in 2004, an independent consortium led by former Burn-Stewart master blender, Billy Walker stepped forward and founded the BenRiach Distillery Company, later adding the GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries to their portfolio. Under their stewardship, the distillery flourished and the malt became an established brand across the world. Since the 1st of June 2016, however, the BenRiach company has been the property of the Brown-Forman Corporation of America, owners of the world famous Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey.
The BenRiach brand has seen its share of experimentation since its resurgence with a variety of casks used in maturation and peated malt occasionally used for distillation. This particular bottling however, comes not from the distillery itself but from the stocks of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society instead.
Founded in 1983, the Society specialises in bottling single cask spirits of exceptional quality and Cask No. 12.19 is no different. Matured for 9 years in a bourbon cask, the malt was then transferred to a port seasoned quarter cask which stands proudly on the bar at the Society’s historic Vaults in Leith. For just £35 visitors to the society can take home a 35cl bottle of this most unique of drams, bottled at 51.5% alcohol by volume.
Smell: Plum & Berries, Fruit Jam – Blackcurrant, Raspberry… Orange and Spicy Oak.
Taste: An incredible mouthful of flavour with juicy Berry, Fruit Jam, Orange, Salted Caramel, Cinnamon and Oak.
Thoughts: At just £35 for a half bottle, this is a dram of quite outrageous flavour that’s worth every penny I paid for it. Whoever decided on Port as the cask finish for this BenRiach deserves a pat on the back or possibly a raise, because this is a really outstanding dram. A tidal wave of stewed fruity flavours that seems to grow and grow with each sip. Wonderful stuff.
2018 sees the Scotch Malt Whisky Society celebrate its 35th anniversary, and to mark the occasion a virtual tasting is to be held on Monday the 24th of September.
Society members who wish to take part in the tasting can purchase a sample set for £35 by visiting the website here.
For anyone not yet a member, you can purchase the joint package of membership and sample set for £89 (should be £100) here.
Note: if you want to receive the pack in time for the virtual tasting, get your order in no later than the 19th of September.