Ben Rinnes is a mountain that stands 841 metres above sea level in the county of Banffshire in northern Scotland. Popular with hikers, its summit offers impressive views to the Moray coast on a clear day and it is the site of an annual 22km hill race that forms part of the Dufftown Highland Games. The tallest peak in Speyside, its northern slopes were once home to a distillery, founded by Peter McKenzie in 1826, though the business didn’t survive for long before the premises were completely destroyed in the great Moray floods of 1829.
Following the demise of the original site, a new distillery was created in 1835 by John Innes in the outbuildings of a farmhouse some distance away. When Innes went bankrupt in 1834, his ‘Lyne of Ruthrie’ distillery passed to William Smith, who renamed it Benrinnes and eventually sold it to local farmer David Edward. The business was later inherited by David’s son Alexander, a man who would go on to become linked with an array of distilleries including Craigellachie, Aultmore, Dallas Dhu and Benromach. Something of a celebrity, the young Mr Edward sold Benrinnes to fund a holiday which would later be written up for the perusal of the National Guardian’s readers. Edward went on to capitalise on the Victorian tourism boom by building luxury accommodation in Craigellachie for wealthy visitors who chose to follow their Queen north.
Benrinnes meanwhile was purchased by Dewar’s and soon came to be absorbed by DCL in 1925. Today it remains part of the massive Diageo empire, with its liquid a regular contributor to the Johnnie Walker and J&B Blends. Despite producing a spirit rich in quality and complexity, Benrinnes has rarely appeared as a single malt with the sole official release coming in the form of a 15 year old Flora & Fauna offering. It is however, becoming increasingly visible on retailers’ shelves thanks to independent bottlers.
One such bottler is of course, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Founded in 1983 by Pip Hills at the Vaults in Leith, the SMWS has since grown to become the largest whisky members club of its kind, anywhere in the world. Each month, society members gain access to an outturn of limited edition, small batch, single cask spirits.
Matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel, this Benrinnes single malt has been aged for 20 long years before bottling at a cask strength of 56.9%.
*Full Disclosure: As an affiliate of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I can be paid commission should any of my readers choose to become a member or buy bottles that I have reviewed. I was sent this complimentary sample so that I could share my thoughts but will as always, strive to remain as impartial as possible in my review.
Smell: The SMWS panel are certainly on the money with the name. There’s lots of orange marmalade before a strong malty biscuit note comes through. There’s also almond, honey and lemon and a touch of eucalyptus.
Taste: Vanilla, honey and lemon. Ginger biscuits and almonds. Toffee, cinnamon with lots of nutmeg and hazelnut before a dry, woody finish.
Value for Money: £82 isn’t a lot to pay for a cask strength, 20 year old single malt. Thanks to the relatively subtle influence of the refill cask however, there is a vibrancy here that can so often be lost in older single malts.
The meaty character normally associated with Benrinnes has mellowed a little with age but the complexity of the spirit is still evident. A dram I suspect would reward multiple visits by revealing new aspects of itself each time.
You can buy Cask No. 36.155 ‘Marmalade in a nutshell’ here.
For more on Benrinnes click here.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a unique members only whisky club which releases an array of new single cask bottlings each month. Members not only gain access to this monthly out-turn, but also to the purpose built members rooms in Society venues in Edinburgh and London.
For more information on joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, click here.
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