Benrinnes (North Star Spirits / Good Spirits Co)

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This single malt whisky was released by independent bottler, North Star Spirits in celebration of the ten year anniversary of the Good Spirits Co in Glasgow. The malt was produced at Benrinnes, a Speyside distillery that has survived one or two catastrophes in its time.

Benrinnes was originally founded in 1826 by Peter MacKenzie but the distillery was washed away in the Great Moray Floods of 1829. Six years later, John Innes rebuilt, using an old farmstead at Lyne of Ruthrie to serve as the main distillery.

Innes then sold to the Edward family, in 1865. Alexander Edward would go on to be involved with several distilleries, including Benromach and Craigellachie. During his time in charge of Benrinnes, however, he was faced with many challenges.

Fire broke out at the distillery on the morning of Tuesday the 23rd of June 1896. By the time the blaze was noticed, it had already taken hold of the stillhouse. Within 15 minutes the roof had collapsed. According to the Elgin Courant of Friday 26th June 1896, the quick thinking of a Mr C Fraser, a slater who had been carrying out roofing work, played a significant role in restricting the damage. Slater and his men cut the roof between the stillhouse and warehouse. Their actions, coupled with the lack of a strong breeze, saved the ageing stocks of whisky below.

A number of villagers from Aberlour also descended upon the scene. Using two hoses and a copious supply of water, aided by a downpour of rain, they managed to bring the fire under control. Mercifully, the only injury sustained was when one of the distillery workers attempted to recover a watch they had left in their jacket pocket. They suffered serious burns to their right arm but there was no loss of life. The damage was estimated at £1000, covered, according to contemporary reports, by insurance.

The early 20th century was a troublesome time for the whisky industry. The Pattison Crash preceded the Great War, which was in turn followed by US Prohibition. Benrinnes was on the ropes but the business was saved from closure when it was snapped up by John Dewar & Sons. Dewar’s was later absorbed by DCL, the organisation that would grow into the distilling behemoth that is now Diageo.

Edward worked with distillery architect Charles Doig to rebuild but within three years, Benrinnes was back in the news. Serious concerns had been raised around the pollution of Speyside’s streams and rivers by distillers. Benrinnes had already been threatened with litigation and were given four months to resolve the issue. Eventually, a complex system of evaporation met with the approval of the authorities and the distillery was able to carry on its production.

Benrinnes has primarily served as a producer for blended Scotch. Official single malt releases are limited to a 15-year-old Flora and Fauna bottling. Impressive though that release is, I often feel that Benrinnes is worthy of more. The spirit demonstrates many of the floral, fruity notes typical of Speyside whisky but thanks to its worm tub condensers it also has a distinct meaty character that elevates it to another level. Fortunately, independent bottlings are pretty common, so we regularly get to see the whisky in all its cask strength glory.

The Whisky

Smell: Benrinnes is known for its meaty funk and this is one of the most obvious examples I’ve come across. It’s almost metallic. The spirit is young and feisty with more bite than you’d perhaps expect from the supposedly gentle Speyside whiskies. Beyond its youthful fire is Scottish tablet, vanilla and plenty of fresh orchard fruits – particularly noticeable with water. There’s a touch of dried fruits too.

Taste: Toffee and buttery pastry. Cinnamon. Then there’s sultanas and currants before some peppery spice. After water was added I found butterscotch, pineapple and mango and a lovely malty finish.

Thoughts: Over the last few years, this distillery has become something of a favourite of mine. It carries plenty of the fruity character so often associated with Speyside but also has its own unique personality.

Water tames the youthful vigour a little and makes for a more rounded experience that better suited my palate. However, some may well find it more exciting at its natural cask strength. At £57.50, it’s also extremely well priced

This bottling is a testament to the quality of the Benrinnes spirit. The cask certainly hasn’t been ineffectual but it is the spirit that provides the real complexity to the dram. I’ve often said I’d love to see Benrinnes be developed into a full range of single malts but perhaps that would be a mistake. Perhaps its better to find bottlings like this because it rather feels like this is the best way to sample this unusual and exciting whisky.

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If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from the Good Spirits Co.

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