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Latest update: August 14th 2010

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BENRIACH DISTILLERY HISTORY

 

main_distillery3The story of Benriach (Gaelic for ‘The Hill of the Red Deer), is typical of the great Speyside distilleries. Built in 1898, the distillery was sited amongst the rolling barley fields that rise to the foothills of the Grampian mountains. The barley used in crafting the whisky was grown around the distillery and the water was…and still is…drawn from the Burnside Springs through the rock that lies deep below the distillery.

 

The barley harvested from the fields surrounding the distillery would be spread across the floors of the malting house to germinate. Peat, cut from the hills above the distillery, fired the kiln and produced the heat required to control the germination process and the distinctive, peat scented smoke would be seen curling upwards from the malting chimneys throughout the year.

 

The distillery manager would oversee the slow and deliberate crafting process of BenRiach whisky – managing the transformation from malted barley to wash, to distilled spirit and into high quality oak casks, some sourced from the great sherry bodegas of Spain, in which the whisky would then peacefully rest and maturein the traditional long, low, earth floored warehouses adjacent to the stillhouse. This was the beginning of the BenRiach story.

 

Deep in the musty darkness of the long, low traditional warehouses at the BenRiach distillery, row upon row of oak casks rest, slowly maturing. This is an uninterrupted inventory of fine Speyside single malt, dating back to 1966, all casks of the highest quality whisky, many revealing ‘expressions’ which have taken the industry experts by surprise such is their complexity and subtleness, and some which are no less than outstanding examples of the art of whisky production.

 

This whisky stock, reflecting the skill, knowledge and experience that has gone into the making of BenRiach, is testimony to the many years stretching back to the 19th century during which the distillery built its reputation. Few distilleries in Scotland hold such a history and few today can have quite such an exciting future.

 

CHRONOLOGY:

1898

The BenRiach distillery is established by the Grant family, on the same site as the Longmorn distillery, built by John Duff. The 1890s represented a real boom period in distillery development, as 33 new distilleries were built, 21 of which were located in Speyside. The timing proves to be unfortunate, with the completion of BenRiach preceding the ‘Pattison Crash’ by just a few months, and the whisky business moves into a period of recession.

1900

Widespread distillery closures follow the ‘Pattison Crash’, and BenRiach is mothballed after just 2 years of production. BenRiach remains closed until 1965; however BenRiach’s floor maltings remain in constant production during this period, providing malted barley for the fully operational Longmorn distillery.

1965

The whisky industry enters another boom period, and during the ‘60s and ‘70s 12 new distilleries are built, as a result of growing demand for blended Scotch whisky in the U.S. BenRiach re-opened by Glenlivet Distillers Ltd, having been almost totally rebuilt internally, but with the period features and original character of the building maintained, and production re-commences.

1978

Glenlivet Distillers Ltd is purchased by Seagrams.

1983

In addition to the regular, non-peated distillation, production of peated malt whisky commences at BenRiach, in response to the increasing cost of Islay whisky due to a general industry shortage. Since taking over the distillery in 2004, they have continued to distil both styles of BenRiach; peated and non-peated.

1985

Seagrams step production up at BenRiach, and the distillery expands from two to four stills.

1994

BenRiach is released for the first time as a single malt brand in its own right. The whisky is bottled at 10 years old, and is included as part of Seagram’s ‘Heritage Collection’ along with Strathisla, Glen Keith and Longmorn. Annual bottling is limited to a few hundred cases, and the original BenRiach 10 YO, characterized by its understated pale-blue label, is somewhat of a rarity and particularly difficult to get hold off.

2001

Seagrams are acquired by French firm Pernod Ricard, creating the 3rd largest spirits firm in the world  after Diageo and Allied Domecq. (Allied Domecq was sold to Pernod Ricard in 2005). Pernod concentrates its malt focus on Glenlivet, Aberlour and Glen Grant, with Longmorn also to remain at full capacity. Glen Keith, silent since 1999, remains closed and Edradour, the smallest malt distillery in Scotland, is sold to independent Signatory. Four distilleries in the Pernod Ricard group move to rotational production, distilling for just 3 months of the year: BenRiach, Allt A’Bhainne, Braeval and Caperdonich.

2002

All four distilleries are subsequently mothballed in August of 2002.

2004

On April 29th 2004 the acquisition of The BenRiach distillery by an independent consortium is completed and production re-convenes almost immediately, meaning the inventory is effectively uninterrupted. On the 7th of August the first bottling of BenRiach under the new owners takes place; BenRiach ‘Heart of Speyside’ , 12, 16 and 20 years old, and the peated 10 years old are all bottled for the first time. On the 20th of September the first distillation under the new owners is filled to cask. 96 ‘green’ (i.e. first fill bourbon) barrels are filled, numbered 1 to 96, and are immediately transferred to the BenRiach warehouses for maturation, not to see the light of day for at least 12 years.

 

Both BenRiach Curiositas (10 YO) and Authenticus (21 YO, to be released shortly) use a heavily peated malted barley as the cereal varietal to produce a unique, fresh, peated expression; this is particularly unusual for a Speyside malt, indeed BenRiach Curiositas and Authenticus are the only Speyside malts distilled from peated malted barley commercially available.

 

Peated BenRiach is actually a return to the original Speyside character and flavour of malts typical of the nineteenth century. During this period the abundance of peat in the Speyside region combined with the limited reach of the railways at that time meant that peat represented a more economic and accessible fuel than coal.

 

With the development of the railroads, in particular the completion of the ‘ Strathspey’ line in 1867, the opportunity emerged for the Speyside distilleries to compete more aggressively with their Lowland and Campbeltown counterparts for the supply of single malt to the large blending firms from Glasgow and Edinburgh.

 

So the majority of Speyside distilleries switched to distillation from un-peated barley, to create a style more suited to blending, and this is the style typical of the region today.

 

However, since 1983, the BenRiach has been producing a proportion of peated malt whisky in addition to the regular, non-peated production. With distillation of peated single malt whisky restricted to the few distilleries located on Islay and the islands, the availability of peated malt was, and still is, limited. With only Speyside distilleries in their portfolio and with peated malt a small but key component in their blends, then-owners Chivas Brothers started producing their own peated malt whisky at BenRiach.

 

The new distillery owners uncovered this ‘curiosity’, and released BenRiach as the peated expressions Curiositas and Authenticus – both distinctive and welcome additions to the Speyside scene.

 

The BenRiach single malt whisky as 12, 16 and 20 years together with the distinctive, peated expressions of Curiositas and Authenticus represent single malt Scotch whisky at its finest. But there is more to come from Managing Director Billy Walker and Distillery Manager Alan McConnochie.

 

unlock the secretsInformation used from the BenRiach leaflet “Unlock The Secrets…”.

Their vision is not only to maintain the great traditions of the distillery but to break new ground with ‘new’ whisky expressions, borrowing from the wider world of the noble art of distilling to ‘craft’ special whiskies and intriguing expressions, bringing together the truly great BenRiach vintages with younger more vibrant casks in special, limited edition ‘cuvees’ which marry the smoother rounded subtle notes of old whisky with fresher and lively younger years to deliver the most engaging and intriguing expressions.

 

 

Thanks to Trisha Savage (general manager) and Alan McConnochie(master distiller) for their support.