I am a big fan of BenRiach. Their range of whisky, I find, to be incredibly impressive and the fact that they are one of a handful of independent bottlers, there being seven out of about 120 distilleries in Scotland, makes them a little more special. Their whiskies are all handcrafted and of high quality.
About eight years ago the distillery was purchased by three families. It was originally built in 1898 by John Duff and then closed, a whole two years later, because of the Pattison Crash, yet their floor malting remained in production and produced malted barley for Longmorn Distillery. In 1965 it was reopened by The Glenlivet Distilleries during the whisky boom and whisky produced at the distillery was used in Chivas blends, leading to much experimentation at the distillery. After some growth, new ownership with the likes of Pernot Ricard, BenRiach was shutdown once again in 2002. In 2004, however, three families, two being South African, purchased BenRiach and navigated its course to great success and the brand that we see it as today. At the tasting, David Wyllie, our host, a Keeper of the Quaich and operations manager at BenRiach, told us the wonderful journey the families and master distiller, Billy Walker, went through when they arrived at the storeroom; there were many vats of whisky, with contents and tastes completely devoid of records and unknown to them, and so were forced as if by the hand of fate to go through them all, finding out what they had in their own hands. This is in fact how they stumbled upon Curiositas.
The distillery is located in Speyside and the whiskies take on a typical regional character, even the phenomenal Curiositas, albeit masked in peat; 95ppm to be precise. The number of expressions of BenRiach whisky is amazing. For me, as you might guess at this point, the Curiositas is my favourite. It has a lovely peated nose but sweet and gentle character very much in line with Speyside whiskies. There is bacon kips and smoked kippers and the taste is a beautiful mixture of all of these qualities. I personally place this whisky between 94 and 96 out of 100. At the tasting we also sampled their classic 12 year old which is a soft, gentle whisky, ideal for summer drinking, with fragrant notes, a floral character and honey. On the tongue spice is picked up will vanilla, almonds and it is rounded with a fresh and crispness smoothening out the whisky. The third and final BenRiach was the dark rum finish, 15 year old. This is a very nice whisky and one or two people skewed their faces at this one; you have to like rum. It comes through on the nose, in the taste and hangs around in this dram’s long and dry finish. There is also a strong note of raisins throughout and you will pick up caramel, wood, toffee, maybe some apple and even some malted barley. I gave this a 84.5 but I must admit, the Aromaticus fumosus, which is also finished in a rum cask rated higher for me, 86, at a previous tasting and I much prefer the stronger rum character in this whisky. I did ask David about this and he told me that with the Aromaticus fumosus they use Jamaican rum casks that have not been used for whisky whereas with the 15 year old the casks are onto their second or third use. For those who are interested in what else they have to offer, which includes Pedro Ximinez, Tawny Pot and Madeira finishes and even an experiment with South African red wine barrels, soon on its way if a success, visit their website and take a digital stroll: http://www.benriachdistillery.co.uk
GlenDronach was the other distillery on the menu for the night and it is in fact owned by BenRiach, who bought the distillery in 2008. The distillery itself is one of the oldest, built in 1826, and is situated in the far eastern part of the Highlands. The whiskies are all matured in sherry casks, so they have a deep amber texture to rich mahogany, and explode with stewed fruits, Christmas cake, dried fruit, mince pies and spices. On the night we tasted two of their bottling’s. First off was a first for South Africa in fact, the Platinum 16 year old. It arrived in a crate on Tuesday and was brought out at the tasting for its first tasting in South Africa. It is a lovely whisky rich with stewed fruits, sultanas, orange zest, mashed barley and on the tongue smooth toffee, spice, dates and dried fruits. Chocolate lurks around the fringes with a cigar flavour, raisins, barley and a lovely sweetness – this has all of the characteristics of a Highland whisky matured in Oloroso casks. It is a spectacular whisky and perfect for sitting around a winter fire and finishing off an evening. The last whisky of the night, the GlenDronach 1992 single cask, with 58.2% abv, turned out to be an incredibly smooth dram, surprisingly with its high alcohol content. It too is matured in oloroso casks. Much of the fruity character that was found in the Platinum came through here but there was the addition of spice, sherry, nuts and sugars with a definite chocolate taste, almonds, walnuts and a slight smoke capping it off. This whisky is beautifully balanced and has a lovely theme; there are no surprises, it delivers from the nose to the finish and all of the flavours complement one another and appear at just the right time. For me, a person who definitely sits on the bog side of the fence, this scored a massive 86. For more info go to: http://www.glendronachdistillery.com
The night, I think, was a spectacular success and Paul, owner of Aficionados, pulled together a great tasting. With the help of David Wyllie and the wonderful golden goodness in those bottles, it was never destined to be anything short of a master class.
Visit Paul’s website http://www.aficionados.co.za to join on the next tasting our purchase specialist beverages at a great price.