Benriach (pronounced ben-ree-ack) is an independently owned distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. The current owners are a consortium named The Benriach Distillery Company and they are headed by Billy Stewart, a former director of Burn Stewart Distillers, who took over in 2004. The consortium decided to return to traditional regional distilling methods, whilst also being an innovator and trying to attract new consumers. This combination of tradition and innovation has led to the distillery and the company winning numerous awards in the years since Benriach has re-opened.
The distillery was founded in 1897 by John Duff & Co and is located on a site three miles to the south of Elgin. It was built next door to the Longmorn distillery (also owned by John Duff & Co) and was to help with the increased production requirements of the late Victorian period. It was rather unimaginatively named as Longmorn 2, before being renamed as Benriach (meaning ‘speckled mountain’ in Gaelic) in 1899. Its life was short lived, as the whisky industry suffered a massive crash in the early 1900s - Benriach was closed in 1903 and mothballed (the process where a distillery is shut down but everything remains intact and ready to go). It remained closed until 1965 and its history has been patchy, until The Benriach Distillery Company took over.
The Benriach Horizons is new whisky release with a difference - it is triple distilled. This is unusual for a Scottish single malt, which are normally distilled twice. During the late 1990s, the previous ownership of Benriach experimented in short production runs of triple distilled whisky - scientifically, this allows a higher alcoholic strength of new make spirit to be taken off the stills to be matured. The experiment was stopped shortly afterwards and the maturing stock was inherited by The Benriach Distillery Company when they took over. The Horizons is bottled at 50% ABV and 12 years of age - it has been matured primarily in ex-bourbon casks, before being transferred to ex-Oloroso sherry casks for a short period. Bottles are limited and should cost £45-50 from specialist whisky retailers.
Our tasting notes
The colour of the Horizons is a bright golden yellow with a hint of amber. The aromas of the nose are initially crisp and fresh, with something (possibly the 50% ABV alcohol vapour) catching in the nostrils. The fresh notes revolve around some lovely green fruit aromas (think of pears and apples) and these soften to allow others through - honey (or maybe golden syrup?), plenty of sultana, a hint of candied orange peel and some dusty cereal grains (reminiscent of being in a grain silo). There are also wood spices, especially cinnamon, and the combination of this and the fresher fruit notes made us think of baked apple dessert. On the palate, this is intense, tangy and slightly hot to begin with. This soon settles and mellows to reveal a lovely combination of flavours - stewed apple, honey, vanilla, toffee, cinnamon, nutmeg and sultanas. It is quite sugary (think of brown crumbly sugar) before becoming drier with more woody spice notes. The finish is again quite hot (imagine a red chilli-like heat) to begin with, before this fades to show distinct honey and vanilla notes. Finally comes some oak and baking spice to give a pleasant dryness.
What's the verdict?
The Horizons is an interesting experiment and one that works up to a point. It has a good combination of lovely aromas and flavours that make for a pleasant dram, but it lacks the expected softness that triple distilled whiskies (be it an Irish whiskey or something Scottish like Auchentoshan or Hazelburn) normally exhibit. It could be the influence of the 50% ABV level and if this were lower (as most of the Irish and other Scottish examples are), then Horizons may appear softer. If Benriach have more stock of this, then it will be interesting to see how it evolves with further maturation. Well worth a try.