The 100-year-old BenRiach Distillery has remained one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets, known only to whisky connoisseurs who came across its unique blend produced in the Heart of Speyside. But that’s so 1898. Fast forward to 2014, the year BenRiach opened its cask vaults to introduce four new limited releases to the U.S. market: The BenRiach Horizons 12 Year Old Triple Distilled, The BenRiach Solstice 2nd Edition 17-Year-Old, The BenRiach Septendecim 17-Year-Old Peated Single Malt, and The BenRiach Authenticus 25-Year-Old Peated Single Malt. The secret is out, and the awards have started rolling in.
BenRiach, meaning “The Hill of the Red Deer” in Gaelic, sits amongst the rolling barley fields that rise to the foothills of the Grampian mountains in the northeast Speyside region of Scotland. Acquired in 2004 by Scotch whisky industry veteran Billy Walker, BenRiach is home to an inventory of casks that date back to 1966. Employing distinctive copper stills and using local Scottish barley malt, their craftsmen strive to blend traditional practices with innovative cask finishes to create whiskies unique to the scotch category.
There are many notable scotch distilleries in the Spey Valley, but this one stands apart with its copper barrels and traditional floor maltings with pagoda-style chimneys that produce peated, malted barley — enabling the distillery to capture the defining taste of peat reek in a few of their special bottlings. Like these four new releases, luckily for us. The BenRiach Horizons 12-Year-Old Triple Distilled (50% ABV, $80) features a nose of roasted almonds and Brazil nuts, hot freshly buttered scones topped with clotted cream, and sweet heather honey. On the palate, Horizons has huge nutty characteristics balanced by a slice of sweet, creamy oak and honey.
The BenRiach Solstice 2nd Edition 17-Year-Old (50% ABV, $100) showcases their ability to distill whisky from both styles of malted barley — peated and non-peated — before it is matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in tawny port casks. Solstice features an aroma of stewed berries and currants with fortified wine and grape qualities. On the palate, dry roasted nutty notes give way to heavy peat with hints of raisins and candied fruit. The Septendecim 17-Year-Old Peated Single Malt (46% ABV, $80) is non chill-filtered and matured in ex-bourbon casks to create a bold and intense expression. Septendecim is a robust mix of fresh peaty aromas around a central core of apples, toasted nuts, and a luxurious leather impression.
Lastly, the Authenticus 25-Year-Old Peated Single Malt (46% ABV, $250) is audaciously full-bodied. On the nose are aromas of ripe pineapple, herbs and sweet peat, producing a pungent blast of peat smoke. On the palate, the fusion of rich peat and smoldering embers are bound by oregano, aniseed and chicory, concluding with a rush of honey for a long-lasting impression.
The BenRiach distillery in Scotland is not open to the public, but a private manager’s tour is available for true scotch connoisseurs. Led by Ewan George, the one and a half hour tour covers production, warehousing and floor maltings, and is finished off with a selection of drams in the board room. BenRiach also takes its secrets on an annual world tour for tastings and competitions. Stateside, the distillery will be presented this year at Whisky Fest Chicago, Binny’s Whiskies of the World, Whisky Fest San Francisco, and Whisky Fest New York.