Many distilleries owed money by the Glasgow blenders went to the wall, never to reopen. Barely in its infancy, Benriach was mothballed in 1900 - and was to remain silent for the next 65 years.
During this time, however, Benriach's floor maltings continued to operate, providing malt for sister distillery Longmorn. In the 1960s the distillery was bought and completely refurbished by Glenlivet, re-opening for distillation in 1965. Glenlivet was bought by Chivas Brothers in 1978, with the company's parent Seagram deciding to produce peated malt for their blends at Benriach from 1983 (production today is around 10% peated malt)and expanding capacity with the addition of two new stills in 1985.
In 1994, almost 100 years after opening, the first official bottling of Benriach as a single malt (a fairly nondescript 10 year-old) was released. The floor-maltings were mothballed in 1999 after more than a century of continuous operation, but remain in good condition and are now being prepared for reopening.
Seagram became part of Pernod Ricard in 2001, and the new owners cut production at Benriach to three months a year, before mothballing the distillery in 2002.
Finally, in 2004, Pernod sold the Benriach distillery to an independent consortium led by Billy Walker, a former director of Burn Stewart. Production recommenced almost immediately and the lacklustre 10yo was discontinued and replaced by what has become one of the most exciting and dynamic ranges in the industry. Led by a feisty 12 year-old and a critically acclaimed 16 yo, Benriach's new owners have continued to exploit the superb spirit created by this previously unsung distillery, with a string of aged or limited releases of remarkably vibrant single malts.
Crucially, the new owners have been able to take advantage of the peated spirit made at the distillery in the previous 25 years - at a time when peaty malts have become hugely popular. In just five years, Benriach has gone from a forgotten footnote, one of many neglected distilleries in the portfolios of big companies, to one of the most exciting single malts around. This was capped by the distillery winning the accolade of Distillery of the Year from Malt Advocate magazine in 2007.
Such has been the spectacular trajectory of Benriach that parent company Intra Trading has recently bought another well-respected distillery fallen on hard times - Glendronach. All single malt fans will be wishing them well in their efforts to pull off a similar revival there - and after the remarkable success accomplished with Benriach, few would bet against them.
From the website
The Spey Valley, in which the BenRiach distillery was built in 1898, is home to many of Scotland’s great whiskies, but the BenRiach has its own uniqueness – borne from the particular methods and skills of the BenRiach men who craft the whisky, the ingredients they use, the distinctive copper stills and high quality barrels selected for maturation.
And, BenRiach boasts one further special difference – standing apart from the other Spey Valley distilleries, the traditional floor maltings with their distinctive pagoda style chimneys can produce peated, malted barley, enabling the distillery to capture the defining taste of peat reek in a few of their special bottlings.
Building on a strong past
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 40 years, 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.
Key Events and Dates
- The BenRiach Distillery is established by the Grant Family on the same site as the Longmorn Distillery. Indeed, locally BenRiach was sometimes referred to as ‘Longmorn 2’.
- However, the timing proves to be unfortunate, preceding the ‘Pattison Crash’ by just a few months. ‘Pattison, Elder and Co’, fronted by Robert and Walter Pattison, were the biggest purchaser of whisky at that time. Because of their buying power, distilleries were willing to extend significant credit to Pattison Elder, unaware of the firm’s precarious financial position. When they eventually went bust, many distilleries were crippled, and the whisky business moved into a period of recession.
- Widespread distillery closures follow the Pattison Crash, and BenRiach is mothballed after just two years of production. The distillery 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.
- BenRiach is re-opened by Glenlivet Distillers Ltd, having been almost totally rebuilt, and production re-convenes. However, a large number of the distilleries mothballed in 1900 remain closed to this day, and in some cases have been demolished.
- Glenlivet Distillers Ltd, and the various distilleries under their ownership, including BenRiach and Longmorn, are purchased by Canadian whisky firm Seagrams.
- In addition to the regular distillation, production of peated malt whisky commences. This move is a response to the increasing cost of Islay whisky due to a general industry shortage. With no Islay distillery in their portfolio, and with peated malt a key component in Seagram’s blended whisky brands, the firm decided to produce their own peated Speyside, at BenRiach - a very unusual move at that time for a Speyside distillery.
- It is as a result of the stock of peated BenRiach that the previous owners laid down that we are able to bring you 'Curiositas', the only commercially available Speyside single malt distilled from peated malted barley.
- Since taking over the distillery in 2004, we have continued to distil both varieties of BenRiach; peated and non-peated. Rest assured that the future of both styles of BenRiach is secure.
- As production steps up, BenRiach is expanded from two stills to four.
- The BenRiach floor maltings are closed, after 101 years of uninterrupted operation. The maltings remain in good working order, and could be re-activated almost immediately.
- Seagrams are acquired by French firm Pernod Ricard, creating the 2nd largest spirits firm in the world after Diageo.
- Of Pernod's stable of distilleries, Glenlivet, Aberlour, Glen Grant and Longmorn remain at full capacity. Glenkeith, 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.
- All four distilleries are subsequently mothballed in August of 2002.
- In April 2004 BenRiach is acquired by an independent consortium consisting of 3 partners; Scotch Whisky veteran Billy Walker, and South Africans Geoff Bell and Wayne Keiswetter.
- Production re-convenes immediately, meaning the inventory is effectively uninterrupted.
- On the 7th August 2004 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 released to the public for the very first time.
- On the 20th September 2004 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.
- The first series of official single casks bottlings from the distillery are released. Bottled in December 2004, and randed as 'BenRiach Limited Release', 4 vintages, from 1966, 1970, 1978 and 1984 (peated), are brought to the market.
- The BenRiach Distillery Company wins the 'Best International Business' award at the 2005 Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley Business Awards.
- BenRiach then follows this regional success by winning the national prize, taking the award for 'Best International Business' at the Enterprising Scotland Awards 2005 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
- The 2nd series of 'BenRiach Limited Release' single cask bottlings are liberated, with 7 vintages, from 1968, 1972, 1975, 1976 (peated), 1979 (peated), 1986 (peated) and 1988, launched. These were bottled in September 2005.
- BenRiach launch 'Authenticus', aged 21 years and distilled from peated malted barley. The bombastic older sibling to Curiositas, this is the 2nd peated expression from BenRiach. As a peated single malt from Speyside, and with annual production limited to 800 six-packs, this is a rare whisky indeed.