The BenRiach (12 year)

(Update 6/13/2016: I’ve reviewed the newer 46% ABV bottling with better results.)

When I think of BenRiach, I think of asceticism. The house style is very un-Speyside: light, airy, dry, minerally, and spare. Tasting blind, I would think it was a lowlander of the Auchentoshan variety. BenRiach is now owned by a small, independent consortium known as The BenRiach Distillery Company, which also owns GlenDronach and has done wonders there. The company bought BenRiach in 2004, saving it from a brief period of mothballing, and promptly began releasing the built-up stocks as a variety of single-malt expressions which won it a lot of fanfare.

BenRiach is one of those insider darlings that doesn’t yet have the mass-market appeal to make it ‘uncool’, just like GlenDronach. While I’m a big believer and fan of GlenDronach, I seem to have trouble seeing eye-to-eye with BenRiach’s malt. I was underwhelmed by its ‘Curiositas’ expression (a peated 10 year-old), and this 12 year-old standard bottling is just too dry and lean for me. BenRiach has vocal proponents, so don’t write it off solely on my disliking of it. If you enjoy particularly light, airy malts where one must search for the complexity, definitely give this one a try. Note: There seems to be both a 40% ABV and a 43% ABV version on the market – probably one for the UK and the other for the US. This bottle was from UK retailer Master of Malt, and is 40% ABV.

Nose: Light, with some tart fruit notes (kiwi? green apple?). A bit on the hot side for 40% ABV. Some light toasty oak notes underline the fruit, and a bit of vanilla. The tart notes verge on vinegary, especially right out of the bottle.

Palate: Nicely creamy body. Hay and raw oats followed by light brown sugar and a nice even maltiness. Clean and crisp.

Finish: Honey and malt. Some light oaky bitterness fades out with nondescript florals.

With Water: Water releases a very nice array of florals and some green grass notes and aloe. Definitely try it with a few drops.

Overall: Not my new favorite, although I can see the tart notes in the nose being a draw. The palate is even and crisp, with clear flavors of barley and light oak. It seems to me, however, to be a bit of a blank canvas, and the vinegar on the nose is a bit more sour than I’d like. In fact, the leanness of the malt is such that I’d wonder if it was a lowlander – it bears a lot of resemblance to younger Auchentoshan. I do believe that while going through a full bottle, this style will grow on you, but upon first impression I’m not a fan.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Sister distillery to GlenDronach – both were owned by The BenRiach Distillery Company, which saved BenRiach from mothballing by previous owners Pernod Ricard. In 2016, bourbon giant Brown-Forman purchased the two distilleries along with Glenglassaugh. The distillery has had a rocky past, being first mothballed 2 years after opening in 1898, to lay fallow for more than 60 years. It was then primarily used as a blending component until recently, when it has shown well on the single malt circuit. BenRiach produces a lighter distillate with a wide cut that shows the elegance of the barley. Some heavily-peated stocks (probably made to supplement Islay malt in blends) have been released as unusual peated Speyside single malts. The process water is from Brown Muir, which runs over sandstone and is quite hard water. The distillery has six stills, eight stainless steel washbacks, and has just reopened its own floor maltings.
The BenRiach (12 year)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $45 - $50
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.

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  • I just wanted to finally say how much I appreciate this blog. It’s been a great guide to my scotch journey, and I really value your opinions. Everything you post is so well written and unassuming, just great. So thank you Scotch Noob! And have you tried Auchentoshan Valinch?

    • Thanks for the kind words, Tom! I tried Valinch at WhiskyFest two years ago, but my notes aren’t very clear (I tried a lot of whisky that night!) I think I remember it being very strongly vanilla-perfumed. I’ll have to give it another try, although I think in terms of aromatic cask strength whiskies, I already prefer the Glenlivet Nadurra.

  • My bottle I purchased here in the States has a 46% abv…I find it very similar to the new Balvenie 12 yr Single Barrel…Loads of vanilla with slightly toasted coconut.

    IMHO – it’s a great single malt (me thinks you need to find yourself a bottle meant here for the States; the higher abv, and possibly better cask mgt might make you change your mind).

  • Iv’e got a bottle of this, contrary to all the notes, my taste buds tell me this is chocolate, and there is nothing wrong with that. Good drop for something a bit different.

    I totally agree with Tom M, the notes are very close to what I taste, as opposed to the Jim Murray bible iv’e used up to now. Appreciate the helpful work.