The BenRiach (12 year) (46% ABV Presentation)

After two unsuccessful attempts to enjoy The BenRiach, I decided to give it another go when I saw that the company had repackaged its flagship malt with a 46% ABV bottling for the US market (it’s 43% ABV in the UK market). My previous review of this bottling (40%) showed it to be ultra-light to the point of blandness, eliciting a comparison to Auchentoshan. Turns out, all this malt needed was a beefier bottling strength and (presumably) a little more care in barrel selection.

I’m often asked for examples of each of the main types of single-malt scotch. It’s easy to rattle off Macallan or GlenDronach as prime examples of the full sherry treatment, and Laphroaig or Ardbeg as models of fully-peated malt. Now, at last, I have something other than Glenlivet or Auchentoshan to hold up as an object lesson in malt aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks.

BenRiach and sister distillery GlenDronach made news in April of 2016 when it was announced that bourbon giant Brown-Foreman (of Jack Daniels fame) had purchased The BenRiach Distillery Company and its brands and holdings, including distilleries BenRiach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh. Join me in raising a glass to another lost independent voice in the continuously-conglomerating whisky industry. Here’s hoping that GlenDronach and BenRiach are able to continue their dedication to craft and quality under the new leadership.

Update 11/8/2021:: After another brand and lineup redesign, BenRiach’s baseline malt is now The “Original” 10-year.

Nose: Bready, with distinct notes of honeyed scones, buttery shortbread cookies, vanilla beans, and banana cream pie. A faint lemony tartness hangs over the rest, giving a good balance of tart and sweet.

Palate: Full body. Malty sweetness rushes to the fore, dredging up memories of childhood bowls of sugary cereal, but without the fake corn-syrup flavor. Freshly-mown hay, buttered toast, and lemon curd. Bakery sweets crusted in crystallized sugar.

Finish: A reprise of the palate, but with toasty oak and the faintest peat, like wisps of smoke from a fruitwood campfire just starting to catch. Ends with hazelnut butter which fades into just-slightly bitter oak tannins and charcoal.

With Water: A few drops of water amp up the lemon and banana notes, and introducing a decadent sugary glaze. These persist to the tongue. If you like your malt dessert-like and sweet, definitely experiment with a little water in this.

Overall: This is an exemplar of the category of unpeated single malts aged exclusively in ex-bourbon. Unlike some other Speyside ex-bourbon malts, which are more like blank canvases that need a little sherry to bring them to their full potential, The BenRiach 12 showcases the twin effects of good ex-bourbon aging: clarity of grain and sweetness of oak. It does this with flawless whiskymaking and precise aging. If you can find it for under $50, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better ex-bourbon malt for the price. For what it’s worth, BenRiach also shines with sherry. Or sherry AND peat.

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-Foreman 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) (46% ABV Presentation)
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $40 - $55
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Purchased at K&L Wines and Spirits, Redwood City, CA, $40.

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  • I am very fond of BenRiach 12. Starting with presentation, it allows you to check those initial set of boxes that we look for upon first pour: 46% abv, NCF, no color added. I find that with water the nose presents a succulent molasses note that precedes a flavorful and satisfying palate followed by a big oak-y finish that give credence to its fully ex-bourbon cask upbringing. This bottle can be found for $48 in Atlanta, which represents a strong value proposition. I challenge any fellow SN to find another Speysider in this price class that offers more fulfillment. I admit I enjoy having a glass of Scotch in each hand to facilitate a proper compare-and-contrast. Due to price point, birth place, and name similarities, I often find myself holding a glass of Benromach 10 next to a BenRiach 12. Both are outstanding, but I find that this pairing highlights the smoky flavors that lie in wait within BenRiach 12, adding to its mystery and complexity (although in this race I believe the Romach wins by a nose – pun intended.)

  • I recently opened a bottle of the new 12 yr which is both sherry matured and sherry finished. They don’t specify what types of sherry casks it matures in, but they do state that it’s finished in both PX and Oloroso casks. Whatever the story, it’s bottled at 46%, not chill-filtered or colored, is reasonably priced and quite tasty.