BenRiach Heart of Speyside

I am possibly not the fan of BenRiach that I’m supposed to be. On paper it all looks great: It’s the sister distillery of GlenDronach of which I am an unrepentant fanboy. It uses ‘craft presentation’ for most of its malts (46% ABV, no added color or chill filtration), and it’s as close to independently-owned as distilleries get these days. They have a slew of excellent finishes, and their pricing is not quite as predatory as the bigger names. Still, every time I come across a BenRiach that isn’t heavily-sherried, I falter.

Here we have “Heart of Speyside”, an NAS malt that was meant to compete with bottom-shelfers like Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve or Tomatin Legacy until it was scrapped in the recent label redesign and portfolio reshuffle. BenRiach may feel the same way about the whisky as I do: It no longer exists on their website, even in the “Archive” section. Scrubbed from the Internet… what a way to go. Kudos to BenRiach, though: Their core lineup is now entirely age-stated, starting at 10 years old. (The NAS expressions show up in Travel Retail.)

This bottle can still be found lingering at a few retailers. If you’re standing in the store looking at it right now, I’ll save you a read: skip it. There are better options.

As for technical details, it’s a no-age-statement single malt distilled at BenRiach. It doesn’t say online, but I’m guessing it’s entirely from ex-bourbon casks. Bottled at 40% ABV without added coloring and without chill filtration. It’s like the scrawny little brother of ‘craft presentation’.

For those following along, yes I am extending my streak of reviewing whiskies that have already been discontinued and thus are of no interest to my readers. How am I not better at this after 10 years of blogging?

Nose: Light, lemony, sweet. Shortbread cookies. Fresh hay, vanilla cream, banana cream pie. A bit thin or airy… could definitely use a higher bottling proof. A rest in the glass reveals some florals, especially rosewater.

Palate: Thin, watery body. Mild tongue burn. Various bakery goods (sugar cookies), slightly bitter barrel char, and walnuts. The longer it’s on the tongue, the more the bitter outweighs the sweet.

Finish: On the short side. The same notes from the palate persist. Slightly bitter. Fades without evolving.

With Water: As if this needs watering down. What? Fine. A few scant drops of water add a little vanilla frosting to the aroma and the palate. As expected, it does little for the experience. Still, if you’re not enjoying your glass try adding a little water.

Overall: Why anyone bottles any single malts at 40% ABV anymore is beyond me. This would probably be a rich, inviting example of classic Speyside single malt at 46% ABV, but instead it’s thin and watery. The thinness allows bitter elements to show through instead of being the foil to sweetness that they are in more robust malts. In essence, by taking out the things that make a single malt expensive (time in oak and high proof), they’ve taken out the things necessary to make this a good whisky. It’s not bad, certainly, but it’s not exciting.

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.
BenRiach Heart of Speyside
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $35 - $50
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.

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  • I was sad to see the old 12 year sherry wood go. In my opinion it was on same level as GD 12, and bottled at 46%. So far I’ve only seen the Original 10 from the new lineup on shelves, but I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet.

  • I have an open bottle of this right now. Lucky for me it’s a mini that I bought simply to kick off a proper BenRiach vertical tasting session. Yup- it’s pretty bad. Thin and bitter. The only segment below it on the scotch pecking order would be cheap blends like Dewars White Label and Johnnie Red. The BenRiach 10 is miles better than this poor excuse for scotch whisky. Good riddance to it.