Category Archives: BenRiach

Benriach/BenRiach: The Little ‘r’ Big ‘R’ Tasting

Benriach/BenRiach: The Little ‘r’ Big ‘R’ Tasting

On May 28, 2013, the Dram Initiative sat down to a range tasting featuring BenRiach whiskies.  The tasting was hosted by the ever engaging and knowledgeable, J Wheelock, of Authentic Wine & Spirit Merchants.  This was the second range tasting of the Dram Initiative, Calgary’s newest and most progressive avant-garde whisky club for whiskey swingers that are willing to experiment with all things whisky.

BenRiach, for the benefit of the great unwashed, means “The Hill of the Red Deer”.  The distillery is located near Elgin in the beautiful Spey Valley and was built in 1898 by John Duff.  Unfortunately, the distillery only produced whisky for two years before succumbing to the Patterson whisky crash of 1900, and was mothballed. However, the malting floors continued in operation and supplied the neighboring distillery, Longmorn, with malted barley.  In 1965, after the sale of the distillery to The Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd, the distillery was almost completely rebuilt and whisky production started up again.  The distillery was sold again in 1977 to Seagram and then again to Chivas in 2001, who almost immediately closed it in 2002.  In 2004, the distillery was sold to Billy Walker along with two other partners, Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter, who started up production again.

This tasting was designed to pick the top single cask from 1983 – 1986 Bourbon barrel/hogsheads, from the four currently available in the city of Calgary.  The second goal was to highlight the influences on the whisky from Sherry, Port and Madeira and lightly peated and heavily peated malted barley.  The third goal was to speculate on the need to capitalize the ‘R’ after one hundred and six years.  So, whilst we were drinking, enjoying and voting on our whisky, we came up with a top ten reasons why:

Top Ten Reasons For The Capital ‘R’ In BenRiach:

10)  ‘BR’ stands for two chess pieces, the Bishop and the Rook, in honor of Joseph Henry Blackburne, a brilliant British chess player who dominated the game during the latter part of the 19th century. He was nicknamed “The Black Death”, and occasionally became violent when he drank whisky (rumored to be Benriach) during his chess games.

9)  Inspired by Bruichladdich and their complete disregard for convention, BenRiach has capitalized the ‘R’ for Rad or Radical, to point out all the radical types of whiskies being served up by the Rad new owners for public enjoyment.

8)  ‘BR’ means …………. Best Regards. In trying to become a polite company, it was thought that this change could make BenRiach come across more cultured.

7)  Capital ‘R’ in front of a word makes it special, therefore if the distillery is special, it goes without saying that the people who make the whisky must be special too.

6)  Anything associated with the British Royalty helps sell (you can also charge more for it) ………….. So the thinking was to capitalize the ‘B’ & ‘R’ to stand for British Royal, thereby giving the name a sense of entitlement.

5)  ‘B’ and ‘R’ are the initials of the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, a star home run hitter before the age of steroids for both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.  He was also the only player in history to credit his athletic prowess to a steady regimen of cigars, women and of course ……… whisky (rumored to be Benriach).

4)  The name was changed in honor of Billy Walker and his secret love for country music and in particular, a band called B&R, which are short for Big Kenny and John Rich.  In 2004, the same year in which Benriach was acquired, the band put out his all-time favorite song, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”.

3)  The capital ‘R’ was for Alistair Walker and his favorite book growing up which was ABC by Dr. Seuss.  His favorite part of the book was “BIG R little r” in which “a one Rosy Robin Ross was going riding on her red rhinoceros”.

2)  Major confusion between the Marketing and Finance departments with the mixed up thought, that by capitalizing the ‘R’ it would solve any potential problem for under-capitalization.

1)  The capital ‘R’ stands for “Resolution” which was made in 2004 by the owners, to stay out of the pub and not to buy another distillery. This resolution was broken in 2008 with the purchase Glendronach now the GlenDronach distillery, and Capital ‘D’ was for “Don’t do it again”.  This “Don’t do it again” was promptly broken, yet again, in 2013 with the acquisition of the Glenglassaugh distillery, soon to be the GlenGlassaugh distillery, with the Capital ‘G’ most likely standing for “God” as in “Oh God, I can’t believe they lent us the money to do it again”.




#1 AWS 1986 – August 2012 Cask # 5458 Bourbon Barrel 50.5 % ABV 217 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled by Authentic Wine & Spirit Merchants Alberta by J Wheelock.

Locally known as “Wheelock’s Wicked Whisky”.

NOSE:  Sweet ripe oranges & cherries, cinnamon, banana & apples. Raisins and some yeasty notes.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel sauce, green apples, liquorice.

FINISH:  Long and little tart at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Nice all around dram, my second favorite of the tasting.


#2 CWS 1985 – September 2012 Cask # 531 Bourbon Barrel 49.9 % ABV 189 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled for Co-op Wines Spirits, Alberta.

NOSE:  Smoke and leather. Some floral notes and apricots jam. Like an old Armagnac.

TASTE:  Light smoke and tobacco. Nutty, sour oranges and lots of black liquorice.

FINISH:  Long and warm.

ASSESSMENT:  Odd to get that much smoke from a non-peated whisky, must come from the floor malting somehow.


#3 CSN 1984 – August 2012 Cask # 1114 Hogshead 56.1 % ABV 198 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled for CSN Wine & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Ripe sweet honeydew melon, creamy vanilla, flora and waxy.

TASTE:  Butterscotch overload, spices, pears, raisins and almonds.

FINISH:  Long with some nutty liquorice right at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Interesting, lovely balanced dram.


#4 KWM 1983 – September 2012 Cask # 298 Hogshead 44.2 % ABV 233 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Pineapple expresses, ripe melons, maple syrup. Five alive fruit salad.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel, coconut milk, sweet ripe fruits.

FINISH:  Medium to long, caramel finish.

ASSESSMENT:  This is a tropical shit storm of fruit. If you like a fruity dram, this is the one for you.



After tasting the first four drams blind, the Dram Initiative club members voted by a show of unwashed hands, which showed their inclination in the following order:

Win           Kensington Wine Market 1983 cask # 298

Place         Centre Street North 1984 cask # 1114

Show        Authentic Wine & Spirits 1986 cask # 5458

4th             Co-op Wines Spirits 1985 cask # 531


#5 KWM 1994 – September 2009 Cask #4810 Madeira Finish Hogshead 57.1 % ABV 250 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Sweet fruit syrupy, almost like a liqueur. Burnt sugar with vanilla bean.

TASTE:  Sugar & spice and all things nice. Black licorice that coats the tongue and stewed fruits.

FINISH:  Long and spicy.

ASSESSMENT:  Many layers and much depth to this one.


#6 1977 – July 2010 Cask #1033 Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish Hogshead 52.2 % ABV 331 Bottles

2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7.

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries. Caramel, rich coffee and cigar notes.

TASTE:  Major dill. Toffee, raisins, dark fruits and nutty.

FINISH:  Medium. Lingering and sweet.

ASSESSMENT:  Excellent sherry cask. Wow, this one really shows just how good a sherry finish BenRiach can be.


#7 1975 – August 2007 Cask #4451 Lightly Peated Port Pipe 53.7 % ABV 707 Bottles

2007 Annual Limited Release Batch 4.

NOSE:  Smokey coke & rum. Citrus and sweet cherries with a little pineapple.

TASTE:  Thick overpowering clove sweet, spices and oily liquorice.

FINISH:  Medium and fades fast.

ASSESSMENT:  You really need to love rum to like this one.


#8 1984 – July 2010 Cask #4052 Tawny Port Finish Peated Hogshead 51.7 % ABV 265 Bottles

2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7.

NOSE:  Assertive smoke, but pleasant. Stewed fruits and cream.

TASTE:  Minty smoke & pepper. Oranges, a little floral and some coffee notes.

FINISH:  Long and a bit drying.

ASSESSMENT:  I like this one the more I drink it.


Thanks to J Wheelock for hosting the Dramned.  You complete us.

Congratulations to BenRiach for starting up the malting floors again, (sorry to the next generations of hunchbacks) we know it’s expensive, but whisky drinkers do take notice and appreciate the effort.

What’s next for the owners of Benriach?  Well, according to the rules of distillery monopoly, if they buy one more distillery, they can start building a new larger mega distillery!


– Your humble Drudge, Maltmonster

BenRiach Horizons 12 y.o. Review

BenRiach Horizons 12 y.o.horizonsmood1

50% abv

Score:  89/100


Horizons was the counterpoint to the first edition of BenRiach’s Solstice.  Light…fruity…very vibrant.  While we loved the Solstice for its heavyhanded and brash delivery, this one is a much more restrained affair.  It allows the spirit to shine through a little more purely, and softens the edges of youth through a sweet Oloroso finish.  Being triple-distilled – in and of itself an anomaly outside of Ireland and the Lowlands (and yes, yes…Springbank’s Hazelburn) – also contributes to its exuberance.  Quite a pleasant and remarkable BenRiach well outside the standards of the range. 

This release was limited in number, much like the Solstice, but sat on shelves a wee bit longer than that one.  Not due to any sense of inferiority, I would argue, but simply because the Solstice was such a unique offering, being rather heavily peated and at least partially matured in a port pipe.  Yeah…it made for a slightly bumpy malt, but one I do cherish.

The duality of the Horizons/Solstice expressions provides a rather neat perspective on the capabilities of a distillery that is really coming into its own over the past decade or so.  The whisky is great…the marketing clever…the packaging lovely.  Did I mention the stocks of older malts that figure into the equation as special releases?

Nice young release from a rock solid distillery.

Nose:  Beautifully sweet and wine-rich.  A soft pillowy sherry note that can only be oloroso sweetness.  Bourbon-rich, big Maker’s Mark synthetic cherry notes.  Sour ju-jubes.  Cinnamon buns.  Nice spices and fruits coming together here.  I really like the nose on this one. 

Palate:  Sweet fruit candy.  Delicious deep spice.  Cadbury’s Galaxy bar on arrival brings an element of creaminess and smooth drinkability even at 50%.

I remember being kinda underwhelmed with this one first time ’round.  Liked it a bit more second time around (which was a hefty sampling session).  And still a little more this time.  I know where there are a couple more bottles of this one.  Think I’ll scoop one up before it’s too late.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:

BenRiach 21 y.o. Authenticus Review

BenRiach 21 y.o. Authenticus

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Man…so delinquent in getting this review done.  I believe the new BenRiach Authenticus is now being packaged as a 25 year old whisky.  This 21 year old no longer exists as a retail option.

So many whiskies…so little time. 

Anyways…chances are you may still be able to track down a bottle or two of this BenRiach if you’re diligent and keep your eyes peeled.  That ‘thrill of the hunt’ is part of the game, isn’t it?  Every little cornershop ‘ma and pa’ liquor hawker potentially has some yet-unsold gems from yesteryear gathering dust at the back of the shop, right?  This would be a great find.  Especially considering the price was more than fair for a quality dram of this age.

While this 21 year old Authenticus was undoubtedly more affordable than the newer edition, I have no doubts BenRiach will have upped the ante in terms of quality as well price with the 25 year old.  That really is saying something, as the release I am focusing on herein was really quite stellar.  Aged BenRiach meets peat.  How can that not be a winning combination?

I was prepared for a dram both fruity and smoky.  What I wasn’t prepared for however, was such an incredibly farmy nose and depth of iodine.  Very interesting, and certainly adds a unique dimension to this one.  Deeply iodine-rich peat is generally a very coastal, or Islay, characteristic.  It comes from the brininess in the decaying vegetation that makes up the bulk of the composition of the peat (think seaweed and saltwater drenched coastal foliage).  More mainland peat tends to have a heathery, slightly meadowy note to it…softer on the medicinal edges.  Goes to show…there’s always going to be some wonderful unpredictability in our water of life. 

Nose:  Heavily farmy.  Leather and horse stables.  Hay bales.  Peat and smoke.  Iodine.  Damp earth.  Oaky and aging.  Mellow…very mellow notes of tropical fruits.  Simply enormous peat reek and billows of smoke for a 21 y.o.

Palate:  Gummy.  Peat and pepper.  Again…very barnyard-ish, in a good way.  You’ll be coughing smoke rings for hours.  Dried fruits…or maybe just the skins and peels.  Mouth puckeringly drying and bittering.  A little age showing…and that’s a good thing.


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

BenRiach 12 y.o. Review

BenRiach 12 y.o.076

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100


Wow.  I love how fun and vibrant this is.  Soooooo very much potential here.  Kinda makes me think of a shining young actress, stuck in indie films, but with the potential to be the next hollywood starlet if only discovered.  This one performs miles beyond others in its age bracket.  Nose especially.

Perhaps the sweet purple fruits on display here are a little foreshadowing as to just how incredible the BenRiach fruit melange is as it ages into its 30s or so.  By the time most of us are entering our quarter-life to third-life crisis, this whisky is just beginning to peek.

Truly a young winner from BenRiach.

Nose:  Purple.  Grapes and florals.  Juicy as fuck.  So fruity.  Vanilla cake…with icing.  Candy.  White chocolate.  How ’bout some Welch’s grape juice?  Peach and lilac.

Palate:  Sweet…sweet…sweet.  Oak up front, but pleasant and not overstated.  Fruits start to dry a little as it works its way around the mouth.  Hits a bit of a pepper note at the back.  Dries the corners of the mouth.

This malt at 20-30 years…can’t even imagine the fruit array you’d see.  Hopefully more of this run is still lying in repose in some dark ol’ warehouse.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

BenRiach Solstice 15 y.o. Review

BenRiach Solstice 15 y.o.

50% abv

Score:  89.5/100


Wow…what an odd whisky.  Heavily peated and port finished.  Two pieces thrown together that might seem a little incongruous as a concept, but when viewed as a whole…works quite well.  Kinda like a centaur.  Or a liger.

BenRiach has been dabbling (well…more than dabbling) with peated releases for a while now, so no surprise there.  The real shocker here is how deep the rivulet of iodine is, and how enormous the farmy influence is.  Bold strokes.  Not for the faint of heart.

Nose:  Tannic and salty, rich in iodine.  Peat meets sweet.  Something like a smoky fruit fudge combination (yeah…WTF?!).  Wet smoke and alcohol soaked fruit (cherries perhaps).  Kinda farmy.  Oil and deep meat smoke.  Seems maybe a couple of years older than it is.

Palate:  Juicy and chewy.  Beautiful lush fruit delivery backed by waves of smoke.  Iodine and peat (band-aid-ish).  While it may not be to everyone’s liking, the melding of port and peat is quite complete.

Seems sort of like a novelty, but one I heartily embrace.  Wish I’d put aside more than one.  At least I do indeed still have that one to enjoy with my heathen mates then the sun aligns this June.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

BenRiach Range Tasting – BFB

BenRiach Range Tasting



What is a BFB?

Well…it’s an overnight whisky event for couples only.  Usually half the couples drink whisky and the other half drink some other less satisfying alcoholic beverage.  We tolerate the non-whisky drinkers only because we can hijack the evening for our purposes and have a completely guilt free whisky tasting with GOOD friends (a friend is someone who will help you move…a GOOD friend is someone who will help you move a dead body).  The only problem is, sometimes the conversation gets side tracked away from whisky, but a slight pause in the discussion and a really loud voice can usually rail a derailed conversation back to whisky, after all,  if it’s not about whisky & cigars, is it really worth talking about?  BFB stands for ‘Bed for Breakfast’, which means whoever hosts the event supplies the beds and whoever doesn’t supply the beds, has to prepare breakfast.  We have hosted many of these events in the past and are always surprised at what great cooks whisky drinkers are, especially when whisky is one of the ingredients!

BenRiach, for the benefit of the great unwashed, means “The Hill of the Red Deer”.  The distillery is located in the beautiful Spey Valley and was created in 1898.  Unfortunately, it only produced whisky for two years before succumbing to a whisky crash and was mothballed (sounds a little like Diageo corporate planning).  However, the malting floors continued to be operated and supplied the neighboring distillery, Longmorn, with malted barley from which they produced a product called Longben or long-been which has long been making Longmorn better.  In 1965, after a sale, the distillery was almost completely rebuilt and whisky production started up again.  In 1972 peat was added to the drying of the barley to satisfy the smoky blends at the time and screw over the peat workers union on Islay.   1999 was the end of the floor malting operations at BenRiach which have helped to shape the shoulders of many a hunchback for last 101 years.  In 2002, the distillery was again mothballed until 2004, when it was resold to the current ownership and production started again.

In 2010, Alistair Walker came to Calgary and after a grand tasting (and before passing out) he made a bold offer to us all to come to BenRiach for a visit and try a sample from one of the two remaining 1966 casks.  In 2011, a small group of VIP’s from Calgary showed up to be drammed with 1966 only to be denied by a kind, but stern, gatekeeper and Distillery Manager, Mad Max Stewart Buchannan.  The day was saved when a compromise was made and it was agreed that we could try everything else.  We started by trying over 30 samples (I kid you not) in an effort to choose another cask for the KWM.  We were then treated to the ‘soon to be released’ Batch 8, 2011 Limited Releases …..  I don’t remember much after that.


This Benriach Range tasting was designed to highlight the different influences from Bourbon, Sherry, Port and Madeira and to also try some lightly peated to heavily peated non-Islay whiskies, but more importantly, it was about good friends and great whisky!




#1          1971 – April , 2011       Cask #1947  Hogshead  49.8 % ABV  Bottle #47 of 229

#2          1972 – July , 2011       Cask #802  Hogshead  40.1 % ABV Bottle #147 of 169

#3          1978 – June , 2006       Cask #1596  Hogshead  54.0 % ABV Bottle #83 of 201

#4          1994 – Sept , 2009       Cask #4810  Madeira Finish  57.1 % ABV Bottle #153 of 250 for KWM

#5          1977 – July , 2010       Cask #1033  Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish  52.2 % ABV Bottle #185 of 331

#6          1975 – August , 2007       Cask #4451  Port Pipe  53.7 Bottle #479 of 707

#7          1984 – July , 2010       Cask #4052  Tawny Port Finish – Peated  51.7 % ABV Bottle #116 of 265

#8          15 Year old – Solstice       Heavily Peated & Finished in Tawny Port Pipes  50 % ABV



#1      1971 – April , 2011       Cask # 1947 Hogshead  49.8 % ABV  Bottle # 47 of 229

NOSE:  Tons-O-Fruit.  Watermelon, oranges, pineapple, it just keeps going.  Eucalyptus.  Refreshing.

TASTE:  More fruit, but more tropical.  Milk chocolate.  Fresh bourbon vanilla.  Bit of tannins.

FINISH:  Medium.  Very dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Benriach 1971 you are my fire , the one desire  believe when I say I want it that way and by the gallon ( 4 liter ) size .

Group rated #1 whisky for the night with the most number one votes .



#2      1972 – July , 2011       Cask # 802    Hogshead  40.1 % ABV Bottle # 147 of 169

NOSE:  Oranges, pears and melons.  Marshmallow sweet.  Almonds.  Stunning.

TASTE:  Very floral.  Creamy vanilla bean.  Caramel milk chocolate and  fruits again.

FINISH:  Medium and a little more.  Bit drying

ASSESSMENT:  This whisky has it, yeah baby, it’s got it, BenRiach I’m your fan, I’m your devotee, at your desire.

Group rated #2 whisky tasted .





#3      1978 – June , 2006       Cask # 1596  Hogshead  54.0 % ABV Bottle # 83 of 201

NOSE:  The sugar train stops here, uber sweet.  Pears and apricots.

TASTE:  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Trace of peat smoke.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Nice and warming.  Almost bitter.

ASSESSMENT:  It’s such a good vibration, it’s such a sweet sensation.

Group rated #4 whisky tasted



#4      1994 – Sept , 2009       Cask # 4810   Madeira Finish  57.1 % ABV Bottle # 153 of 250  Bottled for KWM

NOSE:  Sweet fruit syrupy, almost like a liqueur.  Burnt sugar with vanilla bean.

TASTE:  Sugar & spice and all things nice.  Black licorice that coats the tongue and deep stewed fruits.

FINISH:  Long and spicy.

ASSESSMENT:  Just tasting this step by step, ooh baby,  gonna get to you whisky, step by step.  Many layers and much depth to this one.

Group rated #3 whisky tasted (I rated this #4 , only because the potentate at KWM didn’t go with my choice of sample when choosing the cask and I happen to be very petty).



#5      1977 – July , 2010       Cask # 1033   Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish  52.2 % ABV Bottle # 185 of 331

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries.  Rich coffee and cigar notes.

TASTE:  Major dill.  Toffee, raisins, dark fruits and nutty.

FINISH:  Medium.  Lingering and sweet.

ASSESSMENT:  You’re all I ever wanted, you’re all I ever needed, yeah!  Excellent sherry cask.  Wow, this one really shows just how good a sherry finish BenRiach can be.



#6      1975 – August , 2007       Cask # 4451   Port Pipe  53.7  % ABV Bottle # 479 of 707

NOSE:  Big citrus.  Grapefruit, cherries and little smoke.

TASTE:  At odds with the nose, very unbalanced.  Pepper, thick overpowering clove sweet.

FINISH:  Medium and fades fast (not fast enough).

ASSESSMENT:  Ok, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want, I want balance in a whisky.



#7       1984 – July , 2010       Cask # 4052   Tawny Port Finish – Peated  51.7 % ABV Bottle # 116 of 265

NOSE:  Stewed fruits.  Assertive peat but pleasant.  Some mint.  Little musty.

TASTE:  Peat & Pepper.  Floral, honey and coffee.

FINISH:  Long and a bit drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Don’t go chasing finishes.  Please stick to the basics and the barrels that you’re used to.



#8       15 Year old – Solstice       Heavily Peated & Finished in Tawny Port Pipes  50 % ABV

NOSE:  Bam…..cherry jam.  Intense non-medicinal peat.  Spicy aroma found only in a Bolivar cigar.  Little farmy.

TASTE:  Prevailing peat.  Cloves, raisin and figs.  Vanilla in the back.

FINISH:  Long and chewy.  Not your mother’s BenRiach.  Balanced.  Depends if like a Port Peat drink, then yes, if not don’t walk away, run away!

ASSESSMENT:  With the world in love with peat, I know that it’s time for a change, but when that change comes will you still feel the same about Benriach.


– Maltmonster