About the Distillery
This month – the first in our series on wood effects is kicked off by the BenRiach Dark Rum 15yo.
The process of making whisky is pretty simple at its core. You germinate barley, turning it into malt. The sugars are extracted from the malt and turned into simple sugars with hot water. This is called wort. The wort is cooled, yeast is pitched in, it ferments. The final brew is then distilled to a pure spirit, broken down with the local spring water. Its aged for 3 years and 1 day, and that’s whisky.
But the process that happens for the next 7 to 12 years after that no one really talks about.
For the next three months, we are going to explore the effects of oak on whisky. How does the type of spirit that was used to age the whisky influence the flavour? To find out we are going to spend some time with BenRiach Distillery.
BenRiach was built in 1898 by the Grant Family in Speyside, and commissioned only months before the Pattison Crash, which devastated the whisky industry when Pattison’s of Leith the largest wholesaler and blender of Scotch Whisky went bankrupt. Fortunately the floor maltings remained in production supplying malt for Longmorn and many local distilleries. Finally in 1965 BenRiach was bought by Glenlivet distillers who modernised and rebuild the distillery. In 1978 Seagrams of Canada bought Glenlivet distillers, including BenRiach distillery. The first Benriach singlemalt is finally released in 1994. With the continued rationalisation of the liquor industry, Seagrams is acquired by the French Company Pernod Ricard, who reduce throughput by 75% and finally stop producing altogether in 2002. Shortly thereafter a consortium of whisky enthusiasts purchases BenRiach. Unshackled for the first time, the distillery can make single malt whiskies exclusively rather than producing the back bone of blends. This freedom makes BenRiach the ideal choice for our exercise in understanding oak effects, as this distillery is only hindered by the limits of its owners imaginations, with unique unusual and wonderful styles of whisky to choose from.
It was with delight, while sworn to secrecy, that I witnessed BenRiach gaining its independence, when a team led by the experienced and infectiously enthusiastic Billy Walker acquired the Distillery. This independence will allow BenRiach to unlock its secrets and bring its fine and surprising malts, officially to the market in their natural state for the first time. There cannot be a single true lover of whisky who will not rejoice because of it.” – Jim Murray
The beauty of being independent is the freedom that comes with it. This has allowed Billy to utilise some very unusual barrel types to finish the BenRiach, which gives us a unique opportunity to compare how different finishes affect the same source single malt. For the next three whiskies, we will look at the BenRiach aged for 15 years finished in Dark Rum, Port then Pedro Ximénez (an intensely sweet, dark, dessert sherry from Spain) casks.
These whiskies are from Speyside, but they are not sweet whiskies, nor light whiskies. They are pretty full on for flavour, but delicate enough to allow the effect of the different oak finishes to come through.
The best way to try this is in comparison to a “control” – in this case we’ll use a 12yo BenRiach Sherry Wood. This is their benchmark style, and Sherry is the “traditional” oak used to age single malt whiskies all over Scotland.
BenRiach Dark Rum Finish - Our Thoughts
This months whisky is the BenRiach Dark Rum 15yo. The barrel was first used to age Dark Rum in Jamaica. Once the rum was bottled off, the barrel was refilled with BenRiach spirit. The spirit had some initial ageing in bourbon barrels, but you wouldn’t know it to taste it.
The flavours of the BenRiach Dark Rum Finish are just fantastic. There is a stream of variations from intense raisins, strong cheese, rose petal, musk. It really is a delight. Don’t be put off by “rum” flavours. They are wonderful high quality Jamaican Rum.
Bottlers Tasting Notes
Nose: Fantastic interaction between toffee, spices, cinnamon and sultana, with a rich backdrop of rum.
Colour: Light gold.
Taste: Toffee, cinnamon, apricots, rosehips and chocolate, with an avalanche of rum and sultanas in the finish.