The distillery was another one designed by Charles Doig but it didn’t follow his oft used ‘E’ shape layout. Here the malt barns and kiln were on one side of the railway spur that ran up from Longmorn junction, with the mash, tun room and still house parallel to it on the other side, perhaps to make best use of the railway access to all parts of the site.
Following its silent beginning to last century the distillery was completely refurbished and re-opened in 1965. I am a little confused about one aspect of this re-opening - Ben Riach is reported to have been refurbished by The Glenlivet Distillers Company Ltd (TGD) in 1965 yet it is also widely reported that Longmorn, Glenlivet and Glen Grant amalgamated to form TGD in 1970. Did the company already exist in a previous form that bought Ben Riach from the Longmorn-Glenlivet Distillery Co with the objective of re-opening it, or is it a another case of the exact dates of change in ownership being lost in time? Any accurate and supported information on this would be welcome.
|Main distillery buildings after refurbishment|
This time the period of closure is far shorter than the previous 65 year hibernation and after just 20 months the distillery has another new owner. In April 2004, Billy Walker led a consortium to create the BenRiach Distillery Company who bought the distillery and stock from Chivas. With the internal workings all still in place they start production in September that year after a closure of just two years. Although BenRiach is not open to the public I was delighted to be offered a tour with distillery manager Stewart Buchanan who brought me up to date with the recent history.
|BenRiach malting floor|
|BenRiach kiln and killogie|
In 1985 the stills were increased from 2 to 4, and although the old third still used for triple distillation was removed in 1998 there is still a small amount of production triple distilled each year. The two wash stills have a capacity of 20,912 litres each and the 30,000 litres from each washback is split into two charges of 15,000 litres. The spirit stills have a capacity of 12,729 but are charged with 10,000 litres each time. All the stills are fairy tall with a shallow downward angle on the lyne arms leading to shell and tube condensers placed externally, all helping to keep the spirit light. The middle cut averages around 2 hours, down to a relatively low 60.5% cut off and slightly lower again for peated spirit.
|BenRiach stills, wash near side|
|BenRiach dunnage warehouses, looking towards Longmorn|
Benriach was first bottled as a Single Malt in 1994 by Seagram, as a 10yo release, and given the quality and age of some of the whiskies in the warehouse it is no surprise that the current owners have taken to releasing far more expressions. Some experimenting took place at the distillery in the past including lots of different wine finishes alongside the triple distilled and peated spirit, and the current owners have been releasing one of the widest ranges of whisky styles of any distillery along with a classic range of aged whiskies and some vintage bottlings.
Regular readers will know that I’m not a big fan of wine finishes but their peated spirit has produced the 10yo Curiositas and 21yo Authenticus bottlings that I do find very appealing. In addition, the very first bottling of whisky produced entirely by the current owners is the young and heavily peated Birnie Moss, launched in 2009. It is named after an area of moorland in the hills a few miles to the south of the distillery and this is a fantastic dram with lots of flavour for its young age. If Birnie makes you think of burning then you may not be far wrong as it is almost as if the peat is still smouldering in your glass, just the way I like it.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of taking part in an archaeological excavation on an Iron Age site called Birnie which was not far from the distillery. One of the central features was a large timber built roundhouse that had been burnt-down at the end of its occupation. If Birnie Moss had been available to us then it would have been a fitting dram to offer a toast to the people who had lived there around 2000 years ago and who had left a fascinating story to uncover. Curiositas is also an appropriately named whisky for all archaeology and nothing better than a hit of peat smoke to revive you at the end of a long day of hard digging.
BenRiach is an independently owned distillery that is going from strength to strength and who knows what may still be lurking in those mid-range warehouses for future release. Hopefully that extensive closure after it was founded was just the postponement of a long future that will continue on from the near 50 years that have now passed since it was re-opened. My thanks go to Stewart, and also to Alistair Walker at the company headquarters in Newbridge. We will see more of the company story when the journey reaches GlenDronach Distillery near Huntly.
1 Killogie is an old Scots word for the space in front of a fire or kiln, see the middle of my Bowmore report for some more thoughts.
Additional information in this post is from the BenRiach website.