BenRiach distillery

The first time I visited BenRiach distillery was in Autumn of 2018, but a lot has changed since then, so Whiskygeeks sat with the Global Brand Ambassador for BenRiach, GlenDronach, and GlenGlassaugh,

The first time I visited BenRiach distillery was in Autumn of 2018, but a lot has changed since then, so Whiskygeeks sat with Stewart Buchanan, the Global Brand Ambassador for BenRiach, GlenDronach, and GlenGlassaugh, to have a chat about BenRiach distillery and their new bottlings. If you’re curious about the new 2020 bottlings of BenRiach, you can find the article here! With the new bottlings of BenRiach popping out last year and some new bottlings coming out soon, why don’t we take a look at BenRiach distillery’s history and production?

BenRiach distillery
Panda on some casks at BenRiach distillery!

History of BenRiach Distillery

In 1897, John Duff, who also built Longmorn and Glenlossie, started building the BenRiach distillery. In 1898, the BenRiach distillery was complete and started making whisky. Unfortunately, it closed 2 years later due to the Pattison Crash happening around the same time, which devastated many whisky businesses. It wasn’t until 1965 that Glenlivet Distillers Ltd revived the distillery. Ownership of BenRiach continued changing hands until 1978 when Seagrams took ownership. They started peated whisky production and released BenRiach as a single malt. Pernod Ricard took over in 2001 until it was bought over in 2003 by an independent consortium. One of the co-owners is the famous whisky blender, Billy Walker. Billy Walker is also responsible for the capitalisation in the middle of the distilleries name, just like GlenDronach.

In 2016, Brown-Forman acquired the BenRiach Distillery Company Limited. Dr Rachel Barrie took over the role of master blender for BenRiach, GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh.


Back in 2018, I learnt that the distillery uses concerto barley. However, after speaking to Steward, we learn that BenRiach isn’t using primarily concerto anymore. This isn’t surprising as distilleries are now moving away from the concerto variant. As of early 2021, BenRiach uses a combination of 3 varieties of barley. Although not specified, we could make an intelligent guess by looking at UKMalt. The spring varieties for distilling malts: Laureate, KWS Sassy, and LG Diablo!
Whisky distilleries need to change the variant of barley it uses from time to time. Aside from the better properties, newer barley variants may possess, this stops diseases from adapting to any one barley variant. Therefore, this ensures that the whisky industry would not be affected by crop diseases, which is exactly the issue the banana industry is facing today.

The peat used to kiln the peated barley (at 45ppm) BenRiach distillery uses is also currently from Aberdeenshire, Tomintoul. This peat is more vegetal and more herbal than Islay peat. BenRiach distillery has also been quietly working on their floor-malted barley onsite! The floor maltings run for about 8 weeks a year, resulting in approximately 10 tonnes of floor-malted barley.

BenRiach Maltings. Taken in 2018!

The malted barley is milled to become grist or crushed barley. This grist goes into a Traditional ‘plough and rake’ mashtun, much like those at Deanston and Bruichladdich. In the mashtun, the grist steeps in hot water to extract the barley sugars.

Fermentation & Distillation

Fermentation of wash at BenRiach depends on the workweek. The sweet sugary liquid, or wort, extracted from the barley spends 55-80 hours fermenting in Scottish Larch washbacks, together with some liquid ‘creamed’ yeast and becomes a strong beer called wash.

BenRiach distils 3 types of spirit. On top of the double-distilled unpeated and peated spirit, BenRiach triple distils their unpeated malt. Every year, the distillery dedicates 5 weeks to peated spirit production around the end of September and 1 week to triple distillation in the summer.

Unfortunately, in 2018, visitors could not take photos in the distillery building, but they did allow photos outside the building. So I snapped a photo of one of their stills!

BenRiach Distillery Still
Outside the Still Room of BenRiach Distillery in 2018


Stewart assures us that BenRiach ships their ex-bourbon casks over to Scotland whole now and they are never looking back at flat-packed casks. Under Brown-Forman’s ownership, BenRiach has many connections to Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey distilleries. Therefore, these casks coming to BenRiach distillery would undoubtedly be of high quality.

BenRiach has acquired the nickname of chameleon malt amongst some seasoned whisky drinkers. This is due to how well BenRiach fares when finished in another cask. To find out more about maturation and bottlings (old and new), click this link here!

Future of BenRiach

I am very excited about the new release of the BenRiach 16yo under Dr Rachel Barrie that has been hinted at. Floor-malted BenRiach whisky might take some time to mature before its eventual release. Still, with distilleries like Glen Garioch bringing back floor-maltings, BenRiach will be prepared, should floor-malted whisky be popular and in-demand. BenRiach has changed its bottles and the styles of whisky in them, much like a chameleon, and I’m absolutely excited about what BenRiach does next!

BenRiach’s New Range

BenRiach has always been GlenDronach‘s shy sibling, but not anymore! Dr Rachel Barrie has shaken up the core range and BenRiach is getting more of the spotlight!

BenRiach – The Chameleon Malt

BenRiach is a distillery in Speyside, known for its experimental distillation and maturation ever since Billy Walker bought over the distillery in 2003. Why do I spell BenRiach with a capital R? It’s Billy Walker’s signature mark to capitalise a letter in the middle of the name, like GlenDronach or GlenAllachie. Pretty much like the late Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies. Being one of the first few distilleries in Speyside to triple-distil their spirit shows how willing they are to break regional stereotypes and experiment! They even started distilling peated spirit since the 1970s!

In some whisky circles, BenRiach single malts have been known as the ‘chameleon malt’. To clarify, this means that the spirit character adapts well to various casks and cask finishes. What is cask finishing? It is taking a matured whisky in a more gentle cask, usually American white oak casks and transferring the whisky to another cask to add a layer of flavours. And just how adventurous was Billy Walker with cask-finishes? Well, just for example, if you would look into the archives, BenRiach has gone into Madeira casks, Sauternes casks, dark rum, tawny port and wine casks! The spirit worked well, fitting into various casks of different flavours, like a chameleon changing colours based on its environment. However, some people find it difficult to pin down BenRiach’s signature spirit character.

The baton is in good hands

Dr Rachael Barrie, Master Blender and Keeper of the Quaich. Photo Credits to Brown-Forman and MaltWine Asia

So, how has Dr Rachael Barrie changed the new range? In my opinion, I think that she played to the strengths of BenRiach’s chameleon character whilst addressing its confusing nature. That is to say, the new bottlings feature BenRiach matured in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in casks like Jamaican rum, Port, or Marsala and blends it with full-term matured Benriach to create unique flavour combinations. In my opinion, this is absolutely genius! It showcases BenRiach’s chameleon nature with cask finishes whilst securing a consistent house-style with ex-bourbon maturation. In addition, Brown-Forman, who owns several American Whiskey distilleries, is also providing BenRiach with quality ex-bourbon casks!

The new packaging is ironically a call back to the packaging of BenRiach in the 1990s, when BenRiach was owned by Seagram’s.

Photo Credits to Brown Forman, Malt Wine Asia, and WhiskyBase

BenRiach The Original Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Original Ten is a combination of peated and unpeated spirit. As a result, the blend produces a lightly smoky malt, which was what some Speyside whiskies were like in the past. Bottled at 43%, the label declares the casks used, namely, Bourbon casks, Sherry casks and Virgin casks. This is largely ex-bourbon dominant, so this bottling has a more fruit-forward character with a trace of smoke that becomes a little more distinct with time and a couple drops of water!

Out of the four new releases, I really enjoy this the most! I was surprised by the blending expertise that ensured the balance between peated and unpeated Single Malt. It gave me flashbacks of the Arran Smuggler’s Series. Although, I would love to see a version of this at an abv of 46% or higher someday!

BenRiach The Smoky Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Smoky Ten is a revamp of the 10yo Curiositas, but a little funkier! This 10-year-old single malt features some peated BenRiach with a Jamaican rum cask finish, giving it more fruitiness! With the Virgin oak contributing more to the body, I would say that this would be a delightful daily dram for a peat lover!

BenRiach The Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

I expected this unpeated 12yo to be pretty popular in the room for the media event, and it was. Being based on the previous sherried BenRiach 12yo bottlings, this now features a combination of full-term sherry matured single malt with some Port-cask finished stock. In my opinion, this brings about more of that bourbon-cask fruity house style. For any sherried malt lovers, this bottling would be something you might want to try!

BenRiach The Smoky Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

This is a rather interesting entry, as it offers the BenRiach peated experience with a bit more European oak spice notes from the sherry and marsala casks. I like it that the core features casks from more unique fortified wines!

Concluding Thoughts

As a person who causally blends whiskies as a small party trick or for my own enjoyment, I can feel the expertise and mastery of the art Dr Rachel Barrie has put into this core range. And I know it’s out of her control, and I know Brown Forman does want to make BenRiach appealing for the mass market, but I do wish some of these entries were unchill-filtered so I could really get the full character of BenRiach. Maybe we need to start educating more whisky drinkers to understand the beauty of scotch mist!

If you’re interested in the new bottlings or the old unchillfiltered bottlings, do check out MaltWineAsia with this link! They have both! There are some cask strength single cask BenRiachs under S$200 as well!
Special thanks to MaltWineAsia, Brown Forman and Stewart Buchanan! Look out for the BenRiach distillery article next week!