Benriach Expresses The Aromas and Flavors of Speyside
Updated: Sep 29
by Andrew Chalk
When vodka is too vague and gin is only good then you need something totally committed to satisfy your adult drink preference. Time to reach for the Scotch, that fermented and distilled malted barley and peat torn from the soggy, chilling soils of Scotland.
SPEYSIDE MAY BE THE NAPA VALLEY OF SCOTCH
You could do worse than land in Speyside, one of the six whisky appellations in Scotland and undoubtedly the most richly endowed. In its small 25 by 10 mile area are more distilleries than any other appellation in the country. The two best-selling whiskeys in the world, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich come from the region, as do a list of other household names. It is the Napa Valley of Scotch.
BENRIACH -- A TURBULENT PAST
If you fancy something that is not one of the big names then check out Benriach, a single malt established in 1898 that has been through a round robin of ownership changes before beginning its golden age in 2004 with its acquisition by a triumvirate consisting of two South African investment partners, Geoff Bell and Wayne Keiswetter, and legendary Scotch whisky expert Billy Walker. A slew of prizes followed and this may have been what induced the international drinks firm Brown-Forman to purchase Benriach in 2016.
Under Master Blender Rachel Barrie (holder of an MA with Honours in chemistry from Edinburgh University) the distillery continues to go from strength to strength such that now the company is ready to wage a (pandemic-delayed) sales campaign in the US market.
BENRIACH - THE MODERN EXPRESSION
They came to Dallas this week for a media event and, accompanied by cocktails from Iluggy Recinos (rescued from Los Angeles just ahead of the human poop-scooper van and charged with setting up the beverage program at eight Exxir Capital restaurants in Oak Cliff) and heavy hors d’oeuvres with a Scottish twist by Misti Norris, showed off their two 10-year expressions.
The Original Ten is matured in bourbon, sherry, and virgin oak barrels. It exhibits a nose of rich orchard fruits, honey and toasted oak. The Smoky Ten is matured in Bourbon, rum and virgin oak. It exhibits a nose of ripe orchard fruit, syrup, smoked honey glaze and oak spice. The smoky ten would not be confused with a peat-monster from Islay but there is significant peating (peat that is different from Islay peat as Speyside peat retains a healthy amount of flavoring pine roots, according to Benriach Ambassador Rory Glasgow - who comes from Edinburgh).
SCOTCH WITH COCKTAILS?
Iluggy Recinos, who is so cool that his business card does not have any capital letters, made a custom cocktail for the event “Ross on Haskell” named after the two Scottish names of the streets outside in Dallas. It was a perfectly balanced creation simultaneously stimulating (the ginger) and cooling (the lemon) on the palate on the balmy (?) 100-degree day outside. I am judging it as a cocktail in its own right as I am one of those puritans who does not blend single malt Scotch with anything. Others' tastes may differ.
Next I will look out for some of the 21 and 25-year age statement Benriach expressions. For now, Benriach 10 should have a place on your bar. It is a discovery, dare I say it, and a welcome one at that.
Ross on Haskell ingredients: Citrus-infused Benriach Original Ten, turmeric-ginger syrup, fresh lemon, local lemongrass honey, lapsang souchong-infused Bennriach Smoky ten mist. Homegrown lemon balm leaf.
Misti Norris produced a full suite of Scottish hors d'ouevres from her restaurant Petra and The Loch Ness Monster, er, Beast. Feast your eyes below!