BenRiach has started doing tours of their distillery not long ago. To book a tour you have to do more than just turn up at the distillery. Booking ahead and being with at least a group of four people is necessary. I thought to email the distillery anyway, since I’d really like to see the inner workings of a distillery which whiskies I like so much. Luckily for me another group had booked for the week I was in the area and I could join them.
When we arrived at the distillery I met Ewan George and he was okay with Anneke and Ot joining the tour too, as long as Anneke walked out if Ot started crying or being annoying for the others. No problem there, she usually is rather quiet.
To my confusion and surprise when the tour started we were greated by Ronnie Routledge. The name rang a bell, but not with BenRiach in combination, but since The BenRiach Company had just bought Glenglassaugh (I wonder when it will become GlenGlassaugh) he just happened to be around. As he said himself: “I have been made redundant but Billie wants to keep me on anyway. I just have to find something to do”.
Although he had only been at BenRiach for a short while he knew a lot about the process and we started the tour on the malt floor. That thing is used for only a few weeks per year to peat the barley for the peated BenRiachs. No surprise to find it empty on the day we were there. That did, however, give us the chance to see everything and walk through the kiln!
After that it was the standard round of mashtuns, washbacks and stills. The washbacks are stainless less, so I wanted to know if Ronnie thinks that makes a difference. Some distilleries tell you it does, other don’t. Ronnie Routledge thinks it doesn’t make a difference since the bacteria in the wood that are supposed to make a difference will all die after each fill when the washback is steam cleaned. Makes sense, right?
Oh yeah. We also tasted the wash and it was rather drinkable compared to what I’m used to. Very malty of course, but also still a bit sweet.
The stills are aligned nicely and were running when we were in the still room. A nice, hot and humid experience and Anneke kept Ot away for a bit in a somewhat cooler area.
After looking around in the still house another very important part of the tour started, the warehouses! Even though the warehouses are all duty free we were allowed to enter and have a few drams. A lovely experience with drams that will be reviewed in more depth later.
Before heading there we were able to taste the unpeated newmake that happened to be around in the filling store. The talk Ronnie had about 67% of BenRiach’s output going to blenders was rather enlightening. Things like “for blending you use crap wood, since you only using it for aging. The good wood is used for single malts and flavour”. The ‘crap wood’ bit is a quote.
Suffice to say we started with a 1975 refill sherry butt, then an 8 year old claret cask (probably refill), a 14 year old with a PX finish since 2011, 8 year old peated malt from a bourbon cask and a five year old virgin oak cask.
Regretably I don’t have a sample of the 1975, but believe me when I say it was good. Not as good as some 1976s or the Asta Morris 1975, but very good nonetheless.
After a few drams it was time for a wrap up and we headed into the distillery office where they set up a wee shop. I happened to find this baby, at the original price. I just had to buy it and blow my entire whisky budget on the first day of the trip…
What I didn’t know by the way, is that Longmorn is just behind BenRiach and uses the same driveway. We were a bit early for the tour so we walked around there for a bit as well.