Recently, The BenRiach Distilling Company has, with new Master Blender Rachel Barrie at the helm, released two of my old favourites. GlenDronach 15-Year-Old Revival and BenRiach 12 Year Old Sherry Cask.
While the GlenDronach release has undoubtedly been the one to catch the eye of the world, the BenRiach was, to me, equally as important in the way that Brown-Forman is to be depicted by fans of the respective distillery.
Having started my whisky enjoyment as a bit of a Jonah – my first favourite was the 10 Year Old Balvenie Founders Reserve, moving on to the 10 Year Old MacAllan Sherry Cask and then to the GlenDronach 15 Year Old Revival, it was apparent that my favourites were quickly ceasing to be (not due to my personal consumption levels – I hope!). This led me to stop declaring favourites and simply enjoy an array of different whisky to save disappointment. This didn’t however, ease the pain when I heard that The BenRiach 12 Year Old was to stop also. This was one that we sold eagerly at the shop due to its great price and great taste. Full on Chocolate-y goodness with a toasted peppery finish. An absolute gem when it came to value-for-money and a great remedy for people looking for a replacement for The MacAllan age statement range.
As many will agree, the GlenDronach Revival was the true contender to replace MacAllan as a real sherry treat. The liquid was, quite simply, divine. Constantly touted by many, including me, as a great example of a younger (15) whisky outscoring an older (18 Allardice) expression. This was (and probably still is) a hotly contested argument but the fact that the argument is being had speaks volumes for the respect and fandom that Revival had.
I would dare say that the re-release has been the biggest challenge in terms of intent coming from Brown-Forman and Rachel Barrie. The previous releases of Batch 16 and the Cask Strength Batch 7 didn’t quite capture the imagination in the same way as this Phoenix rising.
Maybe it’s a little unfair to do a side-by-side tasting comparison of the two versions of Revival, given that they are completely different liquids. The older is a fully matured Oloroso expression, with the latter being a combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso.
Why then, did the Revival brand continue?
The new release is a great dram. Side by side you get slightly more spirit, less nuttiness and more spice. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s an individual taste thing. But comparisons are inevitable and I don’t think the marketing team have done themselves, GlenDronach, or indeed Rachel herself, any favours here.
This was a real chance for a new dawn for the distillery. An opportunity for Rachel to stamp her own individuality on the company and to express herself to fans both old, following from Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan etc, and new – dyed in the wool GlenDronach fans looking to see a true Barrie Spirit in all its glory.
Rachel has delivered a fantastic whisky. This was never going to be a re-release of the Revival, it was always going to be a brand new spirit. It has depth and complexity, though not quite as smooth or luscious in the mouth as the previous expression it stands alone as a great dram.
I do not know who had the say on the marketing of the release – whether Rachel herself had an input or it was out of her hands and B-F took the decision to release this in exactly the same style as the much loved and much missed previous whisky. Whatever the reasoning behind it, I personally think to present it the way they have was a mistake from the outset. Especially when everyone behind the scenes knew that it was never going to be the same liquid and not even the same cask make-up. A new name, a new tube and a new outlook would not only have taken a lot of expectation off of the release, it would also have given a statement of support and trust in Rachels work and allowed her the glory in releasing her own dram.
The BenRiach 12 Year Old, on the other hand, has done exactly that. While the original had nowhere near the fervour as the Revival, it was a much respected and much-enjoyed whisky. A great full on sherry cask combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso. It was
simple but enjoyable. Chocolate-y, rich, with sticky toffee pudding sweetness followed by spiced cinnamon and coffee. It had a lingering dark chocolate mocha finish and at a price point of under £40 was very, very popular post MacAllan and GlenDronach Revival.
The re-release under Rachel Barrie came slightly out of the blue, unhurried, with little press and a very low build up. From what I gather it is a triple sherry combination, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenex combined and finished in Sherry Butts for a fuller, more rounded taste.
And boy has it delivered. At 46% (the same as the previous expression) it has far less spirit on the nose and palate. You get the usual suspects of Chocolate, Almond, Coffee and
Sticky Toffee Pudding cake mix, punchy vanilla and cinnamon spices, toasty oak wood flavours all combine to give a great Sherry flavour, but what really sings to me in this one is the fruity background that gives an extra layer to this whisky. BenRiach’s melon and pear spirit is really quite evident and really combines superbly with the sherry notes. Fruit salad sweets come through and play along with the spices on the finish, leaving a real juicy, salivating and extremely moreish aftertaste. It certainly has a “oh go on, just one more” feel about it.
I’m not here to say that either release is better or worse than the original, pre-Barrie release. That’s down to each individual in their own right to make that choice. But for absolute certainty, I can say that marketing has played a huge part in both of the revamps and will have a big say in the success of each in the future.
We all know that we buy, and to a large degree taste, with our eyes and pre-conceptions of what we are about to try for the first time. Brown-Forman here, in my opinion, have shown the best and worst in that category and without doubt have influenced each whiskies expectations, and not necessarily for the better.
But let us end on a high – we have two new whiskies out, and both are stunning. Reminisce about former glories, toast the old giants, but at the same time salute a new dawn of both companies, and enjoy the future with these great, hugely enjoyable drams.