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First Look: Benriach Malting Season; First for Benriach in a Century

What you need to know:

  • Benriach Distillery has come up with some cool practices over their 100 year plus history, such as preserving floor malting, triple distillation, using Highland peat.
  • Floor malting saved the distillery back in the day when the whisky industry was going through a massive recession.
  • Malting Season is the distillery’s first bottling in a century to fully use floor malted barley.
  • Taste profile of vanilla, honeyed pears, nuttiness.
  • We take a deeper dive into the practice of floor malting here.
  • We love these small batches from Benriach that helps drinkers explore and get curious about the distillery’s history and craftsmanship. The most recent example being Smoke Season which spotlights the distillery’s use of sweeter, earthy Highland peat as opposed to more well-known medicinal Islay peat.
  • These bottlings are thoughtfully conceived and on brand, helping turn drinkers into fans by giving us a cohesive roadmap around the distillery and its heritage.

 

(Image Source: The Spirits Business)

Benriach Distillery is tucked away in the Speyside region of Scotland, having existed for more than a century.

Malt maniacs are familiar with the Pattison Crash, which was basically the whisky version of a recession. At the time whiskies were produced in excess and subsequently crashed, mothballing many distilleries in its wake. That’s the short story at least.

Benriach happened to be one of the distilleries that fell victim to the crash, having been established the very year that the fateful event occurred. Yet it managed to scrape by through the provision of a specific service offered – floor malting. 

 

Floor malting is a highly laborious activity but a handful of (legendary) distilleries swear by it. (Image Source: Distiller)

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, fret not, it’s something that is rarely done by distilleries these days, but we’ll catch you up.

Floor malting is the traditional process of allowing steeped barley (or more broadly grains) to be spread across a smooth concrete floor while still wet, to allow for germination – the process of malting. This is the integral process by which barley produces sugar which is then fermented into alcohol.

This process dates back all the way to the 3rd Century AD and is highly – and I mean highly – laborious. Not only is the wet barley spread across the concrete floor through physical labour (typically by hand using a shovel), over the next 4-5 days, the barley has to be regularly turned about three times a day. After which the barley is then collected (physically of course) and toasted over a kiln to stop the malting process.

Sounds tiring? You bet.

 

In the past, floor malting was the only way to create whiskies and took up more than 40% of the distillery's cost of operations and was highly time intensive and as such was outsourced. (Image Source: Whisky.com)

As such neighboring distillery Longmorn had engaged Benriach Distillery’s services in providing floor malted barley. In the good ol’ days this was the only way whiskies could be made; these days most distilleries have moved on to commercial malting industrial processes that automate the process.

Why do some distilleries still do it then? We penciled a more indepth look into it here.

 

Left or right? Which would you choose? (Image Source: Springbank Distillery, Dilford's Guide)

In short – tradition. But recent studies have also given some credence to the traditional method, demonstrating that it can better create the Maillard reaction (better known as the “flavor reaction” in the culinary world). This helps the whisky take on more intense, robust flavors that are said to be sweeter, nuttier, roasty, biscuit, even more umami.

 

That blackened crisp on this piece of steak is the most tasty visualisation of the fabled Maillard reaction. (Image Source: The Durango Herald)

Yet given its poor economics (labor/time/cost-intensive yet poorer yield), few distilleries have preserved this traditional step.

Benriach as part of a big overhaul that started in 2019 under Master Distiller Rachel Barrie, have focused on extricating the distillery’s rich history much to the delight of fans.

As a century-old distillery, it has certainly re-invented itself time and again and has along the way bagged a few innovative features – such as preserving floor malting, triple distillation, the use of Highland peat (which features in another seasonal small batch bottling, Smoke Season).

 

(Image Source: Benriach)

So one by one, Benriach has looked to explore these vestiges of its history. Off the back of their last small batch bottling Smoke Season, they’re back with another small batch release – Malting Season, which you guessed it, spotlights their floor malting tradition.

What’s really cool about this one is that this is the first bottling from Benriach in a century made entirely from floor malted barley – 100% in 100 years!

 

(Image Source: Whisky Intelligence, Dram Street)

This first batch of Malting Season is a double cask matured (like Smoke Season) in Bourbon and virgin oak barrels.

It is bottled at 48.7% ABV and official tasting notes tells us to expect vanilla, honeyed pears and nuttiness. What did we tell you! Dat nuttiness~ 

The first batch is made from 23 barrels and is distilled on 2 November 2012, making it 8-9 years old.

 

“At Benriach, we never stop exploring how fruit, oak and barley flavours intertwine and mature in our broad range of eclectic casks.

The unique process behind Malting Season allows the cereal flavour from the concerto barley to pull through and when married with the creamy, wholesome flavour from being two-cask-matured in Bourbon and virgin oak barrels, creates a truly unique expression.”

says Rachel Barrie, Master Blender at Benriach Distillery.

 

It’ll be available in October 2021, first in the US and then subsequently other markets globally.

 

My take

We have a big review of Benriach’s Smoke Season coming up, but hint: it’s a good one (and we have something special prepared for you guys). So we expect no less from this new expression.

Personally I really like that beyond the Benriach core range, we’re seeing all these small batch bottlings snuck in, each of which helps fans explore the distillery’s longstanding heritage and craftsmanship.

Conceptually it is cohesive and in tandem with the distillery’s brand. Smoke Season highlighted Benriach’s unique use of sweet, earthy Highland peat (as opposed to the more well-known medicinal Islay peat), and then Malting Season showcasing the distillery’s preservation of floor maltings (although this only done once a year now, it is still only one of less than 10 distilleries in Scotland that still do it).

 

The revamped Benriach core range with the periodic small batch releases are a great strategy. *Applause* (Image Source: The Spirits Business)

If you’re curious about what the whole fuss is about to do with floor malting, check out this Feature that I penciled (link here).

And although the flavor effects of floor malting is debatable, I think we can all certainly appreciate the effort, care, attention to detail that goes into craftmade whisky (or anything for that matter). But as recent studies show, maybe there is something to it after all vis-à-vis the whole Maillard reaction situation.

And again this is marketing done right! Distilleries should be digging deep and thoughtfully conceptualizing their bottlings as each of them are points of connection with drinkers and each impression must help drinkers understand and appreciate the distillery more. It is this curiosity stirred that keeps drinkers drawn to the distillery with the desire to know more – that is how drinkers turn into fans.

 

You have Master Blender Rachel Barrie to thank for the wonderful re-introduction of Benriach. An excellent job so far! (Image Source: Forbes)

Obviously big fan here!

Whatever the case, I am certainly excited for this and I think there is good reason for you to be as well. Truly a big throwback to the way whiskies were made a century ago, and the taste profile sounds wonderful; sweet, nutty, fruity, come on! 

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot



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