Ticking off an item on her 2021 bucket list, Karla Sinclair ventured to her first Scottish whisky distillery – Benriach Distillery in Speyside.
It has been years since I first wanted to visit a distillery based in Scotland, whether it distils gin, vodka or whisky.
Ever since the country was forced into lockdown, I decided to write myself a lengthy bucket list of places I wanted to visit when the world was restored back to some sort of normality.
Included in that list was visiting a Scottish distillery, and so my search began.
But when news came about that one of the distilleries in my line-up recently opened its first visitor centre, I took this as a sign.
We spent a few moments soaking up the exterior of the distillery before making our way to the entrance. It states on their website that it is “ruggedly beautiful” and that, it certainly is.”
Karla Sinclair, Food and Drink writer
Just like that, my search was over and I had a date marked in the calendar to stop by Benriach Distillery, which stands on the site of the old Riach Farm in north Speyside.
Joining me – without the need of any convincing – was my boyfriend, an avid lover of whisky and someone I knew would be able to take a lot from the experience, like myself.
The visitor centre
What gives the distillery away is that one of its most prominent warehouses has been whitewashed and branded to cement Benriach’s new identity – it’s impossible for visitors to miss.
We arrived at 12.15pm, 15 minutes ahead of our booking slot for the Sense of Flavour Experience.
It may sound rather cheesy, but we spent a few moments soaking up the exterior of the distillery before making our way to the entrance. It states on their website that it is “ruggedly beautiful” and that, it certainly is.
Too many a time have the pair of us drove past distilleries and admired how they look but have never made any arrangements to stop by.
With that said, we couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse of the new centre – which is the result of a six-figure investment project – and hear all about Benriach’s history and the whisky making process.
With its design rooted in tradition while looking to the future, the new visitor centre has been built using natural materials from local suppliers wherever possible and has drawn from the natural colour palette of Speyside to inspire its interior.
On entering, we were welcomed by a member of the team, given a brief run-through of the coronavirus safety measures and what to expect during the experience, and taken through to the centre’s retail space. This showcases Benriach’s extensive multi-layered whisky range.
After a quick browse and chat, it was time to make our way through to the bar and tasting lounge. It boasts a stylish, Scandi feel and is a space that you would find yourself spending an entire afternoon relaxing in while sampling items from the bar menu.
Sense of Flavour
Our host was attentive from the outset, again informing us on what the experience entails.
Currently tours of the distillery’s production facilities are not possible under Covid-19 restrictions, so flavour-focused tastings are carried out solely in the bar area for the time being. This failed to phase either of us, knowing we would hear all we needed to know about the distillery anyway.
The pair of us were seated at two tables, side-by-side and each had its own wooden box on top including all the contents needed for the sensory experience.
There were two layers inside. The top contained items that explained the whisky production process in full, and the bottom allowed us to enjoy Benriach’s Original and Smoky 10 and 12-year-old single malts – oh, and a tasty macaroon, too.
I’m just starting out on my whisky journey, so I found everything our host disclosed really educational – as did my boyfriend, despite the fact he’s been collecting whiskies for some years now.
I’m just starting out on my whisky journey, so I found everything our host disclosed really educational – as did my boyfriend, despite the fact he’s been collecting whiskies for some years now.”
Karla Sinclair, Food and Drink writer
While we asked our host questions throughout, we were also asked what scents and flavour profiles we were picking up on from the items within the box. It was really interactive, which made it even more enjoyable.
I was driving so was given my samples in glass tubes to try on my return home. This was a lovely touch and means that even those that aren’t able to taste the whiskies during the experience have the opportunity to do so afterwards.
We were also educated on the distillery’s rich heritage, of course. It was built by John Duff in 1898 and distils three styles of whisky; classic unpeated, Highland peated and triple distilled with a collection of casks from around the world, under the guidance of master blender, Rachel Barrie.
Scottish whisky fans are likely to already know this but for someone like me, the more information unveiled, the better.
After our boxes had been cleared out, we were taken to the bar area to recreate the centre’s twist on a classic whisky – known as Ginger Spice.
I’m ashamed to admit I had never tried a whisky cocktail before, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. In fact, I decided to take a note of the recipe, which is available to view on the distillery’s website.
Containing 50ml Benriach The Original Ten, 15ml sugar syrup, 10ml lemon juice, ¼ chopped habanero chilli and a splash of ginger ale, it was light and refreshing.
All you have to do to make the cocktail is muddle the chilli before adding and shaking all the ingredients (except ginger ale) in a cocktail shaker with ice. Then, strain the drink into an ice-filled rocks glass, top with a splash of ginger ale and garnish with a sliced chilli and a slapped mint sprig.
The cocktail was another positive to come out of the experience for me. I look forward to trying more whisky-based cocktails going forward.
While sipping away at our tipples, we asked our host our final questions and made our way back through to the retail space.
Of course, my boyfriend couldn’t refrain from picking up a bottle for himself before we headed off.
All in all, my boyfriend and me left the visitor centre ready to visit again when distillery tours return. We’re also keen to hear more about other local distilleries, too.
I can speak for the pair of us when I say we were engrossed throughout the Sense of Flavour Experience. We had a lot of fun with our host too, who made the tasting feel so laid-back.
And when I was able to sample the whiskies later that day, I must say the Benriach 12-year-old was a clear standout for me.
What else to expect
A Barrels, Butts and Barriques Experience is also up for grabs, offering visitors the chance to taste five individual cask types, culminating in a tasting of the Benriach 21 Year Old. This experience is £45 per person.
Visitors are advised to pre-book their preferred tasting online before attending the distillery and tours of the production site will return when it is safe to do so.
The tasting experiences and shop will initially open weekly on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10.30am to 5pm.
Experience: Sense of Flavour
Price: £20 per person
Address: Benriach, Elgin, IV30 8SJ