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High hopes

Maisha Frost discovers a new collection of whiskies that resurrect the Bennachie name
By Maisha Frost
A trawl through past triumphs has led The Bennachie Scotch Whisky Company to usher in the century with a major collection of mature malts based closely on the originals.

The Bennachie name has not been seen widely for over a century, so the move to undertake such a wholesale revival is a rare and bold one. But bullishness is a quality that has always been associated with Bennachie (pronounced Ben-ar-hee), whiskies which have known ups and a couple of downs over the years.The Scotch was first made illegally in Speyside by William Smith at the Nether Jericho Farm in the shadow of the Bennachie mountain. The water came from the nearby river Jordan, so called by the locals because of its alleged healing qualities. Smith had no concerns about excise men spoiling his business. Formidable Jock, his bull -– long of horns and short of temper -– saw to any unwelcome intruders. However, after one law enforcer was spotted bonding with the beast by feeding him oat cakes, Smith decided to go legal in 1824.Fire forced the distillery to close down in 1900, although the brand was briefly revived, unsuccessfully, in the 1990s. A group of businessmen bought the failing concern, quickly acquired a taste for the original product and decided to develop it big time. The group remains anonymous. “They want the whisky to do the talking,” says the spokesman and marketing director Bernard Bosher. And talk it did to 25,000 testers before the collection was finally launched. “Undiscovered malts are the future of the industry,” believes Bosher. “We are aiming at younger drinkers, maybe those who have never drunk Scotch before, but want something more substantial. We have gone for complexity and depth so drinkers have whiskies they will not tire of. I must say the biggest surprise has been the warm reception women have given to Bennachie, especially the 17-year-old, they seem to respond to its smooth smokiness.”Reviving the brand has also meant a bonus for the village of Old Meldrum in Speyside where the original whisky was made. This is one of several places in Speyside that have a history of whisky making but because their local distillery is now closed the people have missed out on the recent boom in malts and all the side benefits such as tourism and festivals. “Bennachie whisky is no longer distilled and vatted in Old Meldrum,” explained Bosher. “But the village and the mountain remain and the brand will be closely associated with it. A lot of places like this have lost out from not being on the official whisky trail. The hope is that some spin-offs such as more visitors and increased sales in the village will improve its fortunes.”