When I was hunting for a bottle of Talisker Distiller’s Edition back in December, my father came along for the ride and bought himself a bottle of Benromach 10 year. I recently sampled it and put together some tasting notes.
Like too many Scottish malt distilleries, Benromach was a victim of the hard times the industry went through in the 1980’s. After an 85 year run, the distillery closed, potentially forever, in 1983.
At that time it was owned by Distillers Company Limited. They were acquired by Guinness in 1986, which merged them with another company, forming United Distillers. Finally, in 1997, Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan, forming Diageo. While there are plenty of industry woes to blame on Diageo, the loss of multiple distilleries in the early 80’s isn’t one of them.
Although many of the distilleries that were shuttered during that period will never return, Benromach found salvation a decade later. In 1993, independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail came to the rescue. Hoping to become a producer and round out their business profile, they had been in the market for a distillery for some time. The early 90’s was a buyer’s market for such facilities and they were quite fond of the Benromach whisky they had bottled in the past, so Gordon & MacPhail made the move and purchased what was left of the distillery.
Unfortunately, not much of it was left. The previous owners had stripped out most of the equipment, leaving behind little more than an empty shell with some Larch washbacks, an ancient Boby Mill and a single dunnage warehouse. Making the distillery operational again was a lengthy process, and it wasn’t until 1998 that production finally recommenced.
Some of the wood from those original washbacks was salvaged and used in their replacements. New stills were commissioned which were based on the design of the originals, but slightly smaller in size. A modest peat level of 10 ppm was chosen, and they went with a relatively long fermentation time of three to five days.
Luckily, some pre-1983 samples of new make spirit had been retained, so the Gordon & MacPhail team had something to compare their early runs to and were able to stay fairly true to the distillery’s original house style.
Stocks of aging whisky did come with the facility, but with a 15 year production gap, the lineup obviously had to experience some changes. They were able to hold out with the well-regarded 18 year old longer than would have been expected, and the 21 year old lasted at least a few years beyond that.
Then came some younger expressions made from spirit distilled after the reopening. I was pretty indifferent to Benromach Traditional and really didn’t care for Benromach Organic. I felt the same way about it that I felt about Bruichladdich Organic a few years ago; that they were products released before they were ready, in an attempt to jump on the wave of popularity of all things organic ahead of anyone else in the whisky category.
Benromach came out with the first 10 year old made from distillate produced at the refurbished facility in 2009. According to their website, 80% of the whisky has been aged in bourbon barrels and 20% of it in sherry hogsheads. After nine years, that is all vatted together and aged for another year in first fill Oloroso sherry casks.
I hadn’t heard a lot about this whisky over the past five years, but I knew that there were some good reviews. Considering that the above mentioned Benromach examples had lowered my expectations of the brand, I was quite curious to taste the 10 year given the opportunity.
The nose is enticing, with malt, butterscotch and lively oak.
In the mouth, it is full bodied, rich, and well rounded. There’s a beautiful integration of the notes that came through on the nose with the addition of a whiff of smoke.
The finish is pleasant and dry with leathery notes and a late rush of minty spice.
Upon further observation, I noticed that the peat smoke seems to have a hide-and-seek quality, showing its self quite readily at times and alternately being hardly detectable. It is easily masked by the malty overtones when nosed at close quarters, but is more clearly evident when the aromas are observed from a distance of a few feet. After a few drops on the fingers have partially vaporized the peat smoke becomes quite obvious, revealing its dry, earthy nature. On the palate, the flavors are rich enough that the smoke adds just a subtle additional layer to the overall complexity.
Many Speysiders have too much of a strong floral component for my liking. This one does not and I think that is a good thing. It strikes me as being well composed, full of depth and very drinkable, but I’m left to imagine how it would present itself non-chill filtered and at a slightly higher proof.