Uniquely delicious, with a well-balanced assortment of fruity, smoke, and earthen flavors.
The flavor profile would shine even more at 46% ABV and no chill-filtration.
About 12 miles from Elgin near the north shore of Speyside sits the Benromach Distillery. Originally built in 1898, the distillery changed ownership a number of times before it was mothballed in 1983 and listed for sale by the corporation known today as Diageo. In 1993, the distillery complex was purchased by famous independent bottler Gordon & Macphail who spent the next five years completely rebuilding and refitting the distillery. Finally in 1999 the first new distillate in almost two decades was produced inside of Benromach.
There are a number of things to cover if we are to understand this new-look Benromach under Gordon & Macphail’s independent-minded headship. First, Benromach is a relatively tiny distillery, with just one wash still and one spirit still producing around 150,000 liters/year. (For comparison’s sake, The Balvenie produces over 5 million liters/year). Second, much like the stalwart of traditionalism Springbank Distillery, Benromach utilizes a very unautomated and inefficient production philosophy (by today’s heavily computerized standards). To put it simply, a whole lot is done by hand, and very little is done by computer automation.
Next, lets talk about the whisky. Harkening back to pre-modern days when peat was the most common fuel source for malting barley, regardless of where you were in Scotland, Benromach moderatly peats all of their whisky, setting them apart from pretty much every other Speyside distillery. When it comes to maturation, they only hand fill into 1st fill ex-sherry or ex-bourbon casks, and they age all casks in one of the three low, earthen-floored dunnage warehouses onsite. Benromach does not grow or malt their own barley, but they proudly advertise that they source only Scottish barley peated with mainland peat. For a more in-depth rundown of Benromach’s operation, I’d highly recommend checking out their website.
Benromach has released a number of bottlings under their new ownership, including several age stated labels as their 1999 and later distillate comes of age, as well as several wine cask-finished expressions and undiluted single cask expressions. The 10 year old is a great affordable introduction to the range, and is widely available for around the same price as most other 10-12 year old single malt scotches in the U.S. As part of their production philosophy, none of Benromach’s official distillery bottlings contain any artificial coloring.
- Distilled from 100% Scottish barley lightly peated with mainland peat
- Matured onsite in traditional dunnage warehouses
- Marriage of 1st fill bourbon and sherry casks
- Natural color
- Bottled at 43% ABV
Nose: The aroma is an aromatic assortment of bright fruit intertwined with light, dry smoke. A mild, slightly musty earthiness – not unlike mushroom – sits faintly underneath. The fruit assortment is jammy and fairly tropical with some sherry undertones. Pear, kiwi, apricot, papaya, and melon. A light maltiness rounds out the aroma. Brilliantly eclectic.
Palate: Dry and malty arrival. An array of flavors similar to the aroma but a bit more tannic develop. Melon, honeydew, mango, mushroom, and just a touch of earthy smoke. Dirty and fruity is the best way I can describe it. The flavor is dense for 43%, but the presentation is a bit muddled.
Finish: Dry smoke, bitter melon, candied apricot, and ginger all linger for a medium length. The finish is balanced and never becomes overly bitter.
Buying Recommendation: Must Try! I’ve never met a single malt quite like Benromach. Flavor wise, it is anything but a traditional Speyside, and resembles some sort of Springbank-Highland Park-Arran hybrid with its blending of fruit, smoke, and earthiness. The end result is simply brilliant, although as you’ll see in the upcoming reviews of the 10 Imperial Proof and 15 Year, a higher alcohol percent or a few more years of maturation are needed to fully realize this malt’s potential. That said, the 10 Year is an excellent single malt, and one of the better single malts you will find for the age or price.
Benromach is anything but a mainstream whisky, as they’ve chosen to forego the more typical sweet and sanitized flavor profile in favor of something more complex, challenging and eclectic, and ultimately more rewarding. It is a great example of a “character” malt, with a house style utterly unique to itself and no one else. In that regard, I’d lump in Benromach with such distilleries as Springbank, Laphroaig, Arran, and Balblair. You know when you have one of these malts in your glass because nothing else like them exists. In my opinion, this makes Benromach an education malt that any enthusiast on a whisky adventure ought to try. You may love it or you may hate it, but it will force you to form an opinion, as it’s anything but bland.