Established in 1898, Benromach is one of the many distilleries in Speyside – alongside Aberlour, Dufftown and Balbalir, to name three – that was designed by the renowned Charles Doig. Again, similar to many other Speyside distilleries, Benromach has had a rocky history, finally shutting down in 1983.
It sat silent for almost a decade, before being purchased by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail in the early 1990s, who have spent the last 20 years resurrecting both the distillery and the brand. The company spent a number of years refurbishing the site, which means that Speyside’s smallest distillery can now be run by just one person, with an output of around half a million litres a year.
Since it was reopened by Prince Charles in 1998, the distillery has released a number of unique bottlings, including the first fully-certified organic whisky. Most of the bottlings are slightly peatier than a standard Speyside whisky at between 8 and 12ppm. This was a conscious decision to try and recreate the Speyside whiskies of old, which would quite often top up their fires with peat cut from the glens and hills.
Anyway, enough history. On Monday night, I was lucky enough to join a Tweet Tasting featuring two of Benromach’s expressions – the 10 Year Old and the new 15 Year Old. The 10 Year Old has been the distillery’s signature expression for a number of years, although it has recently undergone a major yet well thought-out redesign.
The liquid is created from 80% bourbon barrels and 20% sherry hogsheads, with the final year spent in first fill oloroso casks. Its nose is quite quiet to start with but eventually reveals some soft fruits and pine, along with a sweet creaminess – almost like custard poured over a fruit cake. No smoke though; this doesn’t make its presence felt until the whisky hits the palate. The creaminess continues, with an intriguing mix of raisins, dried fruit, ginger and a bit of saltiness. This is definitely a whisky that benefits from the addition of a drop of water though, allowing the flavour to deepen and bringing out the malty characters.
The 15 Year Old joined the Benromach core range this year, with a similar mix of casks, but a longer maturation allowing the smokiness to soften out. As with the 10 Year Old, there’s little smoke on the nose, but the sherry flavours have been amplified – brown sugar, molasses, dates, figs and sultanas. Again, the smoke returns on the palate, but it’s not as sweet as the nose might suggest, with more nutty and autumnal fruity flavours. Another whisky which benefits from the addition of a drop of water, again deeper the flavour and body.
Overall, two solid malts, and something a wee bit different from whisky’s natural heartland.