Speyside visit update: Benromach
After touring BenRiach in the morning, I followed it up with a tour of Benromach in the afternoon. You could say I had a case of the “Bens” that day. (Sorry.)
Although the distillery began operations in 1898, it was closed from 1983-1998. There will always be a 15 year gap in production (and in the expressions of Benromach that are released).
It seems like only yesterday that Benromach’s new owners, Gordon & MacPhail (G&M), were celebrating the distillery’s new start up. It’s hard to believe that this occurred back in August, 1998. They are coming up on their 10th Anniversary. Good for them!
After an enjoyable tour of the distillery with Keith Cruickshank, Benromach’s Distillery Manager, we darted off to G&M’s main headquarters (and warehouse) in Elgin, where I sampled an array of Benromach whiskies with Joint Managing Director Michael Urquhart and Whisky Supply Manager Ewen Mackintosh.
When G&M started Benromach up in 1998, they completely changed the style of Benromach. Part of this was a necessity. To quote Michael: “The only thing left from the original distillery was the oil boiler, buildings, and water supply.”
But even so, they decided to change the peating level of Benromach, from the essentially unpeated Speyside character to a moderately peated level of barley with about 12 ppm phenol.
Michael explains: “It is our desire to go back to the way things were done.”
But this hasn’t stopped them from also being innovative. In addition to their flagship Benromach “Traditional”, they also recently released Benromach “Organic” and Benromach “Peat Smoke.”
My thoughts on these whiskies? The Traditional (no age statement but currently hovering about 7 yrs. old) is youthful, but pleasant. The same goes for the more intensely smoky Peat Smoke, with the sweeter notes and smoke both fighting for attention. The Organic, on the other hand, is aged in new oak. Even thought the whisky is young (there’s no age statement on that label either, but it’s 6-7 years old), the impact of the new oak on the whisky’s flavor is unmistakable. Some of you (myself included) will find the oak notes too intense.
There are also a series of Benromach wood finishes. Recently there was the “love it or hate it” Benromach Tokaji wood finish, that was pretty heavy on the Tokaji wine. The newest release is a somewhat less extreme Marsala wood finish.
And there’s a new project that G&M is working on with Benromach. It’s going to be called Benromach “Origins.” Essentially, this is a new series of whiskies focusing on the “front end” of production rather than a back-end change like wood finishing. (Expect to see more of this from the other companies too!) Their first release, coming out within the next month or so: a Benromach produced from Golden Promise barley.
G&M inherited the older stocks of Benromach too. While at the G&M offices, we also “worked” our way through some of them. The oldest one I sampled? It was the oldest vintage of Benromach in stock: a 55 yr. old survivor, dating back to 1949! Might there be a Benromach 50 year old in the works for 2009?
And what about a special 10th Anniversary bottling? Or a 10 yr. old bottling, now that they will hit this milestone later in the year? Indeed, there’s a lot going on at Benromach. Stay tuned.