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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

I Come From The Land Of The Ice And Snow: Benromach Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Snow Joke: My Trip To Benromach
One of the scariest drives I have ever done in my life was early one March morning from Perth to Forres, a small town near Inverness. It was a Monday and I was up around 4am with the aim of arriving at the Benromach distillery at 8am, to start a day working at the distillery to learn about how the distillery works and document it for an article in Whisky Magazine.

Benromach in the Snow
However, just after waking I threw back the curtains to see somewhere in the region of 36 inches of snow clogging up the path below. Scurrying outside, I quickly dug a path for my car to exit on to the well-salted main road and began the slow drive up the A9. As I passed Dalwhinnie distillery the thermometer in my car showed -15 degrees centigrade. To say it was cold would be an understatement.

After slipping and sliding all the way north from Perth, I arrived at Benromach just in time for a pre-work cup of tea to warm my frozen bones. The sky had tuned from granite to deep blue, and the white washed walls of the distillery shone like platinum, a chimney in the yard reaching high into the sky, providing a beacon for the angels to pop in and grab their share. I was glad to have risked the icy roads and the deep snow to make it for the start of the day.

The history of Benromach follows that of many other Scotch distilleries, closed by the previous owners, United Distillers (now Diageo), in 1983 after the first production started in 1898.

Ten years later, the local family business of Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) were looking to expand from bottling and blending into distilling and the opportunity to purchase the site came up. Sadly, the distillery was little more than buildings, as the equipment (including the stills) had all been removed.

Seeing this as an opportunity, G&M embarked on an ambitious programme of installing an entirely new operation inside, developing a new still shape and keeping all the production in a single, linear line.

The aim was to make Speyside whisky as it had been produced pre-1960’s- with a hint of smoke and this is what they have achieved in the newly repackaged 10 Year Old:

Benromach – 10 Years Old – 43% abv - £29.28 here

Nose: There is certainly a hint of smoke on the nose of this wee beastie. It is sweet, with a hint of orange citrus fruit (blood orange), some icing sugar and raspberry. A touch of sandlewood. Very well balanced and extremely inviting.

Palate: Banana bread, apricots in syrup and fig jam. The smoke is not as prominent on the palate, but tingles away under some tinned peaches, runny honey and vintage vanilla.

Finish: Rich rum cake and upside down pudding with a waft of smoke.

Overall: This is a fantastic whisky, it really it is. The hint of smoke gives this more of an island element, but really only on the nose and the finish; the palate is much more classic Speyside. How they can knock this out at under £30 is beyond me. A must for anyone looking for a quality single malt on a tight budget.

With production of the new style spirit starting in 1998, it would be a while before any new mature stocks were ready for the market. G&M were in luck however, as stocks of whisky from before the closure already existed, enabling them to create a range of vintage Benromach releases.

Benromach – 1976 Vintage – 46% abv - £415.80 here

Note: constructed from 1st Fill and Refill Sherry Casks

Nose: There is the Benromach DNA of orange blossom and red fruits, but age has given this a freshness of green fruits (star fruit, gooseberry) and cooking apple, dusted with cinnamon.

Palate: The orange blossom really flourishes here, with other red fruits (red boiled sweets) and a slight hint of chilli jam. Milk chocolate dusted with cocoa powder and praline coat the mouth as tropical fruits develop.

Finish: Sweet, with an abundance of red fruits.

Overall: A classic ‘old’ whisky, this gives you everything you’d expect from a 1970’s sherried Speyside whisky.

If you haven’t experienced Benromach before, you don’t need to get up at 4am and drive through thick snow, risking life and limb to see the distillery. Save yourself the petrol money and order a bottle of the 10 year old. I’m not sure that you’ll find a bottle of single malt Scotch for much better value. And once you’ve fallen in love, start saving for the 1974.