Benromach Peat Smoke 2010/2018 (59.9%, OB, Sherry Cask Matured, First Fill Sherry Hogsheads, 34ppm, 22/11/2018)

Benromach is not new to these pages. This is in fact already the eighth review of Benromach on these pages, and before looking back, I wondered which of the Benromachs I reviewed, or didn’t review, I remembered the most. The one that popped up in my mind first was the old Benromach 18yo. I liked that one a lot right from the start, even though it was only bottled @ 40% ABV. It was time anyway to do a new Benromach review before the bottle I’m about to review was empty and done with. I did already start taking tasting notes for it, before I had a look at one of Ralfy’s reviews of Mortlach. Mortlach is a big name in the circles of Whisky aficionado’s, a sort of hidden secret, due to it’s austerity, meatiness and special distilling regime. Just look at the wonderful 16yo Flora & Fauna bottling.

Back to Ralfy. In this particular review he mentioned the similarities between Mortlach, Longrow and Benromach. Well if these are somewhat similar, I’m now even more than ever, interested in Benromach again. I love Springbank and the Springbank Distillery output is harder and harder to come by these days, which recently put me on the trail of Ledaig as a tasty alternative. Mortlach has always been on the radar and isn’t all that easy to get as well. Now that Ralfy also put Benromach in the grander scheme of things (for me), isn’t it now more than fortunate that I have here this Peated (and Sherried) Benromach? Planets aligned for sure!

Color: Copper brown, Bourbon.

Nose: Young, slightly milky, cold gravy, with lots of Sherry (smells of PX), and only then, very soft peat as well as some sharpish smoke. Dry oak. Very dry and dusty smelling. The alcohol is quite upfront as well. Lots of influence from (fresh) oak. Spicy, lots of vanilla and cinnamon, fruity and Sherried, this one seems to have it all. Creamy vanilla underneath, butter and pudding with some chocolate powder. Smoke from burning newspapers mixed with toffee aroma, like standing next to someone vaping a toffee scented liquid, and burning off old newspapers at the same time. Well why not, cigarette smoke as well, from very spicy tobacco. Hints of sulphur, but in a very warming and non-offensive way, like pre-lit matches. At times more flinty and closer to fireworks than rotting eggs or a liberating fart. Hints of burning plastic. All in good measure though, and the whole is quite appetizing. Modern, yes, maybe, but everything is in its right place. Smells fine, more than fine, to me.

Taste: Big! Prickly and hot. Sherried and dry, creamy (toffee again), sweet and sooty, like solid smoke. Rubber, ashes, tar and black coal. Industrial, yes very, but also lots and lots of red fruits, cocktail cherries, licorice, black and white powder and cinnamon, with steam and more black coal following up. Pencil shavings and a wee bit of motor oil. Dare I say it’s a bit meaty, now that Mortlach was mentioned above? Sure I do. This Benromach is meaty, there you have it. This one is big in many ways, and a good one as well, steam punk! Slightly minty in the aftertaste, which otherwise comprised of more of the above. After Bladnoch another type of extreme. Reminds me of aroma’s from a while back, when Whisky was different. So this one smells more modern, but it tastes less modern. Interesting. All aroma’s are big and upfront. It’s actually not very complex, nor does it show a lot of development. This Whisky wants to show it self and given the opportunity (an open glass), everything leaps out immediately, like an Olympic 100m dash. (By the way, Smoky P. Rubber, running in Lane 8 for Scotland, was the surprising winner).

This particular bottling seems to divide opinions a bit, just like Bladnoch does, and that is probably true for every “extreme” Whisky. Since I’m already an older guy, with some experience in Whisky and still a working memory, for me, this really shows (at times) a quality similar to Whiskies from another time. However, like was the case with Bladnoch 10yo, this might not be for you. If you are a novice and prefer OB’s or more middle of the road Whiskies, you might want to skip this one. If you really know your way around Whiskies you might think my score is too high, since it lacks development and distillery character might be pushed back a wee bit too much. However, I think this is very well balanced, big, and damn tasty. Add to that some aroma’s from a time long gone, so this is definitely for me. Amazing result for a Malt less than 10 years old. For me (again), time to look into Benromach some more (again), but it yet too early to say if it somehow comparable to Mortlach and Longrow. I really need to do a lot more testing/tasting for that!

Points: 89

P.S. The empty (covered up) glass the next day: big medicinal peat, wow!


Benromach “Traditional” (40%, OB, 2004)

This is quite a unique bottling. In 1993, Gordon & MacPhail acquired the distillery, but it took them ’till 2004 to release this “Traditional”. The very first Benromach made by the new regime. Alas, today the traditional is no more, it has been replaced, last year, by the 5yo. For me this is a unique bottling, whereas everybody is coming up with, sometimes, silly names for their Whiskies, Gordon & MacPhail decided otherwise. They mothballed the “Traditional” name and replaced it with the 5yo, yes an age statement, so it’s not a NAS anymore. For some, “5” is a pretty low number, but at least you get a better sense of what to expect. Luckily this trend is gaining momentum as well, since there will be a Lagavulin 8yo shortly, and I expect quite a lot from that one. Back to the “Traditional”. It is said to be 20% first fill Sherry and the rest comes from first fill Bourbon. All first fill casks, so they must have impaired quite some aroma to this young Whisky.

Benromach TraditionalColor: Straw.

Nose: Barley, butter and lemon water. Very light and does not want to come out of the glass. Hints of Sherry and spicy oak. More barley and grassy notes come next. A bit dull, restrained, as in it doesn’t greet you, popping out of the glass with lots of fresh and citrussy notes. No, it’s restrained, like an English butler. By now, we have gotten used to the slightly peaty and waxy notes, but here it was something of a first. For those of you who know the new 10yo, both the reduced or the 100 proof version, this is definitely family. The peat is typical, and the waxyness of the spirit as well, so for me this is easily recognizable as a modern Benromach. The Cragganmore I reviewed last, had Fino Sherry written all over it, but I have to say, this one has some notes of that kind of Sherry as well. Hints of new make spirit, so a bit immature. There is also something missing here. This is said to be 80% first fill Bourbon, but where then is the vanilla? It’s there but the peaty notes overpower it. Nice.

Taste: Barley again and definitely sugar-water, with some hidden vanilla and paper underneath, did I mention that it is a bit restrained? At first that’s all there is. Soft. Pudding and paper again. Paper-like and peaty bitterness. Fatty. Diluted liquid honey. Hints, really only mere hints of red fruits (from the Sherry I guess). Slightly warming finish, with peat and again a lot of sweetness. Although it has a very light and uneventful (restrained) finish, it does have some staying power. Totally un-complex, which has a slightly different meaning than “simple”. A first offering but not quite there yet. The bitterness stays behind for the aftertaste.

This brings me to the subject of blind tasting, believed to be the most fair of all ways of tasting spirits. First of all, blind tasting is not entirely objective, since the taster is not objective, and not blind for that matter. You also have different moods and different expectations. Second, a blind tasting is usually done with several Whiskies, so you tend to compare the one to the other, both interact with each other, you like one over the other, but what if in a particular flight is this NAS Benromach as well as a Lagavulin 37yo, which would you prefer? I first tasted this in such a flight and my initial score was 65 Points. This time I’m tasting it by itself, and I know what it is. If I’m in the mood for a Whisky like this, I wouldn’t grab the Lagavulin 37yo now would I? Just like every other Whisky out there, every one has their time and place, but yes the Lagavulin is a way better Whisky, with a way better price-tag as well…

This Benromach is young and simple (un-complex). And not every aroma seems to fit, especially in the taste, but it is also light, grassy, citrussy and fresh, as well as peaty and bitter (and sweet). So it has its moment. Some would call it their summer Whisky. Its nice, simple and…restrained.

Points: 72

Benromach 1976/2012 (46%, OB, First Fill & Refill Sherry Hogsheads)

This is a 1976 Benromach, bottled in 2012. So it’s either 35 or 36 years old. Said to be from First fill and refill Sherry hogsheads. Just compare it to the 1969 vintage, which is from refill Sherry hogsheads only. The 1969 is much darker in color. So what kind of Sherry was this from? Sherries exist in lots of different styles, and just like a “normal” wine, Sherry has lots of different colors, and aroma’s, too.

Benromach 1976-2012Color: Gold with a slight reddish glow.

Nose: Oak and vanilla. Spicy, dry and vegetal. The smell you get when you break a fresh twig. Slightly burnt wood and a tiny hint of peppermint. It smells younger than it actually is and despite the 100% Sherry statement it is not far away from an older Bourbon matured Whisky (at first). The isolated oak flavour is there, but when this is not from American oak, there is less vanilla to go around. That seems to be the case. So European oak it is. Lovely wood notes, elegant and fine. The wood seems to hold some bitter orange skins in its aroma. Also noticeable is a slight (white) winey note, but also some nuttiness which leads me to believe these casks also held some Fino’s and/or oxidized white Sherries. Not a lot of fruitiness which sets it apart from the famous Tomatin’s from the same vintage.

Taste: Well hello there. This starts with the fruits the nose lacks, but also the wood plays a nice role in here too. Even at 46% ABV, this is quite hot and peppery. Dark chocolate. Nice. The initial fruits quickly disperse which leaves more room for the wood. Not a lot of sweetness, and the wood brings a slight bitterness that suits this exercise in wood (and the nuttiness of dry white Sherries) well.  The finish carries hidden notes of flor. This one needs lots of air to settle and to get the balance right (Depeche Mode), but when it does, it shows you its high quality. Still not an easy one and this one will only reward you if you keep an open mind and work at it a bit.

The contrast between this lighter Sherry bottling and the darker 1969 Sherry bottling probably isn’t a coincidence. They go together like the Glengoyne Summer (dark) and Winter (light). Sure this is high quality stuff, and you have moments in your life when you really need a Whisky like this. The aforementioned Glengoyne Winter is a similar Whisky. (The only differences being that the Winter is more funky and less elegant, but slightly sweeter and much higher in ABV). Having said that, in my case, there just aren’t a lot of days like that, so a Whisky like this lasts very long. Every time I need it, I thoroughly enjoy it, but when I have it at the wrong moment, it’s a difficult Whisky. So choose wisely, first when you buy it, it’s quite expensive, and second when to sip it. One thing for sure, or actually two, its great stuff and it will last long.

Points: 87

Benromach 2008/2014 “Organic” (43%, OB, Virgin Oak)

Not really a NASser since this is a vintage 2008 bottling. We also know this was bottled in 2014 so it is a 5yo or 6yo. Benromach doesn’t like hide its Whiskies in a shroud of mystery. Of course I love an aptly named Whisky but I was brought up with age statements so I like to (officially) know what I’m getting. Maybe all those NASsers are for a younger, more hip, generation? We’ll see. This “Organic” was distilled in 2008 and filled into virgin oak casks, just like they do with Bourbon spirit. Don’t worry, this will not turn this Whisky into a bourbon since only malted barley was used, and no corn nor rye. Why not make a rye Whisky then Benromach, wouldn’t that be something different and exiting?

Benromach Organic 2008Color: Gold

Nose: Yes woody. Sawdust, but also vanilla and warm vanilla pudding. Custard. I would say American Oak, wouldn’t you? Sugary sweet. The apparent sweetness is balanced out with some spicy oak, but not all oak is spicy, it also has a sappy oak quality to it. Sweet barley. Given some time, (when the taste becomes waxy), the nose tuns more floral. Floral with sandalwood.

Taste: Sweet at first, then vanilla and a more fruity note. Still all sugared fruits. Behind that the oak comes in again, but it’s not all wood alas, The wood also emits a cardboardy taste. Luckily that is soon exchanged with the sappy oak. That sappy oak turn a bit waxy and that in turn becomes a bitter edge into the finish. The bitterness also has some staying power. The finish is rather austere, so its quite different from the sweet start. The florality and waxiness of the nose, becomes also evident in the aftertaste.

For a Whisky this age and only new wood was used, this has already picked up a lot of color (as do Bourbons). Nosing and tasting this Whisky it really is what you may have expected. A Whisky that is defined by the use of new wood. Otherwise quite sweet and obviously not very complex, but more than expected.

Points: 82

Benromach 30yo (43%, OB, First Fill & Refill Sherry Casks)

For those of you who haven’t noticed it, Benromach is HOT these days! Since the day word got out Gordon & MacPhail are taking over the distillery, people started to take an interest, but nothing more. But all of a sudden Benromach seems to have arrived. The core range got a bit changed and the look modernized. Big winner from this all: The Benromach 10yo and when it was released later in 2014 The Benromach 10yo “100 Proof”, both reviewed by me lately. Gordon & MacPhail are some kind of synonym for quality, so even though the 30yo, we are about to review, was distilled under different management, The Whisky was cleared for release.

Benromach 30Color: Light gold with a pinkish hue. Sherry all right.

Nose: Extremely malty and waxy. Stuff you smell from older Whiskies. Wood excellently blended in, never to overpower. Great balance already. Vegetal oil and old polished furniture. Polished a long time ago for the last time. Next dry and powdery. Aren’t there any sherry note then? Yes there are. Although this could be from different kinds of Sherry casks, I’m especially picking up notes from Fino Sherry, hence the light colour? Although Fino’s are quite dry or even bone dry, This Whisky’s aroma promises some sweetness. Distant remnant of smoke and coal. The whole has some “oldness” to it.

Taste: Sugary sweet, (marzipan, vanilla), with fruity Sherry. Dry old raisins. Slight bitterness from the (toasted) wood, but more in a refill cask style. Hints of burnt caramel. Elegant again. The fruits, apricots, dried pineapple, try to add some acidity to the sweetness but they don’t manage to. It’s only a breath of fruity acidity, not enough apricots to do that. My tongue proves to me that the finish is drying and probably quite woody, but the sweetness coats it all and hides this very well. Two layers, interesting. The finish is exactly like the body, a seamless transition.

Today this Whisky is quite expensive. I love it but it somehow lacks some complexity to warrant its price. Although there in nothing wrong in this case with 43% ABV, I would have like this slightly higher in alcohol, it would make the woody part stand out a bit better, and I hope it would balance out the sweetness a bit. As I said before, good balance and none of the markers I mentioned are overpowering.

Points: 87

Thanks Stan for the Sample!

Benromach 10yo “100 Proof” (57%, OB, 2014)

Benromach logoNot long after the revamped 10yo, Benromach released this 10yo 100 proof. As I mentioned before, with the new cleaned up look, the range as well was sort of “cleaned up”. There won’t be another Origins. Origins batch five (Golden Promise Barley) will be the last one. Also the Traditional has been replaced by the new 5yo. The first fill Bourbon Cask Strength bottlings are thus replaced by this 100 Proof, that by the look of it, isn’t only from first fill Bourbon casks anymore. What did survive the clean up are the Organic, the Peat Smoke and last but not least, the Wood Finishes. All are now vintages, including the year of distillation (and bottling). The two new wood finishes that were released in 2014 are the 2005 Hermitage and the 2006 Château Cissac. I really liked the Cask Strength version mentioned above, so let’s see if this new 100 Proof is an improvement…

Benromach 10yo 100 ProofColor: Copper gold

Nose: Sherried, vanilla, smoked almonds and plain wood smoke. Quite closed at first. Clay and toffee. New built house. Cement. Vanilla pudding. Interesting stuff. Wood, paper and burning off dry autumn leaves. Similar to the “normal” 10yo, with some notes enhanced. Especially the smoke and clay. Although the smoke is not very hefty like in some Islay Whiskies, it is absolutely delicious in this one. Pencil shavings. Modern, clean, open, light and spacious (architecturally speaking). So not simple and no lack of complexity. By the way the Whisky doesn’t smell like it is a 100 proof.

Taste: Smoke and malt. Smoky bitterness you also taste in smoked foods. Clay and late short sweetness. The Whisky isn’t sweet throughout. Wood, but not oak, more like plywood and an old cigar box in which you just started to saw. Italian laurel licorice. The more air this gets the more this Whisky seems to be built around wood notes and smoke. It could do with some more sweet and fruity Sherry notes. (Not the funkiness, Sherry sometimes gives).

This is good quality Whisky, well made and well designed. Everything has its place and everything is easily discernible and fits together like a nice interior. But, and there is a but, it is a new house, although a very beautiful house with a nice and new interiors, it lacks the feel of its occupants, nothing is used yet, nothing has seen some life. It’s to soon to develop a heart, to have its own character. It will get there, the people behind Benromach will see to that, I’m sure about that. So summa sumarum, a nice cask strength version, but the regular 43% ABV version is just as nice.

Points: 85

Benromach 10yo (43%, OB, 2014)

Benromach logoEarlier, well, more than two years ago I reviewed a very nice old-looking 18yo Benromach that was bottled around 2003. As we all know, Benromach today is owned by Gordon & MacPhail. Th Distillery was bought in 1993 from United Distillers, which became Diageo in 2002. Benromach itself is a big success. A lot of it is sold around the world with sales figures soaring. Two new warehouses were built to double the storage capacity, and because of the success an extra distiller was hired. Benromach is unique in bottling almost everything as a Single Malt. In 2014 the range got cleaned up (f.i. no more Origins, and the Traditional has been replaced by the 5yo, yes an age statement ladies and gentlemen!) and revamped. This 10yo is the revamped version. The new 100 proof version is replacing the Cask Strength version. This however is a bit of a shame since I believe the Cask Strength versions were exclusively from First Fill Bourbon Casks and I don’t believe the 100 proof to be like that. So get one of those while you can (I did)! This 10yo was made with 80% Bourbon casks, 20% Sherry casks and was finished for a year in Oloroso Sherry casks.

Benromach 10yoColor: Light gold, apricot.

Nose: Malty, sweetish and a hint of smoke. Yes a nice combination and very appetizing. Some peat and clay. White pepper and a hint of pencil shavings. Altogether very modern smelling. Nothing like the old days, but very nice nevertheless. Vegetal and some sort of salty and smoky vanilla. Sugared yellow fruits and the inside of a sweet red apple, but always mixed with some smoke Dried pineapple, dried apricots with a nice hint of oak and biscuits. Excellent nose.

Taste: Sweet and malty with some peaty and smoky bitterness, but in no way overpowering. Vanilla and custard with matching sugary sweetness balanced with a hint of some nice oaky bitterness. Cardboard and crushed beetle. Yellow fruit syrup. Passion fruit and maracuja. Definitely some peat. Smoked mackerel. The finish is lasting, clean peat and a slightly bitter oak. Very well made, ABV seems just about right.

Intriguing stuff this is, and it may not be for novices, lots of other versions of Benromach around for that. This one is very well made and definitely should have your attention. I tasted a lot of G&M versions of Benromach and they never disappoint, nor did the older expressions when I come to think of it. I will most certainly have a go at other Benromachs on these pages soon. Especially the 100 proof should be interesting now. Good value for money and highly recommended. Don’t let the quality slip guys!

Points: 85

Benromach 18yo (40%, OB, Circa 2003)

Founded in the year of the Pattison crash 1898 and located on the outskirts of the ancient market town of Forres. Mothballed between 1931-1937 and 1983-1998. Since 1993 the distillery is owned by Gordon & MacPhail. Yes, the bottlers. The first Benromach that was released and made by the new owners is Benromach Traditional, that was released in 2004. The year they started with the new look and bottles in tin tubes we know today. During the G&M years more and more new released see the light of day. Today the distillery is known to be Speyside smallest working distillery and is operated by just two people…

Color: Gold

Nose: At first rather closed, but after some breathing, comes a sweet, bold nose. Dare I say sherried? Creamy with a hint of smoke. Almonds. Dusty. Cream and a bit buttery. The oak is slightly floral. Licorice with the slightest hint of tar. Very nice.

Taste: Sweet, oak and honey. Similar to the nose. Caramel with cherries. Creamy, nutty and slightly oaky. Almonds. The slight oakyness is also slightly sour, which is no problem. Not even that simple as expected, and very drinkable. Toffee and again some licorice. I’m quite surprised here. Has great body and the 40% even tastes nice.

An excellent Benromach and very good at 40% ABV. Just one catch. They don’t make this anymore. But sure did a great job in raising awareness. I will have to look further en dig deep into all the other bottlings by the distillery. Well done.

Points: 87