Originally established in 1898 by Duncan MacCallum and FW Brickmann, the distillery prospered until 11 years later when it was found to be in serious arrears. It stopped production until 1911 when it was bought by Harvey McNair & Co from London. The distillery continued producing up until the start of World War I, when it went silent. In 1919 it was sold yet again to a conglomerate of investors, but fell silent once more until it was bought by Associated Scottish Distilleries (which itself was bought out by American company National Distillers) in 1938. The distillery continued to change hands until it closed in 1983. In 1993, Gordon and McPhail re-opened it, with high hopes.
In 1998, fifteen years after it closed, Benromach began distilling once more. It operates with one of the smallest workforces in Scotland but, despite the twee staff load, produces unique and varied whiskies.
Here, I review six of the company’s staple collection.
Benromach 10 years old: 43%:
Matured in a mix of sherry and oak casks and finished in European oak Oloroso Sherry casks, this 10-year old is a pleasing all-rounder that would be a happy find on many a whisky-lover’s shelf, I think.
I found hints of lemon, oak, sponge cake, cherry icing and sugared almonds on the nose. The mouth started with a toffee and fudge sweetness, that developed mid-sip into a smoky, sweet bacon or Parma ham flavour, with hints of oak and chili spice. It had a really gentle, slightly sour finish that lasted long on the palate.
It retails around the £25-£32 range.
Benromach 25-years old: 43%:
A lovely, light, refreshing whisky, this release is matured in refill American hogsheads.
I found it very floral on the nose with scents of lilies and daffodils at first. Nuances of lemongrass, white grape skins and mango followed.
On the mouth, there was a full-on dessert sweetness (think: tropical fruit and cake). But there was also a hint of what I believed to be leather shoe spray, which took me back to my days as an 18-year old working in Aldo. Very random! But pleasing nonetheless. It finished on a slightly sharper, bitter note that reminded me of silage laying hot in the summer sun.
It retails at around £65 mark.
Benromach: 30-years old: 43%:
This whisky is a step-jump away from Benromach’s other offerings I’ve tried. With heavy sherried notes coming from its time spent in first and refill Sherry butts, this is a deeply rich, more traditional whisky. It won the award in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2012 for the best Single Malt Scotch 28-34 years old, so I’ll be going against the grain when I say it isn’t my favourite of the collection.
Nonetheless, the nose was appealing with notes of sherry, raisin, toffee, wood, baking bread, copper pennies and (what I thought to be) soya sauce.
The mouth was sweet, with flavours akin to maple syrup, nutmeg and sugar syrup, with an earthen and woody note nearer the end. It’s got almost no burn on it making it easily drinkable.
It retails around the £170 mark.
Benromach Organic: 43%:
This was the world’s first certified fully organic whisky so, when it was initially released in 2006, it was quite the revelation. Since, the company has produced a “Special Edition” which is available in store.
The sample I tried was completely different than the others I’d sampled first. There was more of a Speyside characteristic about it in some ways, with notes of thick honey, apples and lemon, which also had hints of toffee and tequila on the nose.
The mouth was extremely subtle (I likened it in my notes to dandelion fluff floating over a field). But, despite that, it still had a good mouthfeel. It reminded me of a woodshop slathered in honey, sweet citrus, honeysuckle, lavendar and ground almond butter on burnt toast. A delectable breakfast!
Benromach Sassicaia: 2005: 45%:
Back in 2007, before wood finishes were all the rage, Benromach stepped up to the invention plate and played around with the idea. It chose to use specialty wine casks from Tuscany which previously held Sassicaia wine, into which the whisky was placed for 29 months to finish.
This version was a sweet, sticky whisky that had the ability to hit the back of my throat with its sugariness on first sniff. There were notes of sticky toffee, pear, green apple and smoked cedar woodchips for me after that.
On the mouth, I picks up caramel and honey, before it shifted discreetly onto a touch of medicinal smoke before finishing off on sweet cigar smoke flavour and licorice.
And intriguing whisky to try, for sure.
I finished off on this cask strength version and was surprised to read its strength sat at 60%, for the nose on it completely belied that fact. It was very gentle, with tiny wisps of lemon cream, lime pulp, candied oranges, cigar smoke and freshly washed walls.
On the mouth, I felt comfortable drinking it without water. It had a light and non-obtrusive burn, that was sweet and creamy. There were notes of pinesol floor cleaner and wood. With water, more sweet toffee and apple notes emerged, and the whisky finished for me on flavours of grass, hay and cigarettes.