At one of the smallest distilleries in Speyside, only two people work on the main floor, making it one of the smallest workforces in the business. And, when a new whisky is in development, experimentation is the name of the game, according to distillery manager Keith Cruickshank, who I met during a recent trip to Forres.
“We can do trials on an industrial scale,” he explained to me during a tour. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel but we can try different things.”
This is because it’s small enough to give lots of things a go, something he is fond of doing.
The experimentation has led the outfit – which has been owned by Gordon & McPhail since 1993 – to release the first fully organic whisky and one aged in Sassicaia wood from Tuscany (both of which I review here). Additionally, the whiskies are slightly peated, making it an enigma amongst Speyside malts.
Keith has worked at the distillery since it re-opened in 1998, where he started as a still man after working his way up through the ranks at Chivas and Glenfiddich. He moved to be distillery manager in 2000 and is proud to say he has worked across a range of jobs in the whisky industry.
“It makes my job so much easier to know how to do everything. I’ve been blessed to be able to go through that progression,” he said.
Because the workforce is so small, Keith said his job is, therefore, varied.
“It’s super hands-on. I can be doing anything every day,” he added.
The distillery is what I would term as rather “adorable”. Its white and red fronted visitor’s centre encircled by flowers and small allotment make it feel like it would wedge perfectly in a fairytale.
Inside the main part, visitors can see almost the whole process of whisky making on one teeny floorspace. The mash is fermented over a long three to five day period, which Keith said was a result of wide experimentation.
The distillery uses a shell and tube condenser, and only produces 4.5 barrels a day, the spirit of which goes into casks at 63.5%.
Keith is obviously passionate about his role, getting very excited by all of the things he has been a part of since starting 14 years ago.
“The best is yet to come because I can see how the whisky is maturing as I’m doing my samples. It’s still doing its magic dance in the cask,” he concluded, smiling.
Benromach is a lovely example of how a small team can really create and caress a beautiful product into being. After all, sometimes all it takes is two.