The Benromach Peat Smoke 8 year old whisky is one that I have wanted to review for a long time. Why did I want to share this whisky? Well, for a few of reasons. One, this is a relatively affordable bottle – running about $60 for the current release – only slightly higher than the price I paid two years ago, which flies somewhat in the face of the current price hikes that seem to be hitting most whiskies these days. Another reason is that this is a relatively unknown distillery, but it is a distillery who have been putting out some very good, albeit young, whiskies. And the other is that this is a Peated Speyside whisky. Speyside is the region in Scotland with the highest concentration of distilleries and which produce some great (and most famous) whiskies, but the region does have a reputation for producing some of the more delicate, floral/fruity whiskies and/or heavily sherried whiskies….not for their peated whiskies. But here we have a peated Speyside whisky which is interesting to me because I think there is a logical assumption that this whisky might provide an historical “peak” at how whiskies from Speyside might have tasted decades ago when peat was used to dry the barley????
Anyway, I’ve had this bottle of Benromach Peat Smoke since 2013, but we finally opened it up earlier this year and now I am finally getting around to sharing my impressions.
About Benromach Distillery
The “original” Benromach Distillery was established in the Village of Forres in 1898 by Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman. McCallum was owner of the Glen Nevis Distillery, located in Campbeltown, and Brickman was a Leith-based Spirits Merchant. Sadly, Benromach was anything but an immediate success. Production first started in 1900, it shut down soon afterwards. Re-opened in 1907 by McCallum as sole owner, and operating under the name “Forres,” the distillery ceased production again in 1910. Sitting silent until after WWI, Benromach restarted production and operated until 1931 when it once more closed.
In 1937 the distillery was re-opened again and began a fairly lengthy run this time. Acquired by Associated Scottish Distillers Ltd (a subsidiary of Trian & McIntyre Ltd, which were owned by National Distillers of America) in 1938, Benromach ultimately became part of DCL in 1953 when Train & McIntyre was purchased by DCL.
An interesting little fact about Benromach, it was the first distillery in Scotland to install a direct-oil heating system for their stills!
Sadly, though, the run for Benromach ended once more when, along with so many other distilleries in Scotland, Benromach was shut-down by DCL in 1983, a result of the “whisky loch” that decimated the Scotch whisky industry.
Benromach remained closed until it was purchased in 1992 by famed independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail. When G&M took ownership of the distillery, they had a number of challenges, particularly with securing the trademark and the necessary water rights. They also had to undertake a sizeable renovation project because after the distillery was closed in 1983, it had been dismantled, leaving only the washbacks still in place. Over the next six years the new owners installed new stills, smaller than those that had been used previously, and put in the remaining needed equipment. Finally, in 1998, Benromach was officially opened by HRH Prince Charles.
Although Gordon & MacPhail had been in the whisky business for more than 100 years, they were new to the production side and instead of plunging into the deep-end, G&M took a very measured approach to building the Benromach brand and creating market interest. The first whiskies produced by the “new” Benromach Distillery hit the market in 2004, when they released “The Traditional.” Since then they have continued their planned growth, gradually increasing production rates from 25% in their first years. In 2012 sales of Benromach had climbed 40%, prompting G&M to invest an additional £1 million in to further expand and update the facility. These updates also doubled the total production capacity of Benromach.
Review: Benromach Peat Smoke 8 year old
Benromach has been releasing a number of styles of whisky, including this Peat Smoke release, which is an 8 year-old bottling of whisky produced using peat-smoked barley with an estimated 53 ppm (Note: the current release has a slightly higher peat rating at 67 ppm). Benromach Peat Smoke whisky is matured entirely in first-fill American Oak ex-Bourbon casks.
Color: Pale Gold.
Nose: Starts with a very delicate smokiness, then a growing fruitiness focused on ripe apples and pears, a touch of vanilla and a very beautiful sweet maltiness – showing its youth, but its a well-developed youthfulness. With time the presence of the smoke and an earthy peat expands, but never overwhelms. I also get some spicy notes – cinnamon Red Hots candies, fresh ginger, and an almost eucalyptus-like fresh herbal spice. This is a fun, crisp and “zippy” nose all riding on a delicate smokiness.
Taste: The initial arrival shows is all about a creamy vanilla and sweet maltiness before the smoky, peaty notes pick up and become the focus. This is not a big, broad, dominating “Islay” smoke, but it remains a gentle smokiness. The palate is fresh, creamy, following the nose very closely, and with a medium viscosity.
Finish: Sweet malt, vanilla and soft fruits, then the smoke, ends with a soft ashy note. Not overly long, but still very nice finish.
Overall: I think that this whisky will surprise a lot of people for the fact that this is a peated Speysider. It is interesting to consider that this perhaps represents what Speyside whiskies were like when peat use was more common to that region, making it a fun exploration. I also think that this one might serve as a good introduction to peated whiskies because the Benromach Peat Smoke offers a peated whisky without the medicinal notes that some people find too strong and off-putting. Here we have a whisky with a peatiness that is delicate, subtle and earthy and while the smoke is central to the profile, it is restrained, allowing a very nice, relatively complex experience – especially for a youngish 8 year old whisky. Benromach has been doing some really good things under its new ownership and this one continues to show they are on the right course.
Distillery: Benromach (owned by Gordon & MacPhail)
Type: Single Malt (peated 53 ppm)
Age: 8 Years (Distilled 2004, Bottled 2013, Bottle Stamp: 05/02/13 AB/BJHJ)
Maturation: 1st Fill Bourbon barrels
Price: $60 USD (Total Wine)
Availability: Currently Available
Sample Source: My own bottle
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.