The Benromach distillery and the Benriach distillery are quite close together,
at least alphabetically speaking. And there are similarities in their history as well.
Both were relatively unassuming distilleries that mainly produced malt whisky
for blending until they were aquired by an independent bottler or start-up.
The new owners managed to find plenty of worthy casks in their stocks.
The Benromach distillery in Forres was constructed back in 1898 by the
Benromach Distillery Company Ltd. - which was a partnership between
Duncan McCallum (owner of the Glen Nevis distillery in Campbeltown)
and F. W. Brickman (a spirit merchant from Leith). Benromach distillery
was officially opened in the year 1900 - but closed again soon after.
Between 1907 and 1910 Benromach operated under the name 'Forres'
under the sole responsibility of Duncan McCallum, before falling silent again.
Benromach was revived once more shortly after World War I by brewers,
but the distillery shut its doors again in 1931. When they re-opened them
in 1937, Benromach was the first Scotch distillery to install direct oil firing.
In 1938 the Benromach distillery was purchased by Associated Scotish Distillers Ltd.
This was a subsidiary of Train & McIntyre Ltd. (owned by National Distillers of America). In an ongoing
process of concentration, Train & McIntyre were themselves purchased in 1953 by DCL. Benromach
('shaggy mountain') was rebuilt in the 1960's and 1970's, but that didn't keep the owners from closing
the distillery in 1983, together with Banff, Dallas Dhu, Glen Albyn, Glenlochy, Glen Mhor, North Port
and Saint Magdalene. Their other sister distilleries Coleburn, Glenury Royal, Hillside / Glenesk and
Millburn were closed just two years later in 1985.
Gordon & MacPhail couldn't bring Benromach back to life quite as quickly as they would have
liked because they had some problems obtaining the trademark and water rights. However, on
October 15, 1998 the Benromach distillery was officially re-opened by Prince Charlie of Wales.
Ownership of Benromach was transferred to United Distillers in 1986.
In 1992 the Benromach distillery was sold on to independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail who
were themselves established in 1895. Through the purchase Gordon & MacPhail obtained the
empty buildings (distillery and warehouses) and remaining stocks from UDV, but it took six years
for Benromach to resume production. All that was left in the empty buildings were the washbacks,
so new equipment had to be installed throughout the distillery. Benromach was completely
refurbished. This included the installation of two new stills, smaller than the old ones.
A visitor centre was added in 1999 and for a few years the stills were quietly prattling along.
The first whisky that was distilled by Gordon & MacPhail themselves was released in May 2004
as the 'Benromach Traditional' malt whisky. As time went by, the new owners gradually released
more and different expressions, slowly building a varied portfolio to accommodate different whisky drinkers.
Within a few years the Benromach distillery offered a range that included an 'organic' varity, a more peated whisky
with a higher PPM than the regular releases and even a 22yo Port Finish.
The ‘Findhorn’ area in the Speyside whisky region lies a little
bit away from the beaten track along the big whisky attractions
in the region. Together with neighbours like Dallas Dhu,
Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Glen Moray, Benromach requires
a bit of an effort to reach - but it’s worth it. .
Five certified malt maniacs (Davin, Craig, Krishna, Serge and myself) visited Benromach in June 2003 and were
shown around the distillery and the big Gordon & MacPhail warehouses by Derek Hancock. The grand tour that
Derek gave us was one of the most interesting ones I've experienced so far and I realised that I still had a lot to
learn about the production, maturation and distribution of Scotch malt whisky.
For one thing, the Gordon & MacPhail shop is nearby and
their massive collection is reason enough for a detour.
1) After Gordon & MacPhail bought the distillery in 1992 (some say 1993) it was fully refurbished.
It had to be - the spirit receiver was one of only two pieces of original equipment that remained
involved with whisky production at the Benromach site.
2) Apart from the spirit receiver, there's one other piece of 'antique' equipment still in operation
at the Benromach distillery. The cast iron 'Boby mill' that is used to mill the malted barley into the
grist was constructed more than a century ago 1913.
6) Around the year 2015 Benromach was the smallest working distillery in Speyside.
The actual whisky making process (with an output of 200,000 litres a year) involves just two people.
3) Around the year 2010, Benromach and Ben Nevis were the only Scotch malt whisky distilleries
that were still using brewers yeast for their whisky. Quite a few people claim that brewer's yeast
gives more character to the freshly distilled spirit than distillers yeast. On the other hand, most
whisky producers favour distillers yeast for its higher yield.
4) Most of the malt whisky that is distilled at Benromach is unpeated - or rather very lightly so.
However, since 2007 the Benromach distillery has also released the occasional batch of a more
peated whisky. This strategy allows the distillery to offer a wider variety of different whiskies,
but it also requires more cleaning of the equipment in between distillation runs..
5) Benromach is one of +/- two dozen whisky distilleries that were founded during the 'whisky boom'
of the late 19th century and which have managed to survive until this day. Other survivors include Aberfeldy,
Ardmore, Aultmore, Balvenie, Benriach, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Craigellachie, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown,
Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Glenrothes, Glentauchers, Knockandu, Knockdhu, Longmorn, Tamdhu and Tomatin.
2004 - In May the 'Benromach Traditional' is released;
the very first bottling that was distilled by the new owners.
2009 - The Benromach 10yo is released; the first bottling
with an age statement since Gordon & MacPhail took
over the distillery. In previous years they had released the
Benromach Organic (in 2006), the Benromach Peat Smoke
(in 2007) and the Benromach Origins Golden Promise (in
2008). Supposedly, all are from G&M's own production.
2013 - Benromach announces that it will double production due to growing demand. To facilitate the growth, they
will be building two more warehouses on the distillery site. Furthermore, they will recruit an extra distiller and a
brand manager. Gordon & MacPhail's managing director Richard Urquhart expects that Benromach will remain
the smallest distillery in the Speyside region, even after expansion of the production capacity.
2015 - A 15yo official bottling of Benromach is released - along with two ‘finished’ expressions.
2007 - Benromach is now the smallest operational distillery
in the Speyside region. They have a maximum production
capacity of 500,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, but
operate at just a quarter of maximum capacity.
Benromach 10yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Mellow and malty with spices in the background. Very well balanced, slowly opening over time.
Very interesting development, slowly sweetening out. Some very subtle phenolics after fifteen minutes.
Taste: Sweet start, growing bigger and bolder in the centre. Even a touch of something peaty? That's odd...
Score: 82 points - the "ground tone" is perhaps a little MOTR, but there are lots of interesting subtle traits.
Benromach 1999/2010 'Origins' Batch #2 (50%, OB, Port Pipes matured)
Nose: Heavy, concentrated fruits. Dried apples. Plum compote. The aroma's disappear after five minutes.
Yoghurt? Tobacco? The bouquet has a harshness to it which mostly disappears after I diluted it to +/- 40% ABV
Taste: Sweet with a fruity start that dissolves into a fairly nondescript centre. it loses a few points here.
Score: 77 points - I was with the 22yo Port Finish they released in 2005, but this doesn't tickle my fancy...
Benromach 10yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Sweet and balanced with some spices in the background. Lightly sherried profile. Some organics.
A suggestion of something farmy. Surprisingly complex and actually quite pleasant.
Taste: Sweet and smooth start with a surprising pinch of peat after a few seconds.
This whisky grows weaker towards the finish. Loses a few points over time compared to the excellent start.
Score: 82 points - which means that the spirit produced by G&M has matured beautifully in a decade.
Benromach 1999/2008 'Origins' Batch #1 (50%, OB, Golden Promise, Sherry casks)
Nose: Milk powder. Cattle feed. A 'farmy' profile, but not as sour as many others in this style. Rice crackers.
Taste: Farmy and oddly woody. Solid mouth feel with a touch of smoke. Rough and a little bitter in the finish.
Score: 78 points - Above average, but it could use a few more years of maturation.
Benromach 22yo Port Finish (45%, OB, 22 months Port pipes finish, 3500 Bottles, Bottled 2005)
Nose: Fruity with a hint of smoke. Strawberry sauce. Organics in the background.
Taste: Chewy tannins right from the start. Smoke. Very dry, especially in the finish.
Some distant fruits. More smoke after a while, accompanied by some lovely liquorice.
Score: 85 points - Lovely and quite unique. Could be a bit more expressive in the nose, though.
Oh yes, this is nice! It ticks all the right boxes for me, although it lacks a little depth.
Benromach 1973/2001 (40%, OB, Gordon & MacPhail, 70cl)
Nose: Very subtle. Creamy but a little prickly as well. Light with accents of oil and pine.
Hint of peat? Almost a little bit 'Lowlandish' in character, I'd say. Very pleasant though...
Taste: Sweet and malty. but a tad thin. Big enough burn, though - it feels very powerful.
Dry. Bitter finish. I guess you could call this 'MOTR' as well, but in this case it's a solid malt.
Score: 82 points - a classic example of the subtlety that has made Speysiders so popular.
Benromach NAS 'Traditional' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Light - smooth at first but growing a little grainier after a few seconds. Creamy. Hint of Granny Smith?
Oil? Quite restrained for a while, but then it opens up. Spicy. It sweetens out and even gets some faint organics.
It remains mostly superficial, but given enough time it shows flashes of nuts and fruits. Menthol?
Taste: Weak start, becoming sweeter and a little nutty on the palate. Smooth and slick on the palate as well.
Over time I got apples, mint, smoke and liquorice. Quite dry; with just a drop of water even some burnt peat.
Loses points here. It's quite slick (and improves with time), but for me it's a tad too 'MOTR'.
Score: 75 points - in the end it's just a little too dry, woody and simple on the palate.
If it wasn't for the fact that the nose kept surprising me it would have ended up in the 60's.
Benromach 18yo (40%, OB / Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 2003, 70cl)
Nose: Polished. Malt & citrus. Tangerine. Sherry. Spicy. Nothing wrong with this...
Taste: Malty and slightly bitter. A very fine malt whisky, but it could do with a little more personality.
Score: 80 points - it seems Gordon & MacPhail is moving towards 'spunkier' malts. Great!
Benromach 15yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Sweet and mellow. A tad 'grainy’. Light fruits. Wanders off in an oilier, veggier direction.
Maybe a hint of smoke? After some time some faint spices and organics. Not bad at all, this Benromach.
Taste: Oy.... Something artificial and perfumy. Dry. Winey. It loses many points here.
Score: 67 points - a pleasant nose, but I really don't like the gritty taste of this malt.
The uneven, dry and bitter taste (aspirin) prohibits me from really enjoying this one.
Benromach 19yo 1978/1998 (63.8%, UDRM, code, LLXL00000009, Bottle #2036, 70cl)
Nose: Spirity. Rhum. Hard to pin down anything specific, maybe because of the high proof?
Hey, now I get something: it takes a distinctly fruitier direction after a few minutes.
Taste: Undiluted, it's rather sweet at first. The resemblance to rhum pops up here as well.
Some pine in the center. Then more citrus. Not e lot of complexity, even after adding water.
Score: 74 points - definitely disappointing, given the age, proof and price.
Benromach 12yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 1995, 70cl)
Nose: Big with a lot of development. Fresh and flowery at first, then sweeter and more malt.
Taste: Overwhelming soft sweetness with a long afterburn. Woody and slightly sherried finish.
I have to say that it's just a bit too woody and bitter for my tastes - but that's just me...
Score: 75 points - the very definition of an 'average' single malt.
Benromach 14yo 1968 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice, Old Brown Label)
Nose: Very fruity from a distance. Rich and sherried on closer inspection. Hint of mint. Quite lovely!
Much more character than the Connoisseurs Choice bottlings of the 90's. After a few minutes: organics.
Oriental spices. A whiff of smoke, perhaps? Some peat. No 'MOTR' malt, that much is certain.
Lots of development too. After a while I got pickled onions. Quite a nasal adventure.
Taste: A tad thinner on the palate at first. Grape skins and other fruity notes. More serious in the centre.
Quite dry and woody. Smoky. No sweetness, but I like it. Especially the nose is really quite spectacular.
Score: 87 points - the nose almost pushes it into the 90's, but the palate holds it back.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Benromach malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Benromach I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Benromach.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on at least 650 whisky-related topics.