Benromach is a distillery which has increasingly made efforts to make itself seen and known around the world, and with good reason. The whiskies that the distillery produces are of a good standard and appeal to a wide range of whisky enthusiasts.
While the distillery has been around for 118 years, it was only after it was purchased by independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail that the whiskies were more commonly available for the mass market.
Thanks to the present owners hard work, the brand is now available in 42 countries and sales volumes have increased sharply in the last 4 years.
Benromach distillery was founded in 1898 by individuals who formed the Benromach Distillery Company and leased a portion of land on Sanquhar Estate near Forres from Alexander “Sandy” Edward.
Interesting fact: “Sandy” was a champion for Speyside distilleries and had a hand in founding distilleries such as Craigellachie (1891), Aultmore (1896) and Dallas Dhu (1898) while taking over ownership of Benrinnes (1896), Oban (1898) and Yorker (1913) during his lifetime.
The distillery underwent a succession of ownership changes until 1931, when it was mothballed for 6 years before reopening in 1937 under the control of Benromach Distillery Ltd which was a company owned by several breweries.
The distillery was sold the following year to the eccentric Canadian millionaire Joseph Hobbs (who also owned distilleries such as Glenlochy and Ben Nevis at one time). Hobbs didn’t hold on to Benromach for long and sold it to National Distillers of America (NDA) that same year.
The distillery remained under NDA’s control until 1953, when it was sold to the legendary Distillers Company Limited (DCL). DCL proceeded to refurbish and expand the distillery over the next 30 years before it was mothballed in 1983 due to the “whisky loch” issue which blighted the industry during that period of time.
The distillery remained closed for the next decade and in that time, DCL had been purchased by United Distillers (who would eventually be absorbed into what is now known as Diageo). It was in 1993 when one of the most well-known and well-respected independent bottlers, Gordon & MacPhail, stepped in and purchased the distillery.
The new owners then refurbished the distillery and restored it to full production in 1998, which was also the year of the distillery’s centenary anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, Benromach released a 17 Years Old expression.
The distillery’s visitor centre was opened the following year and is a rather well-attended place which showcases the distillery shop as well as some of the old equipment which was used by the distillery over the years (including the cast iron traditional mash tun and the old mill).
In the last few years, the owners have spent upwards of £1 million to double the production and storage capacity by investing in new equipment as well as building two new dunnage warehouses. The distillery also hired another distiller in order to keep up with the increased demands and now has a total cask storage capacity of 15000.
In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a 1.5 tonne semi-lauter mash tun with a copper dome, 4 washbacks made of Siberian larch and a pair of stills. This allows the distillery to produce up to 243,000 litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis and almost all of it is destined to be bottled as a single malt (with some of the production being reserved for the various Diageo blends).
Interesting fact: Benromach was the smallest distillery in the Speyside region for many years until 2014, when Ballindalloch distillery was established on the same estate as Ballindalloch Castle by Lady Laird Claire MacPherson-Grant and her husband, Oliver Russell. Ballindalloch has an annual production capacity of 100,000 litres and the first expression is due for release sometime in late 2017.
This week’s review focuses on the Benromach 2007 Sassicaia Wood Finish expression which was distilled in 2007 and matured predominantly in ex-bourbon casks before being “finished” for 24 months in casks which once contained Sassicaia wine from the Bolgheri region of Tuscany. The whisky was then bottled in 2016 as a limited release and only 3500 bottles were made available for sale.
So, let’s jump right in!
Benromach 2007 Sassicaia Wood Finish (45% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents a rich and sweet note which is reminiscent of berry compote coupled with grated ginger and cinnamon. The wine notes are also present and add a level of sophistication to the nose.
There is a hint of malty barley and a fair bit of oak which also brings with it a certain vanillic note that is representative of the initial bourbon maturation. Slightly musty and there is a hint of black pepper and nutmeg towards the end. (21/25)
Palate: Initial entry is sweet and wine-like, which is no surprise. The oak makes an appearance along with the vanilla notes and the black pepper is more pronounced on the palate than on the nose.
A veritable fruit salad of stewed peaches, blackberries and apricots also emerge and intermingle with the berry compote and icing sugar notes detected on the nose, giving this dram an intensely sweet but well-rounded taste. (22/25)
Finish: Medium to long on the finish, with the sweetness derived from the stewed fruits and the spiciness derived from the oak, wood spices and black pepper intermingling beautifully till the very end. Slightly cloying in terms of the sweetness, but the addition of a touch of water helps to keep things in check. (21/25)
It strays fairly close to dessert wine territory while retaining the typical malty and heavy Speyside notes that one would typically associate with the whiskies from Benromach. (20/25)
This expression of Benromach exhibits an interesting duality in the sense that one would be able to pick out the typical Benromach house style while identifying the unique characteristics brought forward by the Sassicaia wine finish.
While I found this dram to be a fair bit too sweet for my liking, I can’t deny that it is a good whisky and I feel rather fortunate to have gotten the chance to sample this expression due to its inherently limited nature.
Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.
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