Today is the day. Exactly 20 years ago, distilling once again commenced at Benromach distillery, after a silent period of fifteen years. It was a long and laborious process for new owners Gordon & MacPhail, but April 23rd, 1998 was when the Urquhart family saw a lifelong dream come to fruition. Finally they had their own working distillery.
While not my first love, Benromach has certainly grown to be one of my favourite distilleries. The inspiration for the signature old-school Benromach flavour profile was found in the vast sample library of Gordon & MacPhail. After tasting many old Speyside whiskies from the 1950s and 1960s, they decided to produce a whisky with a dash of smoke, as was common in the old days.
This in turn led to one of the best (if not outright the best) entry-level malts. I am of course talking about the Benromach 10, a modern classic if there ever was one. Lovingly, some people dubbed Benromach the Springbank of Speyside, which to me is about the biggest compliment any distillery can receive.
To celebrate their 20th anniversary, the distillery releases a Benromach 20th Anniversary Bottling. I was glad to receive a sample last week, as well as a press release. However, when I read the press release, my mood dampened. It was quite long, but lacked sorely in details about the actual whisky. Instead, an entire paragraph was spent describing the packaging. The suggested retail price was in there as well: 299 pounds. Yet barely anything about the cask types, let alone about the age.
This coming from a company that a few years ago decided to boldly put a 5 year old age statement on what up until then was the only NAS whisky in their core range, the Benromach Traditional. All signs pointed towards Benromach going down the dreaded luxury route: expensive whisky without an age statement. Whisky for people with more money than is good for them. For a moment there, I was hurt.
I should’ve known better though. I contacted Benromach, and they quickly set the record straight. The Benromach 20th Anniversary Bottling is a vintage 1998 whisky, so actually 19 years old. That makes it the oldest modern Benromach ever released. Also, first-fill ex-sherry and first-fill ex-bourbon casks were used, both European oak and American oak. Now that’s plenty information for me as a whisky enthusiast to be satisfied.
I hope that others who received the press release also bothered to contact the distillery, but I fear not. Which means that lots of blogs and news articles won’t be able to paint a full picture of this whisky. Worse, many people might think that the Benromach 20th Anniversary Bottling actually is an attempt at selling young whisky at a premium price.
Nose: Subtle, rich fruits. Banana, pineapple and peach, as well as an array of citrus influence. Think orange juice, and very subtle lime zest. There’s a hint of Earl Grey tea, as well as a bit of oak, although I fail to pick up on the signature Benromach smoke. However, this is extremely well-balanced, mature and gentle, especially considering its high alcohol percentage. Taste: Hints of citrus (orange, mainly), accompanied by a few spices, mainly cracked black peppercorns and nutmeg. Whispers of cherry syrup and fudge in the background, with a hint of latté macchiato. Finish: Lingering spices, subtle sweeter notes, with some bitter oak.
Good, mature whisky. But… It doesn’t scream Benromach to me. Where’s the signature Benromach smokiness that I’ve grown to expect and love? This bottling represents a milestone for Benromach, which might be reason enough for some people to want to buy it, regardless of its steep price. But honestly? I prefer the Benromach 10.