Benromach Contrasts Virgin Oak Matured Air & Kiln Dried Oak DOUBLE PACK 46% 2 x 70cl
Just outside the town of Forres on the A96 - 27 miles east of Inverness, 12 miles west of Elgin - sits the Benromach Distillery. Benromach translates as ‘shaggy mountain’, evoking the surroundings, and indeed the water source for the distillery comes from the Chapeltown springs in the Romach Hills.
It was founded in 1898 by Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman as the Forres Distillery - production didn't start until 1900 when it then closed shortly after. McCallum reopened the site in 1907, but it closed again in 1910, staying dormant until 1919 when it was renamed Benromach.
It's safe to say the distillery had a chequered history, eventually becoming folded into the DCL conglomerate in 1953. Following the Scotch whisky downturn of the late 1970s it was mothballed in 1983, before being purchased by Elgin-based Gordon & MacPhail in 1993.
Prior to this point, from 1895 G&M had purchased new make spirit from distilleries around Scotland to mature in their own casks, but as a way of future-proofing themselves and also to add another string to the company bow, purchasing Benromach gave them the opportunity to grow a brand.
The distillery was a total shell - only the boby mill remained - so during a 5 year period in which the inside of the distillery was rebuilt, G&M sampled their own bottlings of Benromach and other Speyside distilleries from the 1920s onwards. They discovered that up to the late 1960s Speyside whiskies featured a delicate and subtle smokiness – a result of distilleries drying the barley themselves using local Highland peat. This smokiness was lost as malting was completed instead by separate companies, and the growth in popularity of Single Malt whiskies was driven by a demand for malty, Sherried drams without smoke. G&M decided to re-introduce this ‘lost’ style of Speyside whisky by using a small amount of peated barley in the production, resulting in a ‘wisp’ of smoke supporting classic Speyside flavour of toffee, dark fruits and malt.
Ownership of Benromach has enabled G&M to experiment with cask maturation elements - particularly given their extensive experience - and as such offer a range of 'Contrasts'.
In this instance, we can see the difference in flavour profile between virgin American oak casks that been air-dried or dried in a kiln. Virgin oak casks - as in no other wine or spirit has been in before - is used in order to allow the drying element to shine through. Both releases are bottled as 10yo at an ABV of 46%, with the softly smoky profile that is used for the standard 10yo being used here.
And there is indeed a difference between the two versions. The Kiln Dried feels creamier and slightly richer, with the Air Dried feeling fresher and lighter, with a bit more of a peppermint note on the finish and in particular the nose. Trying the two side-by-side is highly recommended, which is why I'm selling both as a double pack, as it's clear to see just what one supposedly minor element has on flavour.
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