Keith from Keith
Benromach Tasting – 25th September 2015
I always enjoy having production people as guest speakers, I also enjoy doing tastings from independent, or family owned Distilleries so it was with a great deal of delight that we welcomed Keith Cruickshank, Distillery Manager at Benromach Distillery. Benromach is owned by the family that owns independent bottlers Gordon and MacPhail so doubly good.
The Distillery was originally founded in 1898, in the Speyside town of Forres. It was owned and operated by Scottish Malt distillers, which became United Distillers and is now Diageo, they closed the distillery in 1983.
George Urquhart, head of Gordon and MacPhail brought Benromach in 1993. The previous owners had taken most of the equipment out, so it was just the buildings that remained. This was good news as the family had a blank canvas with which to design their own style of whisky. Gordon and MacPhail are legendary for their old single malts so they had access to different aged samples, they decided to make Benromach an old style Speyside malt which was common in the 1950’s, a slightly peaty, (12ppm), big bodied, rich fruity spirit. They then went about creating a distillery to make that style. They reopened Benromach in 1998, Keith also joined the distillery in that year. It is quite a small operation for Speyside with just Keith, two other distillers and a maintenance man working to make the whisky.
Most of the whiskies use a mixture of ex-bourbon, white American oak casks, European oak casks that have been used to mature sherry, and seasoned casks which are oak casks which have held sherry just to season the wood for whisky production. The stills are small with upward Lyne Arms, and the Spirit Still has a reflux bowl. This is so there is enough copper contact, called reflux, to give a clean spirit without too many imperfections, but retaining enough body so it is sufficiently complex.
Benromach has been making Organic whisky since 2000, and the whisky is approved by The Soil Association. Obviously the spirit is made with Organic barley, not peated, but the maturation is where the big difference is, they use virgin oak casks, as these casks haven’t held any non-organic Bourbon or sherry. White American Oak casks are used, which gives more oak and vanilla flavours. It is also a well-rounded, creamy dram. 2008 bottled 2014 with virgin oak you don’t want the whisky in the cask too long or it gets too woody, 6 years is plenty.
A lot of distillers are giving younger whiskies a name as opposed to an age statement. Benromach have gone the other way by re branding their Traditional as a 5 year old. Younger style whiskies are great value and these days good quality. This 5 y/o is no exception matured in American white oak, ex-bourbon casks and European Oak ex-sherry casks. More peat flavours as you would expect with less wood influence. Full of youthful exuberance.
This bottling has first been matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks then for the last 18 months of its maturation it has been finished in casks from the Hermitage Appellation d’Origine Controlee, in the northern Rhone region of France, a big bodied red wine. The extra maturation gives a lot of fruity flavours, more tropical fruits, peaches and figs.
The core expression of the range and very much the house style. They say this has a wisp of smoke, not sure what sort of a measure a “wisp” is but I know what they mean. The peat smoke is nowhere near the big Islay peatyness. The other rich fruits, caramel, and chocolate are more prevalent. A rich meaty dram with some finesse.
This is now my new favourite, not just mine this was favourite on the night. It is the same as the 10 but 50% older. It has picked up more flavour from the wood, dried fruit, the smokiness is a bit more charred oak, also the extra years have softened the whisky, letting it go down easy – be wary it is perilously moorish.
The distillery’s owners are the world leaders in maturing and bottling old whisky, so this is just up their street. This whisky was made by the previous owners so not as peaty or meaty as today’s spirit, but as you would expect from these guys it is matured to perfection, rich and elegant, plenty of oak and dried fruit but also cinnamon like spice and rich orange marmalade.
Every couple of years Keith makes a heavily peaty spirit, and this expression is one of these. The malt is smoked to 62 Phenol parts per million (Ardbeg is 50 ppm), However as this is not island or Islay peat there is less seaweed content so it’s not as medicinal as Laphroaig, or Ardbeg. I like this as it is very different with a sweet softer smoky taste.
Oh and Keith lives or stays in the town of Keith which is across Speyside from Benromach so he’s Keith from Keith. Our thanks to him and Benromach.