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Benromach (pronounced: ben-ROM-ak) has undergone a remarkable rebirth in recent years since it was bought over in the late nineties by granddaddy independents Gordon & MacPhail. Since then it has made a big name for itself with a series of interesting and increasingly good releases. People are starting to wake up to the potential of this previously ignored and borderline forgotten distillery.
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Water Source: Chapelton Springs
Capacity: 500.000 Litres
Owners: Gordon & MacPhail
1953-1983: Development and Closure.
Benromach was purchased by United Distillers (later Diageo) in 1953 and they subsequently embarked on a series of refits and improvements throughout the 1960s and early seventies. In 1966 and 1974 the two stills had their worm tubs converted to modern condensers. The stills were also converted to internal stem heating in 1966.
Expressions of Benromach from this time reveal it to be a rich, oily and fuller style Speysider with more than a little smoke. However, later expressions, after the loss of the worms and direct firing, are inevitably more delicate displaying more citrus and herbaceous characters. There are not many examples of Benromach from before the late seventies. G&M have released some excellent aged casks from the late sixties that are beautiful but the distillery character is understandably quieted by the wood influence. Cadenheads and G&M both did bottlings of Benromach in the seventies that are excellent, more natural examples of the old style make, these can still be found and are well worth the effort. G&M also had a 1949 55yo bottled in 2005 but this is understandably quite pricy.
Diageo also released several bottlings of Benromach under its ownership, these were variable but usually good, muscular sherried drams. Sadly Benromach, along with many other great distilleries, was closed in 1983.
In 1992 Benromach was purchased by Gordon & MacPhail, they had been keen to own a distillery for a long time but they were not able to start straight away, Benromach was in a sorry state and much work was needed to bring it up to scratch. The only equipment that remained was the washbacks and an old Boby Mill from 1913. G&M had the distillery completely refitted, including a new mash tun, new larch washbacks and a new pair of stills. The new stills were closely modeled on the old ones but were slightly smaller than their forerunners.
Spirit finally flowed again in 1998 and the production process was slowly increased and refined in the following years. The peating levels for the standard spirit are a little higher than normal for Speyside, they sit at a round 10ppm. This along with some relatively long fermentations (3 days) gives the spirit a rich, oily and fruity distinction with a lick of spice and smoke in the background. Now that the first distillations are beginning to gain a little age these characters are starting to show beautifully. The new 10yo launched in 2010 is a great example of this borderline old style kind of make. There have also been heavily peated batches produced at varying levels of peatiness, from 35 up to 55ppm. The examples bottled so far reveal a very farmy kind of peat with rich medicinal undertones but little coastal influence, very fitting for the Speyside location. A mix of sherry and bourbon casks are filled along with many variants as well. Over the past decade G&M have built a very varied range including aged expressions from previous Diageo stock, finishes, an organic malt and single casks. Many of these bottlings are excellent but the best are often the simplest casks and vattings that allow the distillery character to shine through. As it ages no doubt we will see finer and finer stuff from this little gem of a distillery.