May 2016 Whisky of the Month:
Benromach Organic was the first certified organic single malt whisky and the first single malt to successfully mature in virgin oak casks. Join The Club now for exclusive access to more exciting drams like this each month and great member perks.
Country of Origin:
Benromach’s is the story of a true craft distillery. The smallest of Speyside’s 50-odd distilleries, Benromach was established in 1898 in the midst of a whisky boom and fell victim to bust in the Pattison Whisky Crisis two years later in 1900, along with The Benriach we featured last month. It was later acquired in 1911 by Harvey McNair & Co who ran it until the onset of the First World War. Shortly after the war it was revived by a new company, the Benromach Distillery Ltd. This continued until 1925 when things stood still again before reopening in 1937 under the ownership of Associated Scottish Distilleries Ltd. Eventually Benromach was purchased in 1953 by DCL, who then rebuilt the distillery in the 1960s and again in 1970s – though this didn’t save Benromach from closing yet again in 1983 alongside many others, including Port Ellen.
Fortunately, hope was on the horizon for our beleaguered distillery because it had been a long-standing ambition of family owned independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail to manage a distillery of their own and this dream became a reality in 1993 when G&M purchased Benromach Distillery. At the time the distillery was virtually derelict, with all the fixtures and fittings having been ripped out and sold by the previous owners, but undaunted and drawing upon generations of expertise in the whisky industry, Benromach was carefully and painstakingly re-equipped to recommence operation before it was officially reopened by HRH Prince Charles in 1998. Along with the distillery, G&M also purchased the remaining casks of old Benromach, mostly from Diageo (which had grown from DCL) and this allowed G&M to recreate the pre-60s style of whisky that Benromach is now well known for.
With the turbulence endured, and now under the direction of an experienced and caring family, the future looks bright.
About Benromach single malt whisky:
Today, this truly unique distillery is run as if in a time warp, where a team of three carefully craft a pre-60s style of Scotch whisky with the minimal use of modern tools. The distillery’s small scale means that everything can be done by hand, and they joke that the only computer in the distillery is one used for emails, so much so that there are no temperature or pressure gauges on the stills. Everything is down to the stillman’s skills. The old-time processes mean slower fermentations using a combination of brewer’s and distiller’s yeast for bigger, maltier flavours, slower distillations to capture the sweetest part of the run, and a focus on local ingredients. Benromach only uses barley grown in their home county of Morayshire and spring water from the nearby Romach Hills. Only first fill casks are used for maturation and all the sherry casks have spent at least three years in a Spanish bodega before being shipped to the UK for bottling and consumption, meaning that the sherry was actually used as drinking sherry (therefore of a higher quality) and not simply dumped after seasoning the cask for whisky maturation.
Other than it’s few heavily peated varieties, the bulk of Benromach whiskies are slightly peated to 12ppm and the malting is done locally by Crisp Maltings. This is key to Benromach’s pre-1960s style because all Scotch whisky was at least very lightly peat-smoked in that era as peat was a staple fuel. This changed in recent times as peat and even coal to a large extent have been replaced by electricity and gas, paving the way for the non-peated whiskies now available on the market.
If you have a few minutes you can click here to watch a most touching film about the distillery and the passion of those behind it. Best enjoyed with a dram in hand!
The Benromach Organic 2010:
Launched in 2006, Benromach Organic was the first certified organic single malt whisky. Making organic whisky isn’t easy because it requires compliance with the UK Soil Association’s rigorous standards but, fortunately for us, the team at Benromach were up to the task and we’re all the better for it today! Firstly the team had to source biological barley grown without the use of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial chemicals. Secondly every element that touched the spirit had to be certified organic too — from the raw materials, right down to the style of cask. This requirement ruled out the use of ex-Sherry or ex-Bourbon casks, so Benromach sourced organic American Oak from environmentally managed Missouri forests and in so doing also became the first single malt to successfully mature in virgin oak casks, so much so that Jim Murray, everyone’s favourite whisky nut, gave it two thumbs up with 91/100.
Age on release:
Matured for 5 years in organic American Oak casks from environmentally managed Missouri forests.
Benromach quick facts
Place of origin: Invererne Road, Forres, Moray IV36 3EB, Scotland, United Kingdom
Water source: Chapelton Springs in the Romach Hills
Number of stills: 1 wash and 1 spirit
Capacity: 500,000 litres of alcohol per annum
Colour: Golden brown
Nose: Delightfully sweet and malty at the front, followed by fresh vanilla, English toffee and beautiful ripe banana… and huge wafts of fresh oak
Palate: Light oak at the front followed by mouthwatering malt with sweet tropical fruit flavours, ripe bananas and chilli spice balanced with creaminess and a dark chocolate edge
Finish: A smooth, long finish with loads of sweet toffee and vanilla
Delightful when paired with a medley of roasted winter root vegetables. For a more adventurous match, pair with a slice of nectarine, wrapped in prosciutto – the slight smokiness of the meat, combines with the sweetness of the fresh nectarine to pull it all together. For a dessert, pour a half-nip over a high quality, vanilla bean ice cream.