Traditionally, Scotland was divided into four producing regions: The Highlands; The Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown. Both the number and the proliferation of distilleries along the River Spey led to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) recognising Speyside as its own distinctive region. Thus, legally, there are currently five recognised regions. Whilst some consider the Islands (Arran, Jura, Mull, Orkney, Skye and Raasay) as a separate sub-region, the SWA doesn’t – so these are all bundled into the Highland regional category. Provenance and particularly terrior have become increasingly important to both production and marketing, but with an ever diversifying industry do these categorisations hold the importance that they once did?
Whilst they say that ‘age is but a number’, many distilleries are loathe to tell us exactly how young some of their bottlings are. Fancy names and fancy packaging frequently mask a lack of longer-term quality stock or just demonstrate the needs of some distilleries to make a quicker return on their investment. In this time of all to frequent NAS bottlings, there are several distilleries now offering age transparency on their entry-level and youngest whiskies. Benromach 5 year old is a perfect example of how some are bucking the wider trend.
I visited Benromach last year with a motley crew from Dramboree. The original distillery tour focussed around Rothes had proved tricky to arrange, so some last minute jiggery-pokery by the organisers has us bused over to Forres, just west of Elgin for an exciting alternative that I’d not had the pleasure of visiting before. The Gordon & MacPhail owned distillery puts on a good show (let alone dealing with a bus load of 40 whisky enthusiasts who’d had a peaty breakfast courtesy of Dave Worthington from Boutique-y) with their tastings and offer a truly thought-provoking deconstruction of their excellent 10 year old malt.
Whilst writing about whisky requires a broad appreciation for the myriad shapes that it’s possible to craft the spirit into – like the rest of you I have my partialities. Styles of whisky and my preferences for them wax and wane – appeal and thirst varying according to my mood, the weather, and even the company I’m presently with (+++currently expunged from memory+++). Nevertheless old habits die hard – and throughout my whisky exploration I’ve always tended towards the heavier styles of spirit – whiskies which in more common parlance you might describe as ‘dirty’.
First released in 2009 Benromach 10 year old is a marriage of 1st fill ex-bourbon casks (80%) and first fill ex-sherry casks (20%). The two aged independently for 9 years and then combined for a further year of maturation in ex-sherry once again. Bottled at 43%, this whisky has won numerous awards across a variety of global whisky competitions.
2010 vintage Benromach bottled after 10 years exclusively for The Whisky Exchange. 211 bottles resulting from a 1st fill bourbon barrel and clocking in at 58.4%. You can still pick these up on the TWE website for £79.95.
Launched in 2015 Benromach 15 year old has been matured in a higher proportion of ex-sherry casks than its younger 10 year old sibling – but, like all whisky produced at Benromach since Gordon & MacPhail took the reins in 1993, it’s produced using only first fill barrels. Similarly to Highlander Old Pulteney, the neck of the bottle has been shaped like the distillery stills.
Benromach 35 year old was released in early 2016 from spirit distilled in the early 1980’s – long before current owners Gordon & MacPhail bought the distillery in 1993. Joining three other vintages (1974, 1975 & 1977) in the distillery’s ‘Heritage’ collection, the 35 year old has been solely matured in first fill sherry casks and bottled at 43% ABV.
The market for historic whisky can be a strange one. Whilst spirit from lost distilleries will, by and large, always attract a certain cachet (and an associated chunky premium), interest levels in the bulk of 1960s and 1970s distillate seems to vary immensely – sometimes month to month. I’ve noticed that the appetites of enthusiasts has steadily been changing over the last few years – whereas not that long ago, older spirit would be snaffled up from a tasting table, nowadays, desires seem much more focussed on modern limited editions and single casks.