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.
But then, completely contrary to this there are talisman brands – where regardless of age, provenance, quality or time period, desirability is seemingly endless. I’ve often wondered what determines the cachet of such whisky - why for instance is an Ardbeg from its period of closure seen as inherently much more valuable than a Benromach from the same time period? Both were shuttered over broadly similar timeframe – indeed, whilst production ceased entirely at Benromach from 1983 until 1997, Ardbeg was still producing whisky on a limited basis from 1989 to 1996.
Desirability is a strange and oft-times hard to replicate concept. In the case of whisky, cultish devotion doesn’t come about overnight. But its origins have changed. Whereas once upon a time, prestige and allure were judged by actually sampling a liquid, nowadays, this longing is not driven by taste, but by a craving for status – of owning (and probably not opening) a bottle which is commonly agreed to have value. As such, the reputation of historic whisky can be as fickle as the wind. It seems almost counterintuitive that whisky’s present is judged on the basis of a whisky past that modern enthusiasts by and large have not sampled. But, the situation is understandable, and when bottle prices rise exponentially, the barriers to fans opening these historic expressions become nigh impenetrable. The end result is rather the Catch 22, where future success will not be judged by standing on the shoulders of giants, but rather by the perceived standing of particular distilleries based on rumours, fables, folklore….and of course marketing.
Today’s review focusses on a bottling which straddles Benromach’s period of closure. Distilled in 1978 a few years prior to the distillery shuttering its door, this Scott’s Selection was released whilst G&M were in the process of renovating the distillery.
Nose: Initially rather shy, but resting brings some real improvement. Then quite fruity – Saint Clement’s cocktail and touches of mango. There’s plenty of herbalness here – hay, dried autumn leaves, pine and wet soils. It is somewhat strangely intermixed with aluminium like steeliness – not quite copper, not quite granite – but metal nonetheless. Smoke is gentle and very forest-led – burnt leaves, charred tree bark and the ashy remains of a campsite. The addition of water is a bit of a doubled-edged sword – juicy stone fruits introduced – nice. But at the same time, dusty wallpaper and musty pond water – not so nice.
Taste: A really solid arrival that’s exceptionally oily and mouth coating. It delivers zesty grapefruit and tart lemon alongside both intense earthiness and mineral-led peat smoke. There’s plenty of soils and clays these sit pleasantly with more pronounced smokiness – still inland and foresty – charred pine cones, wood chips, and ashy limestone dust. In the mid-palate, an interesting combination of sweetness and bitterness played off against each other – sweetness from gooey honey, bitterness from intense and ever building pepperiness. Again, reduction doesn’t achieve the results one would hope for – juicy tinned fruits, but bitterness increased to acerbic levels and peat which is starting to verge into the plastic bag spectrum.
Finish: Quite long with plenty of lime, minerals and mossy earthiness.
This Scott’s Selection Benromach is a tasty spirit-forward whisky with plenty of pronounced fruitiness and idiosyncratic minerals – at least in its natural 52.1% form. It’s therefore a shame that water has such an ill effect on both balance and flavour profile. With this level of hydrophobia one might also be worried about exposure to bright light or feeding it after midnight.
But don't take our word for it..
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