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.
If you’ve explored some independent bottlers, you’ll know that younger age-statement whiskies are a relatively common sight. But, this is a lot less true with new official bottlings. High quality younger whisky is all about wood management – a cask suitable for a long full term maturation is probably not going to suitable for something youthful and sprightly. Too active a cask and the imparted flavours will be overpowering (with little time available for an extended mellowing process). Similarly, worn out and spent casks are not going to mature the spirit enough in a short space of time and will leave it raw and unwelcoming. Careful and proactive cask management is therefore vital.
Benromach 5 year old was released in 2015 as a replacement for Benromach Traditional. Similar to the much-loved 10 year old, it is a marriage of 80% ex-bourbon casks with 20% ex-sherry casks. It's the distillery's youngest bottling and it's pretty refreshing to see it wearing it's 5 year old badge proudly.
Nose: Let’s get the issue of youth out of the way immediately – yes, this is young – we know that, and Benromach are not trying to hide this fact (applause). There are indeed some musty copper notes and there’s certainly a sense of ‘new make’ around the edges. But, what’s impressive is how everything else fits together. Strong rich malts and warm cereals are livened by sharp juicy limes which presents us with something light but still highly characterful. There are some gentle earthy and vegetal notes here, best described as similar to wet hay. Sweetness comes from both honey and toffee and whilst subtle, smoky vapours do persist throughout the background.
Taste: Mouthfeel is light, but not insubstantial – impressive for 40% ABV in fact with some real oiliness and initial impact. Sweetness comes first, but moves aside for grassy and oak-driven flavours. Peppery spice, slightly nutty and with a well-measured prescription of vanilla. Earthiness persists (forest mushrooms) and is joined by some a degree of steeliness – sharp flint. Smoke is just as present on the palate as the nose, but again is wrapping around the edges rather than through the heart of the whisky itself.
Finish: Short to medium in length favouring pepper with some oak bitterness and drying astringency coming through.
Benromach 5 year old eschews the NAS trend by clearly announcing its young age. That alone is commendable. That fact that the whisky is very well-made, refreshing and characterful adds another tick on the sheet. Factor in the price of a shy over £25 and you’ve got a tremendous quality vs. price ratio. If you’re having a tight month but still want to enjoy some high quality whisky then look no further.