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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Birthday Booze: Benromach 1978-1997 Scott's Selection (and the bottle's story)

Wandering the streets of Manhattan's ***er **st Side on a muggy, sporadically rainy August 2013 afternoon, I came upon a modest wee liquor store.  I had not considered dusty hunting while in the big city because I'd figured all the NY obsessives had cleaned out the shops years before.  I went into this little store to check on how gory their prices were and to sniff disapprovingly on my way out.  There were rows of wine bottles on one wall and stacks of the usual big seller liquors on another.  And then, in the corner...... I picture myself doing a cartoony triple take....... there were a half dozen different 1970s Scott's Selection bottles.  Just sitting there in plain site.  And at what may have been their original prices.  Amongst these was a Benrinnes 1979 ($99.99), Balmenach 1979 ($79.99), Benromach 1978 ($89.99), and Glenlivet 1971 ($149.99).  Had this been 2016, I would have bought the Glenlivet and floated right out of there knowing it's a $400-$600 bottle and my lone opportunity to ever buy an early '70s Glenlivet.  But it was 2013 and I was thriftier (and saner) then.  I'd rarely bought a bottle over $100 at that point and was unsure how much I could afford at that moment.  I liked Benromach enough and was curious to know what its DCL-era whisky tasted like.  Plus it was an opportunity to buy a 1978 whisky!  So I bought it, guilt-free.

(Side note: I went back to that shop sixteen months later and found, to my dismay, the Glenlivet 1971 gone. The owner even checked in the back to see if he had more. But I did wind up splitting a bottle of the Benrinnes 1979 with Josh Feldman.)

When I finished my previous 1978 spirit (a good Calvados) last year, I pondered which '78 I'd open next.  There really aren't many of them left in the cabinet thanks to the bloating prices of aged spirits.  I went with the Benromach because what the hell.  And as a change of pace, I opened it long before my birthday at an event marking my Southern California departure.  Did the cork shatter upon opening?  Not quite.  The plastic top simply separated from the cork with the least amount of pressure applied to it.  Luckily I performed successful surgery on the spot, extracting the cork without any crumbs falling into the whisky.

I wound up drinking less than a quarter of this whisky after sharing it around for a few months, thus there won't be any follow up posts on it or comparisons between bottle fill levels.  For the completists out there, I set aside my 2oz sample one week after opening it, after the event, when the level was just below the middle.  Thank you for sticking around for this fascinating story.  Here's the review.

Distillery: Benromach
Ownership then: DCL (proto-Diageo)
Ownership now: Gordon & MacPhail
Bottler: Scott's Selection (R.I.P.)

Age: 19-ish years (1984-2004)
Maturation: "in Oakwood casks" (gee, thanks)
Region: Speyside, on the western edge
Alcohol by Volume: 49.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Its color is light yellow gold.  Its nose starts with lemons and limes, a hint of peach, and a soft maltiness.  Caramel, nougat, and milk chocolate appear after 20 minutes or so.  Then orange peel and Ceylon cinnamon.  There's more heat in the palate than in the nose, but it doesn't overwhelm. There's a nice mild sweetness up front, along with a very oily mouthfeel. Melon, honey, vanilla bean, and a hint of charcoal show up first. Then marzipan, cookie dough, and marshmallow. The finish returns to the fruitiness of the nose: lemons, apples, plums, tart citrus. Then cherry cough syrup and bitter chocolate. Maybe some bourbony vanilla.

Since the ABV is already sub-50, I'll add just a little bit of water:

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The nose becomes very light.  Eucalyptus, watermelon rind, and black licorice.  Lemon, peach, and pear. Milky chocolate like Nestle or pre-Hershey Cadbury.  Meanwhile it's a dark chocolate in the palate, its lovely bitterness balancing with the dark cherries and almond candies underneath.  It feels darker with the water added, actually.  Some tobacco and dark salted caramel syrup in there too.  The finish gets sweeter and fruitier again.  Hints of melon, lemon, and metal (copper). Definitely some orange candy.

Though this whisky needs some time to air out before it comes to life, I would happily take this over Monday's 37yo Ladyburn.  There is a delicacy to the Benromach, much like a longer-aged whisky, which may or may not have to do with its modest ABV.  But its softness does not detract from the quality of the whole, nor does the wood overwhelm at any point.  It's good with or without water, though I imagine one should be cautious when testing its buoyancy.

One thing I noticed immediately in this Benromach was its total lack of peat.  While I don't know if that's representative of all '70s DCL Benromach, it does separate it from the current moderately peated G&M-produced version.  Rather than it feeling like a rumbling sturdy Highland malt, this '78 whisky registers more like a cuddly Speyside.  Overall it never wows or stuns.  Instead it's a very good reliable style bound to appeal to many single malt fans, if a bottle can still be found.

Availability - ???
Pricing - $??-$???
Rating - 88

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