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Monday, December 29, 2014

Single Malt Report: Benromach 10 year old (maroon label)

I bought a bottle of Benromach 10 year old (for $41!) three weeks ago and opened it promptly.  It's been a chameleon malt, taking on different characteristics with every pour.  It can't be accused of being boring, so I'd say it has been a successful purchase no matter how I finally rate it.

I've been a bit slow to explore Benromach.  The distillery's ownership (indie grandpa Gordon & MacPhail) seems to have been inspired by the Mark Reynier-era of Bruchladdich, cranking out nearly 100 "expressions" over the last decade, an approach that didn't excite me much.  But within the past year or so they seem to be focusing their range.  There's a 10 year old (and a higher proof companion), an organic, a heavy peater, a couple wine finishes, the Golden Promise barley "Origins" malt, the Traditional youngin, and some old stuff.  There seems to be a minimum of marketing push behind their products, which is refreshing (to me), but also results in them being forgotten or ignored when perhaps they shouldn't be.

But now that the new release of their 10 year old has received raves from some of the top European whisky bloggers, I doubt that whisky geeks will be passing over Benromach now.  In July, Ruben from whiskynotes said it is "One of the best widely available, standard whiskies around".  In October, the whisky earned a good review from Serge Valentin, inspiring him to call the distillery "the Springbank of the East".  And then (SPOILER ALERT), just last week, Ralfy declared the 10 year old to be his pick for the malt of the year.

Please note, my bottle has the old packaging......though in Serge's review he did say "the juices aren't meant to have changed" with the new packaging.  So, will I like this as much as Ralfy does?  I'll say this much, unlike the energetic Scot in the Manx bothy, I will not be offering investment advice in this review or any other.

OwnershipGordon & MacPhail
Age: minimum 10 years
Region: Speyside (Findhorn)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chillfiltered? Probably
Caramel Colored? Probably

Above, I mentioned that this was a chameleon malt.  Here were my thoughts from my first three glasses (spread out over two weeks):
First pour: Mild, lightly peated, easy on the oak
Second pour: Lots of sherry powering above the peat
Third pour: All barnyard! Cows, horses, sheep, and damp dirty hay.

Let's see how it goes with my review pour(s)...

The color is medium gold.  The nose has a substantial level of peat for a whisky that doesn't publicize its peatiness.  It's a farmy peat which merges well, rather than competing with, a rich sherry note.  There's also a strong note of vanilla, mesquite honey, and burlap.  That's followed by Good & Plenty, then Hot Tamales candies.  Gradually a band-aid note comes through, followed by a cocoa butter & orange oil combo.  The palate begins with a chocolate and cigar tobacco sherry note.  Small notes of seawater, limes, and wasabi linger beneath a layer of manure-y peat.  It still has a bit of an ethyl bite to it as well.  The finish grows sweeter and saltier.  Lots of sherry and dried cherries.  The peated element recedes into cigar smoke.

This is almost great stuff.  I'll start with the negatives and end with the positives, then probably go negative again, knowing me.

The palate is thin and much milder than the zippy nose.  It just dissolves when water is added.  This could be due to the 43%abv and filtration or the whisky itself is fragile at this point in its life.  The peat and sherry begin to take on a nice Uigeadail-like note but then it quickly fades away.  Similarly, the finish is briefer than I expected, which is a shame because there's the start of something good in there.  Because the whisky doesn't seem to be engineered to fit an easy drinking style, I want to love it.  But instead, I just like it.

That being said, I like it.  It's comparable in quality to much more famous and wider-selling 10 year old single malts, if not better.  For instance: it takes Macallan 10 year old Fine Oak, then improves it with great farmy peat (think Ledaig) and a better sherry balance.  I like its sherry notes better than those of Springbank 10 and it has a peep of Laphroaig 10's band-aids.

It's a good sub-$50 whisky......if you can find it for that price, which you probably won't in a year.  Above $50, it isn't something I'd rush out to buy again.  But as Laphroaig 10 crosses the $50 marker and Springbank 10 crosses the $60 pricepoint, it's good to know that there are still some entertaining and challenging single malts, like Ledaig and Benromach, at similar or lower prices.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $48-$60
Rating - 86