Tag Archives: gordon & macphail

Benromach 50 Review

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 44.6%. Age: 50 years. Price: $10,000.

Eagle-eyed Axis readers may notice that one of our trio has been missing for some time. As in the better part of a year. That’s me, Baldo.

Why? Life…family…work…the usual…but also, to be honest, I think I’d burnt out on whisky a bit. After a good four years of near-daily postings, reviews, photo sessions, tastings, interviews, club events, etc., I realized I’d hit something of a wall.

I went on a long wander through a forest of German beer. Then Belgian. Then Italian wines. Then orange wines. Still wandering, in many ways.

But something serendipitous happened last week when Thane alerted me to an offer from Benromach to try an unspecified new bottling.

An old fondness for the old-fashioned Speyside distillery, one of my favorites, stirred in me. I’d be happy to try, I said.

As fate would have it, the new bottling turned out to be a 50-year-old. I’d actually had the opportunity to try the stunning Benromach 35 a while back, and was quite sure it was the oldest Benromach I’d ever have.

Not so, not so. Quite an occasion for a comeback, I’d say.

The 50, unsurprisingly, is quite a limited item. 125 decanters available worldwide, at a jaw-dropping $10,000 apiece. Non chill-filtered (phew).

I gave this one lots of time in the glass–there’s a rule of thumb out there that a single malt should be given roughly 10 minutes to breathe for every decade of age, in order for all its nuances to emerge.

Said nuances, it will come as little surprise to hear, were quite special.

The nose had that particular unmistakable density–even at 44.6% ABV–that’s characteristic of well aged single malts. It’s sweet. Strong sherry influence after half a century in an ex-sherry hogshead. Dark. Raspberry jam. Turkish delight. Stewed prunes. Intensely rich, in that nuanced way that only comes from a good long time in good oak–a world away from the punch in the nose you get from the young, brash sherry bombs of today.

Palate sings like a great baritone. Dark but juicy. Drier than the nose. Comes alive with a drop of water. Peat, which has always been mild at Benromach, is barely a whisper, registering as texture rather than smoke. Blackberry compote. The oak strong but admirably contained, without a hint of bitterness. Faint hint of peanut brittle.

Finish is medium-long, with that lovely darkness again. Molasses. Baking cocoa. Dark sweets. Brown butter. Morello cherry. A touch more sweetness than on the palate.

What can one say in sum about such a bottling? It’s a stunner, but one only a few dozen people will ever get the chance to try.

Those that do will be awfully glad they did.

It’s good to be back, friends. Cheers! – BO

Benromach graciously shared a sample with us for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Benromach 35 Review

Distiller: Benromach. Region: Speyside. ABV: 43%. Age: 35 years. Price: $500-700.

There’s a bit of a dilemma when you’ve got the chance to sample something truly special. On one hand, you’re itching to pour the day it arrives. On the other, you’re keep telling yourself you need to wait for the Perfect Moment™.

After a few weeks of staring longingly at the sample of Benromach 35 on the counter, I decided my perfect moment was a perfectly ordinary Wednesday. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and all.

Benromach has been doing wonderful things at its small, deliberately old-fashioned, far northern Speyside distillery since Gordon & MacPhail purchased and revitalized it in the 1990s. Their oldest standard release is a (very good) 15-year-old. This 35-year-old release, like a few 1970s vintage releases, comes from the old stocks that predate the revival.

The 35 is an all-first-fill-sherry blast from the past. Bewitching nose. Beautiful bourbon-soaked stone fruits–stewed cherries and prunes. Mature oak, chocolatey mahogany. Sweet old library must. Raspberry syrup. Wet cedar.

Palate has a subtle sourness behind the rich stewed fruits. Just the right bite. Mulled wine with heavy cinnamon and clove. Burnt apple pie. Beguiling finish with lighter fruit notes: lychee and fresh coconut.

Lesson learned: you can wait for the perfect moment, or you can make one by pouring something this good.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Benromach graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Benromach 10 & Sassicaia Wood Finish Review

Benromach 10 – Distiller: Benromach. ABV: 43%. Age: 10 years.  Region: Speyside. Price: $50.

Benromach Sassicaia Wood Finish – Distiller: Benromach. ABV: 45%. Age: 9 years. Region: Speyside. Price: $60-70.

There’s a lot to love in the current Benromach lineup. The 15-year-old (review here) and the Imperial Proof were two of my favorite drams of 2015. The distillery, revitalized by Gordon & MacPhail during the 1990s as they sought to expand from independent bottling to distilling as well, emphasizes its smallness. It’s the lowest-production working distillery in Speyside, even after doubling capacity recently, and is operated entirely by three people. The brand is also focuses on its “pre-1960s Speyside” profile, by which they mean lightly peated. (That applies to all but the more robust Peat Smoke bottling.)

Benromach has also mixed things up with some limited wine cask finishes, the latest of which is a Sassicaia finish–a Bordeaux-style Tuscan red. To appreciate the particular qualities the finish brings, I tasted the Sassicaia Wood Finish alongside the standard Ben 10.

I can say without hesitation that the 10 is a first-rate daily drinker. The nose leads with sweet bourbon fruits, especially pear. There’s also cinnamon stick, raw ginger, and a little grapefruit. On the palate, the touch of peat adds great warmth, pointing up the flavors of baking spice and buttery malt biscuits. The body is relatively light. The peat extends the medium-dry finish very nicely.

The 9-year-old Sassicaia adds a few more proof points (bottled at 45% ABV) and has a gorgeous rosy-orange tint in the glass. The nose has more vanilla bean and custard than the 10, with a floral note too: violet? Lavender? The palate adds orange blossom to the 10’s profile, with the peat a bit lighter, and a drier oak on the finish.

A welcome variation on a great new standard, and a relative rarity with just 3,500 bottles made.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Benromach graciously shared samples with us for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Gordon & Macphail Port Ellen 15 Review

Distiller: Port Ellen. Bottler:Gordon & MacPhail. Age: 15 years. ABV: 40%. Region: Islay.

Islay’s Port Ellen distillery has a long and fabled history, from its founding in 1825 to a series of innovations under owner John Ramsay: the first use of the spirit safe, hosting R&D on the continuous still by Robert Stein and Aeneas Coffey, and establishing the Scotch whisky trade with North America in 1848.

The distillery was shuttered in 1930, but was then rebuilt and reopened in 1967, starting a 16-year run of some truly glorious single malt production.

Floor maltings at Port Ellen, pre-1973. Diageo archives via The Cutting Spirit.

In 1983, the Port Ellen distillery shut its doors once again (though its automated maltings facility still operates). Since then, the remaining stock has been highly prized–and increases in rarity and price every year. The remaining stocks are owned by Diageo, and no one on the outside knows for sure how much is left.

Mrs. McDram’s father happened to have snapped up a few bottles back when they were still relatively accessible. He was gracious enough to share a taste of this one, a 1977 vintage, matured and released by independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail for their Connoisseur’s Choice label.

The nose brings iodine and sea spray. Palate is clean, no oil, with flavors of honey, oak, and the peat all seamlessly flowing into each other. The finish warms, but is a touch ragged.

All in all, a rare trip back in time, and a welcome one. – TM

Benromach 15 Review

Distiller: Benromach. ABV: 43%. Age: 15 years. Region: Speyside. Price: $100.

Benromach’s a great example of the benefits of going small in a time of bigness. Bought and rescued from obsolescence by merchant bottler Gordon & MacPhail in the mid 1990s, the current Benromach distillery is run by just three people. Its stated mission is to restore the “pre-1960s Speyside style” — largely meaning having a very gently peated component to bring the more common honeyed and floral profile alive.

In the recently released (Fall 2015) Benromach 15-year-old, this works like magic. It was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, some heavily charred. It’s a dram that needs time and attention, but rewards them.

Both sherry and peat are up front on the nose, but not with the intensity of a Lagavulin or sherried Ardbeg. Instead, they gently blend into aromas of baked goods, say a fresh cinnamon bun with raisins. The body and palate are dry, dark, dense, and oily, and need a drop of water (literally a drop) and a bit of time to unfold. When they do, there are dried cherries, figs, and earthy, chocolatey peat. The finish is mild but long, with peppery spice and a very soft sour oak note at the very end.

A dense, delicious dram I’ll happily return to any time. Cheers, friends! – BO