Benromach 21-Year-Old vs Contrasts: Peat Smoke

In today’s write-up, I’m covering some drams from Benromach. The five whiskies have arrived at my doorstep courtesy of The Spirits Embassy for an online tasting night, live via Zoom [and recorded for offline viewing later]. If there is anything positive to be extracted from this ongoing pandemic, it’s that the businesses across a variety of industries have all adjusted to our current predicament. The virtual tours and streamed tastings are just one example of these derivative events. And they continue to “improve” with every broadcast. So we can take a moment and recognize this as a natural evolution in the business of whiskies. Perhaps a few years later, it will become an expertly produced online platform [hmm.] Until then, let us see what we discover in these drams. But first, we need music! Now playing: PinkcourtesyphoneLeaving Everything To Be Desired.

Currently owned by Gordon & MacPhail, this Speyside distillery is situated just outside of Forres, extracting its water from the Chapelton Springs. It was mothballed for ten years since 1983, until the new owner takeover, and reopened again in 1998. So although its history can be traced back to 1898, the latest batches are relatively young, with the core range extending to a 21-year-old single malt. There are, of course, younger expressions, such as the 10-year-old and the staple 15-year-old, plus a rare 40-year-old or the Heritage edition bottled back in 1973 (this one you can grab for about £1500 if your wallet’s healthy). There are also some experiments and “contrasts” – two of which I’m sampling today. The non-age statement Contrasts: Organic is surprisingly enticing. Ignoring the technicalities for producing “the world’s first certified organic single malt since 2006” this is a caramelly, candied, and fruity dram which I thoroughly enjoyed. That is, I must admit until I tried the above-mentioned 21-year-old. This whisky has been matured in a duo of first-fill ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, and it’s even sweeter, more viscous, and obviously heavy on the sherry character than its younger brothers. It’s a delight to sip on, even at 43% ABV [and chill filtration], and I’m sure that it’s worth its £125 tag (and yes, I purchased a bottle). I wonder how it would compare next to the Balvenie Portwood 21, although I suspect the different barrel ageing would impart the most flavour here.

I move on to the only cask strength in the current range whiskies. Although still chill-filtered, this Vintage 2010 – Batch 1 is bottled at a healthy 58.5% directly from the barrel. Originating from the first-fill ex-sherry hogshead casks, this dram is uncoloured and very forthright. I add here some water and let this scotch breathe, and then all stewed fruit, marmalade, and a bit of orange zest come through on the palate. There is less caramel and toffee here, less syrupy thickness, and as a result overall sweetness. But it is still a buttery and a delightful dram. The age does not appear on the label, but it was bottled in 2021, so this first batch is about eleven years old. I also spot 2009 vintage [Batch 4] which I am interested in trying. But it is the Contrasts: Peat Smoke where this journey ends for me. Matured exclusively in sherry casks with peated barley at 55ppm this whisky perfectly balances sweetness and smoke. I’m very much liking the marriage of these elements, as the spiciness, cinnamon, and Morello cherry all dance a song. It’s a bit higher in ABV than the core range, bottled at 46%, and I highly recommend it to fans of these flavours at only £50, if you can find it. Do note: there’s also another edition: Contrasts: Peat Smoke, but this one was aged in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels [as opposed to ex-sherry]. It’s most likely worthy a taste.

So there you have it, folks, a quick tour of Benromach. It’s tough to pick out a favourite malt. Being partial to the peat, I naturally lean towards this smoky expression. I wonder how it would stand out against a peated GlenDronach. And being more respectful of the cask-strength single barrel undiluted bottlings, I like the Vintage 2010. I like it very much. But I think I was genuinely impressed with the oldest and well-rested whisky. So with that said, I think I’ll proclaim that the 21-Year-Old wins this round.

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