Benromach in a nutshell:
founded: 1898 (production since 1900)
owner: Gordon & MacPhail
location: 57° 36’ 48” N 03° 37’ 13” W
capacity: 500,000 litres
washbacks: 4 larch
source of water: Chapelton Springs
One of the numerous Scottish distilleries founded during the period of high demand for whisky of the end of the 19th century, following the epidemic of phylloxera in the French vineyards. It was founded in 1898, but officially opened only in 1900. For the first half a century of its existence, Benromach was continually closed down and reopened, changing owners equally frequently in the process.
In 1953 the distillery was sold to Distillers Company Limited (later Diageo), as a part of which it experienced the longest period of uninterrupted activity. The new owner extensively renovated the plants in 1966, and decommissioned the maltings in 1968. It was exactly three decades after the takeover when the distillery was mothballed again. It was in 1983 and the still remained silent for ten years. For ten long years there was not a drop of spirit coming off the Benromach stills, but the plant itself was used as a kind of spare part supply for other whisky distilleries belonging to Diageo. So, when a potential buyer finally appeared on the horizon, there was hardly more than the distillery buildings to sell.
The transaction was concluded in 1993, and the buyer was none other than a renowned independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, a company based in Elgin, about a dozen miles away. It was the time when several independent bottlers realised that hard times were ahead of them. The trend for limited edition single cask whiskies with no filtering or caramel colouring that they had created themselves was being picked more and more often by the large companies to which the distilleries belonged. That spelt growing problems acquiring decent casks for the independents, casks that whisky connoisseurs have learnt to associate with at least some of them. The most logical solution seemed to acquire not casks, but a whole distillery, which would ensure access to the best casks, plus a better position when negotiating with whisky brokers. A similar move had been performed by Signatory, who purchased Edradour and Murray McDavid who bought Bruichladdich on the isle of Islay, not to mention Cadenhead’s who had long been most closely associated with Springbank and now also Glengyle. Gordon & MacPhail, the owners of the most renowned whisky shops in Elgin, as well as impressive stocks of whisky maturing in their own cellars, followed suit.
When Gordon & MacPhail had purchased Benromach, it was obvious that the task in hand was possibly not building a new distillery, but definitely furnishing it from scratch. Among the original pieces of equipment preserved at Benromach was a malt mill and a spirit receiver. All other equipment – from the mash tun through washbacks, all kinds of vessels, receivers and tubs, miles of piping to the stills themselves – had to be developed and installed anew. The process took five years, and the first drops of new make flowed from the stills in 1998. What is interesting, the new stills that had been installed, were the same shape as the original ones, but smaller in capacity. The size appeared not to matter as the spirit was similar to the one distilled here before. In 1999 a Visitor Centre was opened.
Because the distillery had been silent for a decade, the new owner faced a problem as far as the standard expression of the local whisky is concerned. The stocks that they owned were too old, and consequently too precious to be bottled as a standard core expression. All that was left was to wait. Benromach Traditional, a no age statement standard expression under the new owner was released only in 2004. All of it was composed from the spirit distilled under Gordon & MacPhail, the majority about five years old.
Trying to capitalise on the popularity of heavily peated malts from Islay, Benromach started experimenting with highly peated malt, as opposed to their standard level of 12 ppm. They were not the only ones to have done that, by the way, some other Speyside distilleries, like BenRiach, have been using peated malt, too. The first effect of those experiments was bottled in 2007 as Benromach Peat Smoke (67 ppm). Since that time, the whisky has been bottled in limited quantities. Eventually, in 2009 a fully-aged Benromach was ready to be launched. The release of Benromach 10yo soon became the distillery’s flagship, the core expression of the whisky made at Benromach.
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