If all has gone well, I am in Edinburgh as you are reading this and probably jet-lagged out of my whisky-loving mind. Please be assured that this review was not written in that state. I It was written more than a week ago in a slightly more lucid state in Minnesota.
I’m going to be up in the Speyside for the first time very soon and accordingly will be posting a number of reviews of Speyside whiskies this month. First up is a two-fer: head-to-head reviews of two releases from Gordon & MacPhail’s distillery, Benromach. I hope to be able to stop at the distillery briefly when we visit Elgin and environs at the end of the week. I’ll be interested to see if they have any distillery exclusives. Given how much I liked the 10 yo 100 proof, odds are good I’d buy anything similar if available for a reasonable price. The whiskies I’m reviewing here are not, however, anything similar. They were distilled in 2005 and 2006 and finished in red wine casks: Hermitage and Chateau Cissac casks, respectively; both were released in 2014. I’m really not sure why anyone ever wants to finish whisky in red wine casks—I’m yet to taste one that I particularly like, but hey, hope springs eternal. Let’s see what these are like.
Benromach 2005 (45%; Hermitage cask finish; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Mild smoke and peat (not phenolic) with a bit of orange peel. Certainly not overpowered by the wine here. The orange peel mixes with apricot jam with time and it picks up some salt as well. Sweeter with water, with more red fruit than citrus.
Palate: A little blank at first and then there’s a sort of generic winey note along with some of the smoke and a bit of tannic bite. A bit of separation as I swallow—the wine notes float to the top. The wine expands with time; let’s see what water does. No improvement with water.
Finish: Medium-long. The wine notes pass and then there’s dry smoke, oak and white pepper.
Comments: I liked the nose but the palate did not impress—far too much wine, especially with time and water.
Rating: 78 points.
Nose: Very similar to the Hermitage finish, perhaps a little brighter and a little woodier; not as much smoke. The orange expands rapidly. With water there’s some vanilla and berries to go with the orange.
Palate: Peppery, mineral smoke and a bit of char. Much better balance here than in the Hermitage cask and no separation of the wine from the whisky. Gets more bitter (oaky) as it sits. Not much change here with water.
Finish: Medium. The smoke and pepper fade out slowly.
Comments: Far less wine influence here, which is good. As with the Hermitage finish, the nose is the best part. But while the palate of this one is superior, it’s nothing so very good either.
Rating: 80 points.
I’m not sure if Benromach are continuing these wine cask finish experiments, but the quality of their current 10 yo whisky suggests they should leave it well enough alone.