Benromach Peat Smoke 2010-2018, Sherry Cask


Typical: no Benromach reviews for two years and then two come at once. On Monday I had a review of a lovely young Benromach from a first-fill bourbon cask that was a UK exclusive. Today I have a review of a young Benromach from sherry casks (full-term maturation or finish? I don’t know). The Benromach Peat Smoke has been around for some time but has previously been an ex-bourbon whisky—and released without an age or vintage statement, I’m pretty sure. I’m not sure if this one—distilled in 2010 and released in 2018— was a special one-off or whether it’s an ongoing limited edition release or, for that matter, if it’s now a regular part of their lineup. I could look it up I suppose, but it’s late here in Minnesota—if you know, please write in below. At any rate, I suppose we should be glad they didn’t name it “Profit Maximizer”, or maybe it would have been more honest if they had. We whisky enthusiasts are a silly lot and very little induces us to shell out the big bucks more than the combination of sherry and peat. Well, with Monday’s bourbon cask I noted that the smoke and the old-school Highland peat character was not covered up by sherry. How overbearing is the sherry going to be here? Let’s see.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2010-2018 (59.9%; sherry cask; from a bottle split)

Nose: Nutty sherry to start with a bit of salt mixed in; the peat is mostly covered up. As it sits the smoke begins to cut through the sherry and the whole is quite sharp; a little bit of Sichuan peppercorn in there too. Gets more savoury and salty as it sits and there’s some pencil lead and some earth too. I’m not really picking up any of the dried citrus or apricot that often shows up in sherried whiskies. With more time it softens and there’s some butterscotch and some toffee mixed in with the salted nuts and prickly smoke. With several drops of water added, the fruit begins to emerge: dried tangerine peel first and then expanding citronella; some ink and some charred pork in there too. After a few more minutes there’s the apricot.

Palate: Comes in hot! There’s not much happening here I’m afraid past the heat and the sharp/salty mix from the nose. Let’s see if air open this up at all before I add the necessary water. Well, it gets a little less hot as it sits but I can’t say that it gets very much more interesting. Time to add some water. Ah yes, now we’re talking: the dried tangerine peel pops here too now along with the toffee and some dried mango with a hint of black salt (sorry, it’s an Indian thing). The earth and the pencil lead emerge here too (very Springbank’ish in a way).

Finish: Long. A bit of sherry separation at the top (the taste of blood in my mouth) but then it seems to come back together. Nuttier and beanier here; salty again at the end. With time there’s some burnt wheat toast. Darker and richer with water with dark chocolate that turns to coffee grounds as it goes.

Comments: I liked the nose a lot from the get-go but the palate was disappointing neat. I had a rating in the low-mid 80s pencilled in till I added water. That made the palate and finish bloom, improved the nose even further and turned this into a whisky I wish I had a couple of bottles of. And to think some people insist on not adding water to high strength whiskies!

Rating: 88 points.

5 thoughts on “Benromach Peat Smoke 2010-2018, Sherry Cask

  1. Yes, thanks from me too for the swift reviews on the Benromachs! They both sound delightful, though my ears did prick up at the sherry separation in the finish with this one. Do you mind explaining what exactly you mean when you use that term? Trying to work out whether it overlaps with my experience.

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    • Sorry! I’d thought I’d responded to this–must have closed the window before hitting “post comment”! Anyway, when I refer to “sherry separation” I mean quite literally that the wine notes seem to float above the whisky, like an emulsion that’s come apart or something. I get it most often from sherry “finished” whiskies but also sometimes from younger sherry cask-matured whiskies where perhaps the sherry in the wood (whether originally there or pressure blasted into it) hasn’t had enough time to meld with the malt. Sometimes the sherry notes taste like cooking sherry, sometimes like blood in the mouth.

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      • Thanks for the explanation MAO! Yes, that’s what I thought, exactly what the phrase implies I suppose :)

        I just wanted to double-check because you seem to be more tolerant of it than I would be – all the (full-size) bottles I’ve experienced it in gradually worsened until they were half cardboard-y, half sickly sweet, and so I see it as an indicator of bad things to come and consider it a whisky killer. If I scored whiskies I would probably immediately drop a whisky below 80 if I felt the sherry was separating. Perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic?

        I always assume it to be the result of insufficient maturation in (insufficiently?) sherry-conditioned casks – where I have that idea from I couldn’t quite say, but it seems to align with your thoughts. It makes me think that really I am drinking a sherry-whisky blend which hasn’t properly married and in which the sherry is going stale.

        In my (moderately cynical) imagination it is the result of (equally cynical) distillery executives pressure blasting casks with cheap sherry and leaving them sopping wet in order to dope their young whisky and profit from the semi-mythical status of sherry casks.

        The whole thing (albeit largely the result of my imagination) feels consistent with the contempt with which some elements of the industry appear to treat their customers and the stupid and short-sighted duplicitousness that can lead to – as seen in the single-cask debate elsewhere on the blog, or in the wide-spread conflation of sherry casks with European or Spanish oak (sherry is aged in American oak! – although of course it was almost never bodega casks which were used to age whisky, but rather transport casks… and these days it is almost all sherry-conditioned wood produced for the whisky industry, and with little connection at all to decent drinking sherry – all of which is conveniently glossed over by marketing blurbs and distillery tour guides). Another thorny topic is the recent fashion of using ex-Islay casks – how is the resulting whisky still a single and not a blended malt?!

        I guess that frustration with being taken for a fool by whisky producers is the reason why I have such a low tolerance for sherry separation – it makes me feel like I’ve been duped.

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