Tuesday 18 June 2013

The Oak Barrel - Benromach Tasting with Keeper of the Quaich Derek Hancock

A month or two on from my last whisky tasting visit to the Oak Barrel, the gents were kind enough to invite me down for their next masterclass. I was actually given a choice, and as much as I really wanted to attend the Glenfarclas masterclass (partly, but not solely because it included a #101drams whisky - Glenfarclas 40yo), sadly I couldn't make it. I was able to make the Benromach the next night, and so that's just what I did.

To be honest, I didn't know a whole lot about Benromach. I'd seen it on the shelves but that's about it. I had no idea, for example, that it was actually owned by Gordon & Macphail (independent bottling extraordinaires - their only single malt) nor that they did some pretty out-there experiments.

The tasting was led by Derek Hanckock,  Gordon & Macphail's Associate Director of Export, and also a "Keeper of the Quaich"(a society of those with "outstanding commitment to Scotch whisky"). Derek jumped into the history of whisky (dating back to the 1400s, but told unlike any other tasting I've attended), right through to the history of Benromach (the opening of which HRH Prince Charles apparently drove to, but not home from...). Early on it was pretty clear this wasn't a beginner's tasting - which seemed to suit the crowd just fine.

Derek introduced the line-up, which included:

See below for my rough/brief tasting notes.

Benromach Traditional 40%
Approximately 6yo, designed in the style of whiskies from the 50's-70's. 80% bourbon barrel aged. I got a very light hint of peat smoke on the nose, and some pears. The peat was more evident on the palate, with vanilla and cinnamon hitting at the back of the throat. A short, peaty, easy finish rounded it out. Overall - a nice aperitif whisky. 89/100.

Benromach Organic 43%
Interest whisky this one. Derek talked us through the process to Benromach underwent to produce a certified organic whisky (and he should know - he basically led the process), and explained how all was going along OK until the certifying body asked how they age the whisky - apparently used bourbon barrels are a no-no (due to their likely in-organic origins). The solution? Virgin whisky barrels! Yep, Benromach Oragnic is aged in brand new casks (for approximately 8 years), which explained it's significantly darker colour than the 10yo.

While I thought this one had a very cool story (and I'd never tasted a Scotch whisky aged in brand new barrels before), I wasn't hugely keen on it. I got a slightly grainy, vanilla nose, with an oily mouthfeel (and breakfast cereal), followed by a short finish. Certainly not bad, but not my favourite Benromach 87/100.

Benromach Sassicaia 45%
Great background story to this one. Sassicaia is an Italian "Super Tuscan" red wine, and apparently Italy loves Benromach whisky. So when the distillery approached their friends in Italy, they were only too happy to provide their used casks, which were used to finish 4yo Benromach for an additional 29 months. This one had a sweet, rich and berried nose, a peppery, creamy palate and a medium, peppery finish with the berry notes staying right through to the end. 90/100.

Benromach 10yo 43%
A sherried but subdued nose - very rich. An oily mouthfeel with residual sherry notes on the palate, and a long, grain-like finish that dries the mouth. Pleasant. 90/100.

Benromach Peat Smoke 46%
My favourite of the night. At 53ppm (higher than Ardbeg), we were expecting this to be hugely peated. On first nosing though - wait...is this the right whisky? Where's the peat? Derek explained the differences between Islay peat and in-land peat, like Speyside's, and it all made sense. Speyside distilleries aren't surrounded by the ocean like Islay distilleries, so after thousands of years, the peat takes on different characteristics. Fascinating!

The palate showed a bit more peat - though nothing like the 53ppm suggests at first. Interestingly, a lot of sweetness too. Sweet & peat! It's like each is fighting to be at the forefront, coming in waves. The same goes for the finish too. Stunning whisky. 93/100.

Benromach Cask Strength 60.3%
10ppm and big ABV. A light, sweet, nose with a big green apple hit. Adding water brought out..bananas? Fruit-filled one this one! A creamy palate was followed up by a medium finish with mild peppery notes and a hint of peat smoke. Also very enjoyable. 93/100.

Atholl Brose Liqueur 35%
Last but not least, the liqueur. I haven't met a whisky liqueur I haven't enjoyed (Gleniddich, Chivas Lochan Ora etc..) and this was no exception. Christmas cake and ivy, with some pepper and honey on the nose. Cloves and some cinnamon on the palate, and a short, honied finish. 90/100.


My introduction to Benromach was certainly a well-informed and detailed one, and I loved every minute of it. It was nice to attend a tasting for a change where the majority of attendees were real "whisky nerds" too, and the presenter accommodated. Can't wait for the next one.

Check The Oak Barrel's events page for details of upcoming tastings (for both members and non-members), including their Sydney Whisky Fair 2013.

 - Martin.

TImeforWhisky.com attended this tasting as a guest of Oak Barrel (thanks)!


  1. Hi Martin,

    First time I have visited your website. Really informative and extensive. How do you find the time to keep this up.

    Just to let you know I will be linking to this page from our own UK whisky retail site as the content is fresh and concise.

    Cheers for now



  2. Hi Angus,

    Thanks for your visit and kind words! It can be tough finding the time...but it's a passion so I just make the time (usually at the expense of sleep, ha)!

    Many thanks for the link - checking out your site now, quite comprehensive!. Do you ship to Australia?

    - Martin.