One of the most pleasurable aspects of whisky for me is the way it can trigger a memory; an emotional response that puts me into a certain place and time. It can be a moment I have been in previously, or it can be a completely new vision; I haven’t been there, but I can picture it in my mind as clear as day.
It’s nearly always a smell rather than a taste which brings about this response. It’s fair to say that whisky isn’t the only aroma which can cause this, other smells in every day life do it too, but when you are sitting in a comfy chair nosing a whisky, it’s always a bit of a wow moment for me when it does that. The thought that just water, barley, yeast, oak casks and time can combine to conjure up smells and tastes that you would necessarily expect to find, and you usually don’t know how they have got there either. If you delve into the science there can be answers to which chemical compounds have created certain flavours, but its still fascinating to find the smell of your nan’s front room, the apple crumble your mum makes on a Sunday, or the paint you were coating the fence in at the weekend in a simple glass of whisky. I haven’t come across any other food or drink which does that.
There’s also the endlessly repeated, but nevertheless valid visions of beachside fires and barbecues from a peated Islay malts, or coastal vibes from a Campbeltown whisky or a Talisker. Although some of it has to do with location and marketing than it does with what’s in the glass, its still what we picture in our minds. You can’t ignore it.
At this point it seems relevant to reach for a couple of very specific personal examples. Deanston 18 has a waxiness on the nose that reminds me of church candle services when I was in primary school. The smell of that plain candle wax caused me to recall a memory at the back of my mind, a memory that I had no reason to recall until the moment I first nosed that whisky. It’s a powerful response. The medicinal, iodine note from the first Laphroaig 10 I tasted – and some bottles I have had since – takes me back to a vague memory of being in hospital as a child playing with toys on a sandpit table. It might not sound like a particularly pleasant flashback, but it was a long time ago and is still quite nostalgic nonetheless. When I get these visions with a whisky, they endear me more to it than they perhaps would if I didn’t have that emotional trigger.
That brings me on to Benromach, which very much falls into the emotional trigger camp. The phenomenal cask strength I have reviewed previously brings with it a strong memory of autumn walks in the woods near where I live. The musty earthiness of the damp leaf litter takes me right there. Add on the notes of mahogony, raisins, prunes, redbush tea, pencil shavings, coffee and dark chocolate, and its all very brown and autumnal.
Let’s see if we get a similar mental response from the entry level 10 year old, bottled at 43%, with natural colour from first-fill ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, but most likely chill filtered thanks to Benromach’s still rather baffling decision to bottle the age stated core range at 43% rather than 46. Unfortunately our pleas for that to change fall on deaf ears. It is widely available at around £32 in the UK.
Benromach 10 Years Old – Review
Nose : Rather perfumed, with white flowers and jasmine tea, and musty, decaying leaf litter. There’s a good amount of vanilla, muscavado and heather honey, with sweet, ripe apple, orange peel, peaches, a little dried fruits and bread dough. I’m finding the dirty, oily rags in a mechanics workshop that I get with Benromach’s, but it’s perhaps not as noticable as the 15 year old and the cask strength expressions. I also get two day old grass cuttings when you open the lid of a warm compost bin, along with dry earth, old leather, tobacco leaf and burnt wood notes.
Palate : A sweet arrival, and its quite bright and juicy. There’s a decent amount of baked apple, with orange juice, demerara sugar, and fizzy ginger beer. There is a tannic element in the form of black tea and a little oak, along with vanilla, licorice, coriander seed and a light peppery spice. The peat comes a touch later in the development, with more musty leaf litter and garden waste fires. This lingers into the finish, along with apple peels and some more of the licorice.
Conclusions : The tired old line of “imagine what this would be like at 46% non-chill filtered”. I suppose we get a sense of that and more if we stump up the cash for the cask strength. However, this is almost half the price, and well worth its place on anybody’s shelf. I think we are guilty of overestimating our impact on the whisky business as enthusiasts. There is a much greater market of more casual drinkers and perhaps that is why Benromach have never felt the need to improve the presentation of their age stated core range. Maybe one day it will happen, and then I think the distillery will be hot property amongst the malt heads. Perhaps there needs to be even more of us before that will happen?
You get almost everything you find in the cask strength with this, but dialled down somewhat. The mixed maturation between the first-fill bourbon and sherry casks, with just a dash of peat for seasoning works so well with Benromach, and I think that policy of only using first-fill is a great asset when we are talking about the lower age statements. Judged as a £32 bottle of whisky, there is very little to fault with it, and this is a whisky that will always be on my shelf. I will repeat it again though – Please, please Benromach. Bottle your entire range at a minimum of 46% and non-chillfiltered. We will happily pay a few pounds a bottle more!
Score : 7/10 Very Good
(Score descriptions can be found in the About page)
Three Word Review : Fruity. Sweet. Leafy.
Related review : Benromach Cask Strength 2010 Vintage Batch 1
ABV : 43%
Non-chill filtered : No
Natural Colour : Yes
Maturation : 1st-Fill Ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks
Region : Speyside
Colour : Rich Gold