Provenance: Speyside (Scotland)
Typology: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Ageing barrels: Ex-bourbon
Added coloring: No
Owner: Gordon & MacPhail
Average price: € 69.00
Official website: www.benromach.com
Hello, I am a young fellow of your beloved founder of WhiskyArt, and I ‘ve been invited by him to collaborate with some very personal opinions for your alcoholic joy. Hoping to do something pleasing, I would like to start my contributions with a product about which there are very few reviews around: Benromach’s Peat Smoke 2008. If you have read our illustrious Magister’s review of Benromach Sassicaia Wood Finish, you’ll already know that we are in the famous Speyside area, home of some of the most famous bestsellers such as Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, and of many other large and small distilleries.
Among the smaller distilleries, Benromach is one of the most active in trying to break free from the dominance of the big groups and come up with something really different, but usually remaining within the typical Speyside profile of light malts, lightly roasted, very fruity and particularly fragrant (I also refer you to the review of Clynelish for more information on the area). With Peat Smoke, Benromach has entered conspicuously hostile territory, attempting to usurp the peaty dominance of the smoky Islay distilleries: this whisky is one of the few Speyside peated whiskies along with BenRiach and a few other minor names. Produced on an almost annual basis from 2000 onwards (this bottling is from 2007), Peat Smoke is now an integral part of Benromach’s Contrasts line (which also includes the Sassicaia Wood Finish already mentioned and other daring experiments such as Organic and Triple Distilled), and last year it was doubled by its 2010 brother in the special Sherry Cask Matured version, a kind that, as we shall see, seems to meet some of the rough edges found in this 2008.
After the good reception of the 2006 version (bottled 2015), the more recent versions don’t seem to have garnered much attention. Reading the production sheet on the official website, not much seems to have changed: 9 years of ageing in ex-Bourbon casks and 67 ppm. Yes, you read that right, this Benromach has a higher concentration of phenols per million than the 10 year old Ardbeg (55 ppm), so we can rightly say that they really didn’t spare themselves, and now we’ll see with what results.
Peat Smoke 2008 is a pale golden yellow colour in the bottle, while when poured into the glass it becomes an almost transparent, if slightly milky, straw colour – an excellent sign of the absence of caramel and of chillfiltration. The bows in the glass are clear but rapid, a sign perhaps of a certain youth but also of an alcohol well integrated into the structure of the whisky. From this point of view, this Benromach is more reminiscent of Bruichladdich’s experiments with Port Charlotte (soon on these screens) than Islay standards like Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig.
On the nose, as we slowly bring the glass closer, we begin to reveal the interesting olfactory texture of this outsider. After a few moments, the intense peatiness reveals a very different character from the Islays. Among the phenols, a pronounced scent of citrine-based essential oils emerges, with lemon and citron peel in the foreground, followed by a strong minerality, with limestone and marble evoking a mountain landscape rather than the sea as in the more oceanic islands. In the long run, or with a drop of water to tame the initially pungent alcohol, it also reveals a nice petricore topped off with a balsamic touch of anise and liquorice. Not bad indeed, although perhaps a little more structure (i.e. age) would allow the 67 ppm to be better blended into scents that are less barrel-like and more life-like.
On the palate, the phenolic note obviously asserts itself immediately with an intense saltiness, an almost powdery sensation that tickles the taste buds and opens up slightly to balsamic, almost iodised medicinal perceptions, but also mineral, of sunny mountains or hot sand. The finish is quite long and climbing, but a bit monotonous in its sudden vertical rise without any other fruity or creamy openings. It’s only at the end that the citrus on the nose recovers with a little cedar, some notes of medicinal herbs and a dominant note of liquorice. On swallowing, the sip completely sweeps the palate, but leaves a salty, minty astringent sensation, almost as if one had sipped a crystal of black salt accompanied by a sprig of thyme. Personally, I don’t detect any tropical fruits or even a certain sour character, flavours suggested by some reviewers on this or previous versions (which then seem to me to be characteristics that are a little too at odds with each other). On the other hand, I find the whole very satisfying and stimulating, even if not easy or persuasive to drink. As already mentioned, its young age doesn’t allow it to fully exploit the intense peatiness, which does however give it a genuine and intense character – as I believe the distillery has always intended this product to have.
Some reviewers of previous versions have indeed condemned the excessive peatiness of this Benromach. However, given that to my delight the current market seems to be rewarding the return of super peated whiskies – with the success of Bruichladdich’s unparalleled Octomore and the very recent immediate sell-out of Kilkerran Heavily Peated – this whisky can hardly be considered a grumpy lone wolf. Moreover, although I haven’t had the pleasure of trying the previous ones, the Peat Smoke stands on its tenth iteration, so it’s hardly a botched experiment. If Benromach pursues this path, it’s probably because this whisky has found its admirers. In short, if you consider peat to be a lifestyle rather than just a style of whisky, then this product is definitely for you. If you like Ardbeg & co., you should know that: the peat tone is quite different from the typical Islay profile; it’s definitely young and quite aggressive; if you like to drink whisky with a dessert or a cigar, this edgy profile is quite difficult to match, you have to think about it a lot to find a satisfactory solution.
Personally, however, this edginess is also the reason why I found this whisky so interesting and different from the usual. I recommend it with the aforementioned reservations, but if you’re lucky enough to find it at the right price (around 40 €), it will offer you a special and unique drink compared to those at the same price. If Octomore is not so prohibitive for you, then what are you still doing here!