Walking into Benromach is like walking back in time. This traditional, small and family-owned Speyside distillery takes you back to the golden days of whisky making. Historic whisky making practices are used with everything operated manually, rather than by machine or computer. Previously known as a blenders malt, now Benromach has stamped its mark on the Scotch single malt world with fans across the globe.
Benromach is known for its 'old Speyside' style. This harks back to the bygone era of the 1950s when all single malt had some element of peat smoke present. Benromach's spirit is mildly peated with a phenol specification of 12ppm (Phenol Parts per Million, the scale upon which smoky whiskies are measured). Phenol is the compound released from peat when burned.
Many Speyside single malts have zero phenol, so this makes Benromach slightly unusual. For short periods each year, they also produce heavily peated spirit with levels around 50ppm. In both cases, local Highland peat is used. Notes of green apple, cereals and dried grass add depth and complexity. This style matures well in both bourbon and sherry casks, plus red wine barrels. This, along with an extensive cask finishing programme, is something that Benromach is becoming known for.
Benromach is one of the best places in Scotland to learn about the whisky making process. This is because each part of production is in one room and you can move naturally between the equipment. A compact Boby mill grinds barley for the mash tun, which is one of the smallest in Scotland. This has a copper domed top and 1.5 tonne capacity. They operate 14 mashes per week. There are 13 wooden washbacks, four housed in the main building and nine elsewhere. Fermentation times can fluctuate between 67 and 115 hours. A single pair of stills produce all of Benromach's spirit. The annual capacity is 700,000 litres.
Benromach was founded in 1898 at the height of the late-Victoria whisky boom on Speyside. It was located on the edge of Forres, next to the Aberdeen-Inverness railway line. The Benromach Distillery Co. had built the distillery but it changed ownership a couple of times as it established itself. First, Harvey McNair & Co (1911-1919) and then John Joseph Calder (1919-1937) took ownership. Joseph Hobbs purchased it in 1938 and immediately sold to the National Distillers of America (NDA).
Production continued sporadically through the 1940s and early 1950s before NDA sold Benromach to Distillers Company Limited (DCL). Despite major refurbishments in the 1960s, the distillery was mothballed in 1983 and would remain closed for 15 years. Mothballing is a process where a distillery is not operating but able to restart when required. However, in the case of Benromach, distillery equipment was slowly sold off.
The current owners are the independent bottling company Gordon & Macphail. They are based in nearby Elgin. When they took over all that remained were the buildings. It took five years to restore Benromach to its former glory. First production took place in 1998. A visitor centre, which consistently wins top awards, was opened a year later. Benromach has since gone from strength to strength and established its name with whisky fans and collectors. The range of whiskies is extensive, in terms of core and limited releases, and has recently been revamped and redesigned.