Benromach is the smallest working distillery in the Speyside region and is located to the north of the town of Forres. In fact, Benromach is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland with only two people employed to produce their spirit. The current annual production capacity is just 200,000 litres per year, although they can accommodate over double that capacity. The distillery was founded in 1898 under the name of Forres distillery. It became known as Benromach in 1919 and the current owners are Gordon & MacPhail, the independent bottling company based in nearby Elgin.
Gordon & MacPhail took control of Benromach in 1993 and completely renovated the distillery as it had been mothballed for 10 years by the previous owners (mothballing is the term used for the process where production is stopped at a distillery, but all the equipment remains intact and ready to go again). The distillery was re-opened in 1998 by Prince Charles and shortly afterwards Gordon & MacPhail embarked on an innovative programme of whisky production. This included different wine casks for finishing, heavily peating some of their malted barley (this is an usual practice for a Speyside distillery and the process that this Peat Smoke has undergone) and producing the world's first truly organic Scottish single malt whisky.
Benromach Peat Smoke is a young whisky with no age stated on the packaging, has a peating level of 35ppm (phenols per million - the scale for measuring peatiness in whisky) and is bottled at 46% ABV. The colour of the whisky is light and straw-like with a yellow green tint. The nose hits you with peaty smoke (no surprise really – the clue is in the name!) and this is reminiscent of wet earth and damp moss. The smokiness also has a slightly phenolic bitter edge to it, like iodine. Under this, other elements take time to reveal themselves – some sweet vanilla, cereals, lemon zest and another earthy element that is more like a freshly dug potato rather than peat. On the palate, this is crisp, fresh and youthful with the citrusy zing (the lemon zest again) and the sweet peaty, mossy smoke hitting your tastebuds first. Again the other elements come through to create some balance with the vanilla and cereal grains being joined by a fresh green fruit note (think of pears and apples) and a distinct grassy herbal character. The finish is smoky but drier and woodier than expected with a touch of hot spice (imagine red chilli), an iodine bitterness and a salty tang. Only at the very end does some vanilla sweetness appear.
This Peat Smoke is a youthful but very pleasant whisky. The powerful vibrant peatiness is in danger of overpowering the other characteristics, but these just about manage to fight through. Having said that, it is still enjoyable and unexpected for a Speyside single malt. Peat Smoke is a proper winter warmer that offers good value for money at around £30 a bottle and stands up well against the young Islay whiskies, such as Smokehead and the recent Ardbeg releases (which are almost double the price!).