Benromach Distillery

Right on the heels of a far longer tasting at Balvenie than we expected we had to go back north to Benromach. It was an hours drive, and we had an hour. And we still needed to grab lunch.

Right at the first petrol station we grabbed rolls, ham, cheese and a lot of other crap to stuff ourselves before a full afternoon of whisky, and distillery information.

At Benromach we booked the tour with Keith Cruickshank. That’s the same tour as the the second most elaborate with the difference that you get a bottle of the bottle-your-own whisky, and the distillery manager is the tour guide.

We expected we’d buy the Distillery Only anyway, so an extra fiver for improving the tour to be with a guy who knows every nook and cranny of the place sounded like a good idea.

We were led to a small room with a big screen and a projector, but (luckily) we didn’t have to watch a video about anything. I find videos during tours of places quite a downer, most of the time. Anyway, most of the tour consisted of Keith explaining about whisky making, which is something I don’t have to write down here.

The interesting bits, then.

Benromach has a lot of room to expand since they’re not even using half the distillery buildings at the moment. The old distillery used to be a lot bigger, but that’s also when they still had malting floors and such.

They only have two stills of which one has just been replaced and had a very different color to the other one. Replacing stills means that the roof has to be taken off the distillery. Contrary to most more modern distilleries (Caol Ila, Clynelish and some others) back in the day they didn’t really take replacing still into account when setting up the building.

At the room with the spirit receiver and the filling station there’s a lot of names on the wall, from the guys who were working at Benromach when it closed in 1983. It’s nice that they preserved that, as a reminder to try their hardest to never let that happen again.

Around the distillery they have a lot of warehouses, most of which are very new. One being completed only last year (if I remember correctly). It’s nowhere near full and well insulated. They got the first cask from 1998 on display as well as casks from every year they’ve been open since.

I’m not sure why but they’ve torn down most of the warehouses that were on the premises in favor of new ones. I take it they weren’t structurally sound anymore. Some of them were already torn down when Gordon & MacPhail took over in 1993.

What I also found interesting is that, contrary to the marketing exploits of the last couple of years, Keith never mentioned the ‘quality of everything’ in which they do. The wood, the slow distillation, the barley. In Benromach’s marketing they focus heavily on that to explain their quality drink.

What he did focus on was interesting though. Since Benromach focuses on a fifties and sixties style of Speyside single malt they had to figure out how that tasted. Obviously, not much of what is around is from that era, since most of that hooch has been drunk by now. Also, what is around from the 1950s and 1960s is 50 to 70 years old by now and you can’t really decide how a ten year old should taste, based on that.

That too is where Gordon & MacPhail comes into play. Seemingly, they have stocks of bottles from that period so they could analyze how whisky from bygone times used to taste and direct the distillery in such a way that it will taste similar.

Personally, I think they’re doing a great job. Whether or not it’s similar (I think it is of an old fashioned style, based on my limited experience) it sure tastes good, and quite different than current Speyside whiskies.

It really stood out that Gordon & MacPhail don’t seem to be rushing the distillery into pumping out sellable whisky every second. They work in fairly regular shifts and are not producing at capacity for the distillery. A healthy growth seems the target and I think that’s clever.

After the tour we had a tasting in the old distillery manager’s cottage. They only recently bought that back from the previous occupants.

We tried the Benromach 10, a first fill bourbon cask sample, a first fill sherry cask sample, a vatting of bourbon and sherry (not unlike the 100 proof), the 30 year old and the 1976 vintage.

The 1st fill bourbon cask was really sharp on the nose. Not overly surprising at around 62.5% ABV. Green and leafy with tree bark and a gentle trace of smoke too. The palate was very sharp, dry and alcoholic. Yellow fruits like pear and quite some flavor of new spirit left. The sharp finish added white pepper.

The 1st fill sherry cask very fruity on the nose with lots of plums and peach. It had a slight spiciness and some pastry flavors. The palate really showed the sherry flavors with rich peach and date. Quite sharp, but not like the bourbon cask. The finish really showed this was Oloroso matured.

The vatting then. It’s quite like the 100 proof. That means full, rich and fruity with more smoke than you’d expect from a Speysider. Pear and peach with a slightly fatty texture. Really nice, this.

Benromach 30 year old was the first one from before the takeover by Gordon & MacPhail. The bottling has been available for a while now, since 30 years ago the distillery wasn’t even operating.

On the nose this one was very different than the rest, obviously it had a lot more age to it. It’s a very fruity drink with gentle sherry notes on the nose. Confit peach and less smoke than more modern bottlings. The palate was surprisingly rich (surprising since it was a 43% dram after a lot of cask strength violence) with black pepper, fruit and a lot of oak. The finish was lovely and ‘old’ with lots of oak and a slight acidity.

The bottle your own stuff was quite nice and had a very spacious set up since they use one of the old buildings for it. It was a bourbon cask at nine years old, not unlike the one we tried in the tasting.

I’ve got one of the Bottle-your-own bottles is up for sale here. One of my friends didn’t want to buy any booze so I bought his bottle as well.


  • I already loved Benromach. The visit made sure that doesn’t change anytime soon.
  • Keith is an awesome dude who is not afraid to occasionally mention “I don’t know what the guys in marketing cook up”.
  • The distillery truly is iconic for that red chimney.
  • I hope, for their sake that they soon need to expand into the unused buildings.
  • Benromach works wonders at early ages. The cask samples were all below ten years old, but I’d gladly buy whisky like that.
  • And massive kudos for them adding age statements and vintages, contrary to what the industry is doing.
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A tour of Balvenie

So, during our little tromp through Speyside last week we started the Whisky bit off with a rather expansive tour of Balvenie distillery, their wee maltings and the cooperage.

We were right on time for the tour, and were welcomed by David Mair, a rather well known whisky figure in his own right. The tour wasn’t private and was joined by two other Dutch guys, of whom I knew one from sample swaps and the club.

Coffee and biscuits were had and David started chatting about the tour, the tasting afterwards and that we were waiting for one more American guy, who never showed up. Three others did, but the tour is strictly limited to eight people so he had to turn them down.

Since, for three of my mates, it was their first whisky distillery tour, it was nice to start with one that does every part of the process in house. We started on the floor maltings, next to the steeping tanks (eight tons per tank). With those tanks and the malting floor Balvenie can malt about 10 to 15% of their needs. This bit is lightly peated to about 5 ppm, and the rest that’s bought isn’t peated.

They burn anthracite in the kiln, as well as some machine cut peat on a slow but steady burn. It smelled awesome and the malted barley had a nice crunch and ever so lightly smoky character.

After the maltings we went over to the washbacks and then the distillery. I suck at remembering numbers so for all kinds of exact information you just have to check other websites.

Contrary to many distillery tours nowadays we were allowed to take pictures, except when in Warehouse 24. Kudos for Balvenie.

Some construction work was going on on the premises to hook up an anaerobic digestion plant which would get quite a bit of energy from the pot ale. This to cut back on energy usages, sell back to the national grid and be quite a bit more ‘green’ in the process.

Before we went to the cooperage we visited the stillroom. They have six spirit stills and six wash stills. We didn’t get to see those wash stills but the spirit stills were all nicely humming and creating some precious vapors. It all looks quite nice and, even though they’re quite a big distillery, rather old fashioned and small.

The cooperage was very interesting. Balvenie has 8 coopers on site of which the oldest has been there for 46 years. I don’t want to get into a fight with that guy! It was quite nice to see the guys at work, and it was good to see a lot of loving labor going into each cask. The coopers mostly do repairs at Balvenie, and there were literally hundreds of casks waiting to be checked. I can’t imagine them ever running out of work the way things are now. David Mair told us the coopers are very well paid for several reasons: They do an important job which they would have to outsource otherwise, it’s a lot of hard work, there’s a four year apprenticeship, and it brings in tourists. All very good reasons, I think. It makes Balvenie a rather unique distillery to have this facility.

In Warehouse 24 (the fan club is named after it) we were able to taste the bottle-your-own whiskies of which the refill bourbon and fresh sherry were quite exceptional. I bought both of these and let the fresh fill bourbon there. I’m already looking forward to opening the bottles, but that might be a while.

Also, since there were some Warehouse 24 members present we got to draw a sample of the Members’ Cask, refill bourbon barrel 17703. Distilled in 1974. Forty one years old. Forty. One. Upon the last check the ABV was still 53.7%.

It had lots of oak going on, in a very gentle and timid way some old whiskies do. Far from overpowering, so to speak. Old fruit, dried lemon, spiced cake. There was a different hint of smoke on this than on more modern bottlings and I got a hint of mint.

The palate again had some smoke, quite a lot of oak and it was dry. Sweet with banana, more peaty than smoky, actually. Rich, fatty and oaky. Again that certain old-fashionedness that is so lovely and so hard to find in affordable drams.

The finish is ridiculously good and long. Rich and full with oak, peat and lots of fruit.

Already the best dram of the trip, and it was just Thursday morning.

David Mair gave us an awesome tour of the distillery and was far from shy with his information. This was a tour for people who want to know more about whisky, and by more I mean stuff that’s normally omitted or romanticized in regular tours of more approachable distilleries (from a touristy perspective).

It made me love Balvenie a lot more than I did.

Oh, further tasting notes of the whiskies we tried (another five, and the spirit) might pop up later, but those were all regularly available drams so I don’t think it’d add much to this wee write-up.

I was recommended this tour by a lot of whisky buddies. They were all right when they said you just HAVE to go to Balvenie. I think this is the most in depth tour I’ve had so far. Mr. Mair is incredibly knowledgeable and really knows about the industry and all parts of the distillery. He’s awesome as a tour guide. In short: visit Balvenie.

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A couple of days in the promised land

I just returned from a couple of days in Scotland with some of my best friends. And by ‘just’ I mean that our plane landed not three hours ago.

The misses and the kids are still on their way home from a few days with friends in Zeeland, so I’ve got some quiet time for blogging (and doing laundry) and trying to figure out a way of justifying the ridiculous spending of the week.

Anyway, we visited some distilleries, had some whiskies, had a lot of beers and went to the SMWS in Leith. I hope to blog about the distillery visits in more details over the coming days, but the general impression post is this one.

To accommodate five booze loving Dutchmen, I rented a cottage in Findhorn, right on the coast. The cottage was pretty awesome, about three times bigger than I expected and ridiculously cold. Heating, for some reason, was set to a timer to only operate during breakfast and from five in the afternoon till bed time. There was no way to change that.

That meant that when we arrived just before the boiler kicked in, it was about 8 degrees celcius in the house. Anyway, heating kicked in, and we headed to the the Crown & Anchor for food anyway (Fish and chips: check). The house had time to catch up. The pub was nice too. Not even that quiet for a town of 900 people, the food was nice, and they had some great beers available.

What was extra nice is that the house was right on the coast of Findhorn Bay, which is ridiculously beautiful. We didn’t get too see it all that well yet, since it was dark at about 4.30. We tucked in at about 9.30 since, for some reason, we were all exhausted from the trip there.

We visited Balvenie and Benromach on Thursday and had awesome tours by David Mair and Keith Cruikshank respectively. Also, tastings were done, obviously.

That day we decided to eat in to keep costs to a semi-maintainable level, and cook up about three pounds of steak for the five of us. And have beers. A lot of beers. We played Cards Against Humanity and sat around catching up on each other’s recent lives. We don’t get to see each other all that often. Bedtime was 1 AM. The night was good.

On Friday we went to Glenfarclas and Tomatin, which are two distilleries at the opposite ends of quaintness. A great combination to do those two on the same day since it gives you the full spectrum of the distilling industry in Scotland.

A side of salmon was dinner with (no surprise) beers. It might be surprising that we didn’t drink that much whisky in the cottage. We watched a movie and had loads of fun, in a way we used to have about a decade ago. Apparently we never grow up.

Saturday was spent cleaning the cottage, and driving back to Edinburgh. We then went to the Brewdog bar there, which was awesome. Lunch was pizzas and pies, and some really good beers. Then, right after lunch we went for dinner at the SMWS Vaults in Leith.

Those Vaults. Go there. Become a member and go there. It is brilliant. Another post on this will follow.

Conclusions of the rather long weekend in Scotland are:

  • It is very easy to spend way too much money there
  • Whisky is awesome
  • Beer is awesome
  • Going away with friends should happen more often
  • I love Scotland
  • The SMWS in Edinburgh is awesome
  • Touring distilleries is about more than hearing how whisky is made. Asking questions and focusing on the individuality of the distilleries is really interesting.
  • I want to go back to Scotland ASAP.
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English Whisky Co. Classic, 53.4% – OB for The Whisky Exchange

It’s been a while since I got my hands on a sample of this, and it’s been almost as long since I actually wrote the tasting notes. Somehow, I’m just not getting around to blogging, lately. The coming days in Scotland won’t help that, I imagine. I don’t even expect to have internet available while we’re there, but we’ll find out in little over a day.

Anyway, one of the few whiskies from the English Whisky Company that I’ve ever tried. I did have some of the ‘chapter X’ releases over the years but I have to admit I’ve never been a fan. Most of the ones I had are lacking depth and bottled too young. A bit like the early years of Mackmyra.

However, if people like the booze-pickers at The Whisky Exchange are starting to select casks, I imagine they’ve picked up their game by now. Let’s see.

On the nose I get a light whiff of alcohol first with vanilla and some fruit.  Very Irish like. Stewed apple, a dusting of cinnamon and sugared puff pastry. Pastry cream as well.

The palate is light and clean, with a slight tingling of white pepper. There’s gentle orchard fruits like apple and pear. Sugar, vanilla, white oak. It’s quite sharp, but not in an unpleasant way at all. A slight grassy note as well.

The finish is soft and fruity with creamed fruits. Very much like a trifle. Orchard fruits, so the apple and pear are back. Maybe some white grapes as well. Quite crisp and summery.

In short, I’m quite blown away by this whisky. It is very, very good. Very much like the much older and much more expensive Irish whiskeys that are turning heads upon each release.

I honestly was a bit wary of this when I decided to try it, but that turned out to be unnecessary. This is a great little dram. I still have to try the peated version, but if they added a light layer of peat on top of this awesome liquid, it might be another cracker.

The lightness of the fruits with the hints of fresh pastry works very well. On top the light grassy notes makes this a very summery whisky. Absolutely gorgeous and highly recommended. Especially at ‘only’ £ 60.

English Whisky Co. Classic, 53.4%, OB for The Whisky Exchange. 270 bottles of which some are still available at The Whisky Exchange.

Full disclosure: Thanks a million to the guys at The Whisky Exchange for the sample!

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The season is upon us!

With the holiday season getting some traction, you can’t really avoid the new releases and special products anymore.

While the rest of the planet is gearing up for Christmas, we (the Dutch and Flemish) still have Sinterklaas coming first. While it’s more of a children’s holiday, it still warrants quite a few new beers and even some stronger products.

Right after Sinterklaas, our club’s Blind Tasting Competition will start. Eighteen days of dramming in the dark, with no clue to what each whisky is and hardly any facts to go on. I generally suck at tasting blind, but I sure like to try these random drams Ewald picked for us to get lost on.

Just before Sinterklaas, the Advent period starts. While the competition is 18 days, all of them overlap with Advent and therefore it’s going to be a tough job to go through the twenty four drams Master of Malt sent me in their Whisky Advent Calendar. Apart from the whisky one, they also have some premiumized whisky ones, gin, bourbon, vodka, rum, botanical gin, tequila, absinthe, Armagnac and even that ridiculous Naga Chili Vodka got one. (They nicely asked me to promote them, which is also why they sent me one as they did many other bloggers, so there’s that).

Apart from all this there’s going to be a small trip to Scotland too. We’re leaving on Wednesday for a short stay in Speyside and visits to Benromach, Tomatin, Balvenie and Glenfarclas. Tours have been arranged, the cottage has been booked. On Saturday we’re spending the afternoon and evening in Edinburgh with a dinner at The Vaults of the SMWS. It’s going to be so much fun, the only problem is bringing all the hooch we buy on the plane back.

Tonight we’re going to Den Bosch with 12 guys to a whisky tasting of all kinds of peated goodness at De Whiskykoning. The line-up is pretty kick-ass if you ask me:

  • Ardbeg Perpetuum 47,4% “200 Years”
  • Bowmore 55,7% Virgin Oak (FI2015)
  • Kilchoman 2008 58,2% (FI2015)
  • Port Askaig 57,1% 100 Proof
  • Octomore/07.1_208 Scottish Barley
  • Laphroaig 21y 48,4%

Tomorrow the misses and I are going for cocktails and some bits at Tales & Spirits in Amsterdam to celebrate my upcoming birthday. As always, the last couple of months of each year are crazy. Remind me next year to actually save up some money before the busyness hits, please!

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Tomatin Whisky Meets Sherry, Pedro Ximénez edition

The Whisky Meets Sherry set contains a whisky from Tomatin distillery, distilled on January 18, 2002 and bottled on February 23, 2015. It’s been recasked on September 17, 2012 for further maturation in an Oloroso sherry cask. The ABV is 53.4%

The sherry in the set is a Pedro Ximénez sherry VORS matured for 20 years in a similar sherry cask at Bodegas Tradicion, and bottled at 15% abv.

This set came out paired with an Oloroso set which was reviewed yesterday. That also contains a whisky and a sherry, but is obviously quite different.

It was released hot on the heels of the Tomatin Contrast set and with last year’s Cuatro still in our memory (from seeing it in shops, not from drinking. Somehow I skipped that one) I think Tomatin is quickly gaining momentum with their sherry matured whiskies. At least, they are becoming more and more popular with me!

Next Friday I will be visiting the distillery with a couple of whisky loving friends, so I hope to get some more knowledge about this once-biggest distillery of Scotland.

The whisky then!

(See what I did there? I just copied everything from yesterday. How’s that for consistency?)

Tomatin, 13yo, 2002-2015, finished in sherry casks for almost 3 years. 53.4%

The nose is very sweet with lots of sherry flavors. Lots of dried fruits, but initially not too heavy on the raisins. Plums, peaches, figs. Ever so lightly peppery with a hint of clove. The raisins do kick in, but they’re very late to the party. The palate is slightly sharper than expected with black pepper and chili and plums. Oak, quite dry with a tiny hint of sulfur. Some pencil shavings? Peach too. The finish is rich and rich on the raisins, sultanas. Slightly nutty with brazil nuts and hazelnuts. Long and sweet.

Pedro Ximénez, Bodegas Tradicion, 20 years old, 15%

The nose is rather typical with raisins, sweetness but also a hint of thyme and mint. Some garden herbs with a little bit of wood scents. A bit like beech wood. There’s also balsamic vinegar and orange. The texture is very thick and syrupy with thyme and rosemary on the palate. Raisins, brazil nuts, ever so slightly balsamic with strawberries. The finish goes more towards great balsamic vinegar with that hint of mint again.

Another meeting bewteen Sherry and Whisky. Shame for the typo

Another meeting bewteen Sherry and Whisky. Shame for the typo

The sherry and whisky meet much closer to the middle of their respective flavors than with the Oloroso edition. The whisky was, therefore, much more influenced by the sherry. It’s been a while since I’ve had one with this big a sherry influence.

Having said that, it still is a very good whisky. I might just prefer this one over the Oloroso, although that’s based on a sample. I think, if I’d have a whole bottle of either the Oloroso might be interesting for a bit longer.

The PX finished whisky is awesome, albeit a little more predictable. But then again, you get a thick syrupy PX sherry with it. This stuff is ridiculously easy-drinking. It calls for vanilla ice cream. The thick layers of balsamic vinegar and hints of mint make it rather awesome though. Very good stuff.

Tomatin, 13yo, 2002-2015, finished in sherry casks for almost 3 years. 53.4% and Pedro Ximénez, Bodegas Tradicion, 20 years old, 15%. Available for € 95 at




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Tomatin Whisky Meets Sherry, Oloroso edition

The Whisky Meets Sherry set contains a whisky from Tomatin distillery, distilled on September 22, 2000 and bottled on February 23, 2015. It’s been recasked on September 17, 2012 for further maturation in an Oloroso sherry cask. The ABV is 57.9%

The sherry in the set is an Oloroso sherry VORS matured for 30 years in the exact same sherry cask at Bodegas Tradicion, and bottled at 20% abv.

This set came out paired with a Pedro Ximénez set which will be reviewed tomorrow (I hope). That also contains a whisky and a sherry, but is obviously quite different.

It was released hot on the heels of the Tomatin Contrast set and with last year’s Cuatro still in our memory (from seeing it in shops, not from drinking. Somehow I skipped that one) I think Tomatin is quickly gaining momentum with their sherry matured whiskies. At least, they are becoming more and more popular with me!

Next Friday I will be visiting the distillery with a couple of whisky loving friends, so I hope to get some more knowledge about this once-biggest distillery of Scotland.

The whisky then!

Tomatin, 14yo, 2000-2015, finished in sherry casks for almost 3 years. 57.9%

The nose is quite sweet with lots of baking spices. Speculaas and peperkoek. Some dates and dried figs too. Quite fruity but with a surprising lightness and freshness to it. The palate is quite sharp (not strange at almost 58%), sweet and very spicy. Black pepper, ginger, clove. The same as on the nose, and the dates are back too. The finish is rich with mostly dates and sweetness. Not overly long.

Oloroso, Bodegas Tradicion, 30 years old, 20%

The sherry is quite typical of an Oloroso, as far as I know. It just does everything a little bit better. Slightly salty and because of that, very fresh and crisp. Surprisingly light on the oak, after thirty years inside of that. Fruit, plums. Also sweetness with fudge and caramel.

A collaboration bewteen the Tomatin Distillery and Bodegas Tradicion. BEWTEEN!

It’s very interesting to see where some of the Oloroso maturation flavors come from. However, I still find it more interesting the sherry isn’t much more clear in the whisky.

There’s some very defining flavors in Oloroso, even some that you’re taking for granted and that don’t stand out like a slight nuttiness. Those aren’t represented in the whisky, or at least not in such a way that my flawed palate can pick up.

Anyway, it’s a great set, this. The sherry is lovely, and the whisky is too. Normally 35/37.5cl should be enough. I did a bottle share with it so I only had some 5 cl of each, which is a little short. I should’ve kept 10!

Massive kudos to Tomatin, by the way, for doing things like this and giving us a chance to analyse whisky a little bit more. Now, here’s to hoping there’ll be a fino, manzanilla, amontillado, palo cortado set coming along soon. And then a bourbon one, of course!

Tomatin, 14yo, 2000-2015, finished in sherry casks for almost 3 years. 57.9% and Oloroso, Bodegas Tradicion, 30 years old, 20%. Available for € 95 at


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