But honestly, I just wanted to try this whisky, because I have a feeling it's going to be a good 'un. If it makes you feel better, feel free to read this review in a French accent!
I would definitely rank Benromach in my top 5 mainland distilleries. Why? I've covered the distillery in more detail here, but basically, because they do excellent work. They use a slightly higher peating level than most Speyside distilleries, aside from their excellent heavily-peated expression, Peat Smoke. Oh, and they only use first-fill casks to mature their whisky. Tres bon!
Speaking of which, this one has been matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and finished in Hermitage red wine casks from Northern France. You may notice that the bottle does not have an age statement on the label, but it does have something handy on there: the year it was distilled, 2005, and the year it was bottled, 2014. So it's basically 8-9 years old. Around 6-7 years of that was in ex-bourbon casks, and just over 2 years (27 months) in the ex-red wine casks, most likely of the Syrah grape variety (similar to the Shiraz in Australia).
The Hermitage expression is half of Benromach's current 'wood finish' range, the other half being the 'Chateau Cissac', which is finished in different french red wine casks, and for slightly less time. They're both limited releases, and are bottled at an almost-there 45% ABV, but I can't find any word on whether or not they've been chill filtered. The standard 10yo is supposedly lightly chill filtered, whereas the 57% version is non-chill filtered, so I can't be sure, but I'm guessing the Hermitage has been lightly chill filtered. C'est la vie, let's give it a go!
Benromach Hermitage, NAS*, 45%. Forres, Speyside, Scotland.
*Distilled 2005, bottled 2014, matured for 6-7 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and finished in Hermitage red wine casks for 27 months. Natural colour, unknown chill filtration.
Colour: Rust / bronze.
Nose: Red berries in heavy sweet syrup, a little grassy, molasses / treacle. Dried red apple, hint of dry smoke behind the fruit. Quite fresh & dynamic.
Texture: Light-medium, no heat. Easy drinking, but not too light.
Taste: Nice bit of smoke up front. Not as sweet as the nose, quite dry in fact, but that works for me. A little spice (cinnamon), some dried red fruits, fresh barley and hay.
Finish: Medium. Some oak & spice, becoming quite dry, biscuit-y malt and hint of dry peat right at the end.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: Very nice, the nose & taste are great, could use a little 'more' on the finish, though. Really like the smoke up front on the palate, quite unexpected. It doesn't hang around, but it's there. I couldn't identify a huge amount of obvious influence from the red wine cask (tannins etc.), which is fine by me...
Certainly quite different in profile from the other Benromach's I've tasted so far. They've all been great whiskies, and the Hermitage is too. It's a limited release of 4200 bottles, though, so it may not be around for long. Regardless, it's very well priced here at Nippy Sweetie, which is also where I bought my sample.
Speaking of other Benromach's, aside from the other wine cask-finished bottling, they've released an interesting expression recently, although I don't believe it's made the trip to Australia just yet. They've released a 15yo version of their standard 10yo. Although it's bottled at the same 43% as it's younger sibling, it's also enjoyed the same ex-bourbon & ex-sherry first-fill cask maturation. That extra 5 years in oak may have diminished the smoke, though, and it was already quite subtle. Still, it's bound to be a good one. Let's hope it makes the trip over, so we can find out.