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Sunday, 7 January 2018

Benromach Triple Distilled Whisky Review!

I'm not usually a big fan of triple distilled whiskies. I often find them too light, hot and solvent-y, and in many cases also lacking in character. But this one is from one of my favourite Speyside distilleries, and it has another major advantage over other triple distilled drams: it's lightly peated!

To my knowledge this is the only generally available triple-distilled whisky in the world that has a substantial (read: detectable) level of peat influence, so Benromach are breaking some new ground here! But they're no strangers to trying new things and setting new trends, so we shouldn't be surprised that it was this Gordon & MacPhail-owned Speyside distillery that decided to pave the way. More commonly found in Ireland, triple-distilled Scotch whiskies aren't a very common thing, with only a few working Scottish distilleries still using this practice. The most widely-known would be Auchentoshan in the Lowlands, followed by Springbank in Campbeltown with their unpeated Hazelburn brand.  

As you can probably guess, the term signifies that the spirit in question has been distilled three complete times. This will result in a lighter spirit in terms of flavour, aroma and texture, and it will end up at a higher alcoholic strength (coming off the stills) than it would if it was only distilled twice, since the ethanol is essentially more concentrated. Not all triple-distillation is equal either, like it does in a twice-distilled spirit the result largely depends on the size and shape of the stills, since a taller still will provide more reflux and will result in an even lighter spirit. It also results in less peat influence in the finished spirit, although that's not applicable in most cases since the vast majority of triple-distilled whisky (or whiskey - Connemara is double-distilled) is unpeated. In the case of this Benromach, the spirit was distilled once in the wash still and twice in the spirit still, since the distillery only has a single pair of stills. It's a limited release of 15,000 bottles, but I wouldn't be surprised if we do see older or otherwise different versions in the future. 

This new expression is lightly peated to around 15 ppm, as is the case with all but two Benromach expressions ('Organic' is unpeated, and 'Peat Smoke' is heavily peated, as you might guess), which gives it a big advantage, from my personal perspective at least, in comparison with other triple-distilled whiskies. Another advantage is that Benromach only use first-fill casks, which in this case were all ex-bourbon barrels, which should have helped to calm any hot or harsh spirit-y notes (if any were present in the first place). It's also bottled at a higher strength than most Benromach expressions at 50% ABV, and is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. This bottling was distilled in 2009 and bottled in 2017 at 8 years of age, and it's quite reasonably priced for an unusual and limited release, at around $100 AUD. I last tasted this whisky at the distillery itself in Speyside (during this incredible visit!), so it'll be very interesting to take a closer look at it on my home turf. The sample for this review was generously provided by Alba Whisky, the Australian importer & distributor for Benromach and Gordon & MacPhail, among others. 
Benromach Triple Distilled, 50%. Forres, Speyside, Scotland.
Distilled 2009, bottled 2018. Triple-distilled, lightly peated, matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 15,000 bottles. 

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Fresh and clean, but also nicely rich & mellow. Crisp red apples, dried sweet berries, vanilla, light grassy malt. A little dessicated coconut over milk chocolate fudge. Slight menthol and a tiny hint of tobacco smoke. 

Texture: Medium weight, warming, but no heat. Slightly creamy, much richer than most triple-distilled drams.

Taste: Fresh and light, crisp grassy malt, vanilla and some dried fruit, slight touch of smoke behind. Slightly astringent, but also nicely balanced. Little flash of citrus too. 

Finish: Short-medium length. Sweet minty milk chocolate, slight hint of the dried coconut and sweet berries, more grassy malt and soft wood smoke. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: Very enjoyable, in fact it's my favourite triple-distilled whisky from those that I've tried so far. It does have a little of that trademark triple-distilled acetone, but you'll only notice on a sip that was too big. Also bear in mind that it's bottled at a significantly higher strength than 99% of triple-distilled whiskies, and it's certainly more characterful and interesting than that 99%; at least compared to what I've tasted on the journey so far. The closest competitor would probably be Hazelburn Rundlets & Kilderkins, although they're rather different whiskies in a lot of ways. 

I do of course prefer the double-distilled drams from Benromach, with their extra weight and character, but this wasn't too much of a departure from the house style. As expected the lightly peated malt, and Benromach's richer, heavier approach have really helped. Another quality whisky from what is well on its way to becoming my favourite Speyside distillery! Thanks to Ian & Ross at Alba Whisky for the sample, much appreciated gents.