Benromach has the distinction of being owned by Gordon & MacPhail, one of Scotland’s most respected and famous independent bottlers. This family firm was established in Elgin in 1895 and their store is still located on South Street in the town and is well worth a visit if you’re ever on Speyside. They became the owners of Benromach in 1993 and then set about reviving the distillery which had been mothballed from the previous decade.
Benromach itself can trace its roots back to 1898 when it was designed by Charles Doig and opened heralding the arrival of a new century. Located on the outskirts of Forres that offered convenient railway access, is was for a short period actually known as the Forres distillery. For much of its initial life the distillery was beset by a series of owners and closures, amplified by the Pattison’s whisky crisis in 1901. The distillery did not truly commence production until 1909, before coming to a halt shortly afterwards, with production resuming shortly after the end of the World War. Then again in 1931 it fell silent due to the economic conditions of Prohibition and the Great Depression.
Fortunately, Benromach was revived with a new technological advancement in the form of direct oil fired stills in 1937, before being sold shortly afterwards to Associated Scottish Distillers a subsidiary of Train & McIntyre, who were owned by the National Distillers of America. During the Second World War the distillery was home to British and Polish soldiers alike. After the war the subsidiary company was consumed by DCL, who embarked on a series of improvements including refurbishing the distillery and closing the floor maltings in 1968. Further improvements were made during 1974 as Benromach rebuilt including 2 new stills. A remnant of its war role was found by the distillery manager’s dog in the 1970’s as it retrieved a live hand grenade, thankfully no one including the dog was injured.
It remained under their ownership until the economic conditions prevailed once again across Scotland in 1983, when a series of distilleries deemed surplus to requirements were closed, including many famous names that were not rescued. These included Banff, the nearby Dallas Dhu, Glen Mhor and of course Benromach. The distillery remained dormant until the aforementioned date when Gordon & MacPhail embarked on a new adventure. However, it took almost 6 years to restore production to the site, as the owners wanted to ensure the equipment was faithful to the distillery and also establishing legal rights to the name and water supply. Part of their goal is to produce a style of Speyside whisky that harks back to the glory decades for many enthusiasts of the 1950’s and 1960’s. This period before the dawn of computerised Scotch, offered a variety of components that created a flavourful whisky including excellent casks, flavourful yeast strains, craftsmanship and a medium peated barley, which would have been commonplace during this era. Benromach today is a hands on operation with computers deemed unnecessary and the skills of the distillers being utilised instead.
At the time of possession in 1993, the distillery was merely an empty shell spread across 6 buildings with only the washbacks from the production side still in situ and the spirit receiver. Literally a new Benromach was revived and production commenced in 1998, with the distillery official reopened by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. A popular Visitors Centre opened the following year and the Benromach tour is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, with a warm welcome and a well-stocked distillery shop to entice any visitor.
The current annual capacity is just 700,000 litres from its two stills (dating from 1998) and is matured on site at one of its 5 warehouses, which also contained existing stock distilled prior to 1983. Under its previous ownership, the whisky would have been destined for the Antiquary blended Scotch, but now is destined for the single malt market. Once the casks are ready to be bottled, they are transported 12 miles to the Gordon & MacPhail bottling plant before being dispatched worldwide. Benromach continues to grow in popularity with whisky drinkers discovering its intoxicating mix of bygone characteristics and an affordable price tag. Today the 10-year-old single malt represents great value as an entry level whisky and is difficult to beat, offering a winning combination of ex-bourbon and sherry matured whisky, available at a great price. The distillery is more than capable of producing a luxurious and defining whisky having recently bottled the 1973 Heritage cask which was of stunning exceptional quality.