A Tweet, a message on Twitter, first alerted me to M&S having an interesting whisky selection and, as a new M&S food hall has been built on the route between my mother's nursing home and our home, I now seem to be popping in there quite a lot! Not only is the whisky selection worth a look (small but interesting) but their choice of beers is also first rate! And of course they have lots of food too!
It was M&S that actually introduced me to Benromach and to organic whisky. I was unaware of any organic drams although I had seen a Tweet from the US alluding to organic whiskey but had yet to discover any for myself. Then there it was, in a store on a retail park in Bognor Regis - which is just about as far away from an image of bucolic organic farming life as one can imagine!
In my food work I have sat firmly on the fence about Organics. For the soil it is obvious that natural enrichment is the best long-term stategy but the debate about whether we could feed the world organically will rumble on for decades. Many farmers who are not organic use only the minimum intervention on the crops and land. The big 'foodie' debate has always been about flavour and, for example with tomatoes, there are few seed varieties available that produce reliable crops in quantities that will satisfy the commercial market in terms of size, shape, and volume that can also deliver on flavour. That has coloured my thinking. Flavour can be much more about when a crop is picked and eaten than how it is grown.
I therefore approached my first purchase of Benromach Organic (yes, I have been back for more!) with a certain amount of trepidation: had I bought a life-style statement or a delicious dram?
This whisky - not, as I have suggested in my vlog, an M&S exclusive - was 7yo when bottled and is 43% abv. It's a rich straw-like golden colour and everything about the choice of colour on the label suggests Organic. You will see from the windy, noisy video tasting that I love to sup whiskies and share my thoughts with you outdoors. Purists will doubtless say that I should taste indoors and out to share the maximum info possible with you, and that is the advantage of wading through these words as well as watching the pictures! I'm writing the sensible stuff inside.
I get cereal notes, richness and a hint of pepper on the nose, backed up by a hint of smoke. It is quite sweet, but that is an inside observation. Yes there are toffee notes, but they are beneath the alcohol and not immediately apparent.
The first sip reveals an oily mouthfeel which always makes me confident that a whisky will match and marry well with food. This oiliness amplifies the cereal notes and pepper and then there's a big background hit of smoke, unusual in the Speyside whisky lexicon. The second sip is much more balanced in flavour and thoughtful chewing on the whisky reveals more depth of sweetness and perhaps a hint of darkly roasted coffee (have a listen to my whisky and coffee matching podcast here). People often talk about coffee and cacao flavours but you could just as easily refer to an earthiness about a whisky, which this certainly has.
The Benromach Organic is quite complex without water, way beyond what I would term an 'easy' whisky, but with just a drop or two it calms down, takes a step back and becomes easier and sweeter on the nose and palette. WIth water it became the favourite dram of my Spring Whisky Collection with Chichester's Whisky Women. The pepper comes to dominate the smoke, which in turn becomes almost a seasoning for the whisky rather than the over-riding experience. The sweetness steps up too and a creaminess - aka oiliness but more elegant - starts to hold the whisky together in the mouth.
I have found this to be a truly satisfying whisky and one which reveals much as you sip your way through your dram. It is certainly one that I would recommend and, with summer approaching, it is a whisky that I shall take to our beach chalet for cold nights after evening walks on the beach. The use of 100% Scottish organic barley married to maturation in virgin American oak barrels which, of course deliver the maximum possible from the wood into the whisky, gives a triumphant and flavour-packed addition to the Benromach range. All their drams are becoming Whiskies to Watch. For around £40 this is definitely a treat to try.
By the way, if you watch my video tasting you will see our community garden. When we stopped for coffee after Mr Moon and I had done some gardening post filming, there were quite a few drams of Benromach Organic poured, and it was pronounced delicious by my village friends! I don't think I can give you any stronger encouragement to get yourselves a bottle, for both indoor or outdoor drinking!