Dram Initiative #016 – Benromach with Michael Urquhart
November 4th, 2014
It was a bright day in November and the clocks were striking 19. The Dram fanatics gathered from around Calgary and the Ambassador followed. “Call me Michael,” said this older gentleman who advocates whisky, usually travelling the back roads of Alberta alone. …But not this time, as he was introducing the next generation of herald, owing to his pending retirement.
For the unenlightened, Michael Urquhart has long been the voice in the wilderness, awakening Canadians to the merits of his family owned business, Gordon and MacPhail. It has been in operation since 1895 and is one of leading independent bottlers of fine and aged whisky. In 1993 Gordon and MacPhail purchased the mothballed Benromach distillery and, after four years of refurbishing, reopened it once again to a thirsty world.
The Dram Initiative Executive discussed the merits of a large tasting. “Aye, have a large tasting and we may get a hangover. Don’t, and we’ll wake well in the morning, but dying in our beds, many years from now, would we be willing’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance – just one chance – to come back here and have one bitching ostentatious tasting of Benromach? One befitting such a great man as Michael Urquhart the Grey?”
Keeping in mind that this was Michael’s swan song tour of Alberta, after travelling for so many years to great cities like Calgary (and backwater towns like Edmonton), all the while selflessly educating the unwashed masses on the finer points of whisky drinking, we were compelled to pull together a line-up worthy of the Grand Chieftain of the Urquhart Clan.
So, how to honor this third generation Wizard of Whisky?
How indeed! Well, with an Alberta first, of course, Benromach extravaganza ten bottle affair, designed to make British Columbians come out of retirement, Ontarians want to tea party the LCBO and Maritimers live in Alberta, permanently!
The Malts were appreciated and knocked back in the following order:
1. 10 Year Old Benromach 43% ABV, 80% Bourbon barrels, 20% Sherry hogsheads. Final year in first fill Oloroso casks.
2. Cask Strength Benromach 60 % ABV 2002-2012 Casks # 21-31
3. Peat Smoke Benromach 46% ABV 2005- 2014, 67ppm, matured in first fill oak Bourbon barrels.
4. 21 Year Old Benromach 43% ABV matured in first fill and refill sherry casks.
5. 25 Year Old Benromach 43% ABV matured in a refill American hogsheads.
6. 24 Year Old Willow Park 1981 Benromach Single Cask December 1/81 – October 12/06 Cask# 1416 46% ABV 300 Bottles matured in a refill sherry Butt
7. 27 Year Old CO-OP 1981 Benromach Single Cask November 11/81 – September 25/09 Cask# 1280 54.1% ABV 226 Bottles matured in a refill sherry Hogshead
8. 30 Year Old Benromach 43% ABV matured in first fill and refill Sherry casks.
9. 1976 Benromach 37 – 38 Years Old 46 % ABV matured in first fill and refill Sherry hogsheads.
10. 1969 Vintage Benromach 42 Year Old, from two casks both from November 6/69 – August 2012 42.6% ABV. A marriage of casks #2006 & #2008, matured in refill Sherry hogsheads.
Also in attendance this evening was Richard Urquhart, fourth generation of the Urquhart family, Sales Executive for the Export team at Gordon & MacPhail and the Canadian Ambassador in waiting. (Hope to see you back in Calgary soon. You have some big tartan pants to fill. Or, as you call them, “tartan trews”. But heads up…in Canada it’s best to call them “pants”).
Michael & Richard Urquhart acted as our spirit guides in this ceremonial drinking of the Benromach; answering questions, sharing details, providing us with tasting notes and telling us about the dismal state of the Benromach distillery when they took over.
The top two favorites of the night were the 1969 & 1976. Wow, what amazing malts. In the Battle of the two 1981 hand-picked store casks, between Willow Park & Calgary Co-op, the winner was Willow Park in a vote of nearly 3 to 1. The best value malt of the night was the 2012 Cask Strength.
Not present, as he had to leave earlier in the week, was Ewen Mackintosh (not an Urquhart, but genetically altered to be like an Urquhart and is now Gordon & MacPhail new Chief Operating Officer). (FYI: Thanks for telling me about the remaining low double-digit Port Ellen stock, all in sherry butts. Something Michael would never do. Your secret is safe with me.)
Many thanks to Mr. Andy Dunn of Gold Medal Marketing Inc., one of the hardest working Irish agents in the industry. Without your help, this evening would not have been possible. Further thanks for supplying some great bottles we enjoyed, especially the 1976, which was absolutely stunning.
As for the Dram Club…another in a series of incredible tastings…with another iconic speaker! Not sure what we can do to top this, but we’ll try!
At an earlier private dinner I wrote* a speech which was read aloud and brought the room to moans. I thought it fitting to share it here, as it aptly describes my feelings. (*plagiarized)
To Michael Urquhart with Love:
Those early whiskey days, of telling tall stories and hangovers are gone,
But in my mind, I know they will still live on,
But how do you thank such a presenter, who has taken us from 70 Year Old Mortlach to Benromach 1968
It isn’t easy, but I’ll try,
You wanted Benromach to reopen,
So you could have the red brick chimney write across the sky
Like a phallic finger which would soar a hundred feet high,
See world, we have our own supply
The time for finishing drams
And long last looks must end
And as you leave I know
I’m saying goodbye to a good friend
A friend who taught me that tartan pants are still cool,
The Irish invented whiskey and
Your stocks of Port Ellen have limits
That’s a lot to learn, what can I say in return?
That Goodbye is not forever.
Goodbyes are not the end.
They simply mean we’ll miss you
Until we meet again!
– Words: Maltmonster
– Images: Curt