Balmenach, in the Speyside, is another not very well known distillery. It is part of the Inver House group along with more famous stablemates Old Pulteney and Balblair. It doesn’t get official releases as a single malt and so once again we must look to the indies, and once again to Scott’s Selection. I read a rumour recently, by the way, that Scott’s Selection is closing down as a label. Too bad if it’s true, though it does explain why nothing new seems to have come from them to the US in some years.
Balmenach 1979-1998 (59.6%; Scott’s Selection; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: A little spirity at first but then gets malty with a little bit of honey thrown in. Some grassiness too and a minerally, almost plasticky note–that last turns into something a bit medicinal (not phenolic but uncoated tablet). With more time it gets sweeter (honey) and there’s a hint of lime and pepper as well (something prickly at any rate). Water emphasizes the sweetness.
Palate: The malty sweetness leads with the honey and hints of peppery lime following behind. In other words, just as on the nose. There’s a little more fruit here though with tart apples and a touch of gooseberry. Very drinkable at full strength. The lime/acid is far more pronounced with the second and third sip. Water softens up the mouthfeel some more and expands the malty/honeyed sweetness.
Finish: Medium. No new development as such: the lime and pepper are what hang around the longest. Not much change with water.
Comments: This is not terribly distinctive but it is rather nice. A balanced, easy-drinking, not overpoweringly fruity malt. Most evenings it is something like this that you want to drink.
Rating: 85 points.
Thanks to bpbleus for the sample.
Interestingly, I found many of the same easy & happy flavors and got the same ball park score, but came to a contrasting conclusion: an intellectual one, not for beginners, unusual, classy, somewhat austere. Maybe because I also got ‘dusty’ notes in the nose, such as old, long closed cupboard, very old newspapers and linseed (flooring), and old school lambic ale (not sure it’s still made, but those who tried it will readily agree it is an acquired taste). A little wood spice, mint and cedar wood (don’t think I’ve ever had a Scott’s without noting cedar wood) and later burning hay. Much the same cupboard and linseed on the palate, plus a surge of cafe latte in the finish. All in all, a good balance between easy and ‘interesting’. Miles away from the crowd-pleasing modern stuff. I’ve stashed away a bottle to show my grandchildren one day how whisky used to taste.
I don’t know that I’d disagree with your conclusion or say it’s a contrasting one. I’d mostly say that my final comments were too brief and compressed (certainly more compressed than usual). When I said it’s not distinctive I meant only that it didn’t say anything very unique. Of course, that general profile (that minerally, plasticky, peppery, uncoated tablet complex) is very unlike contemporary whisky as you say, but I’ve encountered it before in older malts from some other distilleries as well. So, yes, it’s interesting in that sense but still an easy drinker and not something whose pleasures are largely or only “educational”.
You’re right: its profile is neither difficult nor unique among old school whiskies. I should have added that I didn’t use ‘intellectual’ and ‘not for beginners’ as euphemisms for ‘difficult but interesting from an educational point of view’. I think that in my greenhorn days I would have completely missed the point of this dram and would have found it quite unassuming, as it lacks the power boost of many contemporary whiskies (ditto for the Glenlochy you recently reviewed). Also, I think that this kind of profile was not very popular among anoraks until rather recently, for which reason we are still able to find the odd bottle on some store shelves. It won’t be long before we call those older malts ancient whisky, though.