This is the last of the four Signatory bottles I purchased at Binny’s in September. I’ve previously reviewed the Glen Keith and Tamdhu that are Stoller’s Wines exclusives and the Auchroisk that, like this one, is a Binny’s exclusive. All four are still available.
I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Balmenach. I’ve had a few (very few) that were distilled in the 1970s (as, for example, the only other I’ve reviewed), and a couple from more recent decades. As such I don’t have the best handle on the distillery’s usual profile. I would say that what I’ve had falls firmly in the fruitier end of the fruity-grassy spectrum of bourbon cask Speysides. Having said that, Serge puts “sherry” as the first keyword for the distillery profile; but I haven’t seen much sherry cask Balmenach about in recent years. It is true that most of Serge’s Balmenach reviews seem to be of much older distillate so I suppose it may be there’s been some change in maturation regime.
As with most Scottish distilleries, Balmenach produces mostly for blends, in their case for the Inver House group which owns it; and I expect its role, as of the malt produced at many Speyside distilleries, is to bring bright fruit to the party. Third and fourth tier distilleries like Balmenach now represent the only remaining good values in Scotch whisky—the prices of indie bottlings of the better known distilleries have been rising steadily for some time. When I say “third and fourth tier distilleries” I mean in terms of name recognition only: the best casks from such distilleries are on par with the best from anywhere. Let’s see if this is one of those.
Balmenach 25, 1988 (56.3%; hogshead #2899; Signatory for Binny’s; from my own bottle)
Nose: Rich fruit (apple, peach, raspberry) and rich malty/creamy vanilla notes (with hints of milk chocolate). Toasted oak right below. After a minute or two there’s more acid (lemon zest, gooseberry). Really very nice. Water emphasizes the berry notes
Palate: Starts out with the brighter fruit but then there’s growing muskiness as I swallow (custardy lime, dragonfruit). The wood is very discreet, presenting a nice frame for the fruit, with just a bit of peppery bite. Gets more peppery as it goes but the fruit is still in the lead (and the citrus is to the fore); more vanilla too now. With a lot of time (>60 minutes) it does get sharper and grassier. Water pulls the fruit back out again but that grassy note turns a bit metallic now.
Finish: Medium. No new development here but no off-notes either. After it’s been sitting for a while it does develop a faintly soapy note at the end. As on the palate with water—the soap disappears.
Comments: Not quite as exuberant as the Auchroisk but in its more refined way it’s almost as good (though also more expensive). The nose is really quite wonderful—I could have sat with it for hours. However, the palate and finish are best enjoyed relatively quickly. I look forward to seeing how the bottle will develop as it sits (this was my third pour after opening it in October). Good value but not cheap in the abstract; but if you like this profile and have the money to spare I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I’d hold the water (or add just a few drops).
Rating: 87 points.