Balblair 1999-2016, 2nd Ed.

Once upon a time the most confusing whisky on the market was official Glenrothes. Their vintage releases had labels that noted the year of distillation and also the date on which the whisky was said to have been not bottled but “checked”. I don’t know if anyone quite understood what that meant. Then arrived Kilkerran’s Work in Progress series, with the different releases marked not by a clear year of release or number but by differences in label colour, some of which were very subtle indeed. Glenrothes has now gotten into the regular age stated game but Balblair is carrying the torch for confusing vintage releases. In their case both distillation and bottling years are clearly marked but there are multiple releases of editions marked by the same distillation year. Thus the 1999 Second Edition has come out in 2014, 2015, 2016, while the 1999 First Edition has come out in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018 (some of those seemingly as Travel Retail exclusives). In case you’re wondering if the two editions can be distinguished by cask type, they all seem to be from a mix of sherry and bourbon casks. And nor is it clear what it means for the same edition to be released in different years. This is the kind of thing that drives people to drink. And so I might as well pour this sample. 

Balblair 1999-2016, 2nd Edition. (46%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Lovely fresh nose with fruit (lemon peel, apple, pear), cereals and malty sweetness all intermingled. A little bready on the second sniff. Stays pretty steady with time and air. Maltier with a few drops of water and the fruit is muskier (the pear is cooked); a bit of vanilla too now.

Palate: Pretty much as promised by the nose but with a bracing bitterness to frame the rest. Nice thick texture at full strength. Not a lot of change worth noting with time—the lemon peel expands a bit but that’s about all I’m tracking. Let’s see what water does. Maltier here too with water and sweeter.

Finish: Medium-long. That bitter note turns zesty and tingling as it goes. As on the palate with water.

Comments: This is classic Balblair in that Northern Highlands vein—malt, stone fruit, citrus. I know this is said to have ex-sherry casks in the mix but it tastes completely driven by ex-bourbon casks. No fireworks but very, very good. I wonder what the other editions are like. I liked it better with water.

Rating: 86 points.

Thanks to Michael K. for the sample! Read his review here.

8 thoughts on “Balblair 1999-2016, 2nd Ed.

  1. I don’t know what these editions means but I have no problem with Balblair as they tell you exactly how old the whisky is. This “checked” business by Glenrothes on the other hand…

    I haven’t had this, but I’ve had its replacement in the core range, the 2000/2017. Comparing it to your notes, it has a lot more sherry influence, and indeed I read it was practically double matured as opposed to just finished (13 years in bourbon casks and the rest in sherry).


  2. Although, on a related (and at the same time unrelated, as I did it before your post appeared) note, I actually emailed Balblair yesterday for an explanation of what their release numbers mean. This is because of a recently purchased Balblair 2005 1st release. This was bottled at 2018, so I was surprised it was the same release number as a 2016 bottling I got two years ago.

    Not sure where that ranks among the geekiest emails Balblair have received, but I’ll let you know if they get back to me with an explanation.


    • I had similar questions for Balblair because back in November 2017 I picked up a bottle of what looked like 1999/2017 3rd Release (it was in a 3rd release boxes and with 3rd release labels on the bottle) that was actually 1999/2016 2nd Release (the retail distributor had put stickers on the bottles stating it was, in fact, 99/16 2nd Release, regardless of what the box and label said). Balblair confirmed via email that there had been an error on the bottling line and some 99/16 2nd Release bottles had gone out labelled as 99/17 3rd Release. Their explanation for the releases indicated that if, over time, as the vintage stock matured, there is a marked change in the colour, nose, and palate of the vintage, then they’ll create a new release, which might explain why there’s a 1st Release, 2nd Release, and 3rd Release all co-existing together…once the maturing barrels were blended, there may have been a very different flavour profile, hence a new Release? The whole point is moot, though, with Balblair transitioning to standard age statements…


  3. Well, as you probably know Balblair have ‘solved’ the problem by scrapping vintages and going back to age statements. The biggest difference now is that everything apart from the 12 will be unaffordable, sadly. A 25 year-old for £550 compared to the 1990 still being available for £120 makes for pretty grim reading from what was until now my favourite distillery. Oh, and they also had some of the most beautiful bottles and label designs in my opinion, but they have now moved to a generic one. At least the 12 year-old should still be good.


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