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.