Old Blends: Ballantine’s, Late 1940s/Early 1950s

A year and a half ago I was posting regular reviews of blended whiskies from bygone eras. I did not find all of these blends to be very good, or even necessarily all offering so very different profiles from what’s available today. The experience was nonetheless educational. I’m not sure why I stopped—I still have quite a few of these samples from the big bottle split I participated in at the time. I’m going to get these reviews back on track till they’re all gone. Here now is a an older version of a blend from a familiar brand name: Ballantine’s. This sample is from a bottle that was released either in the late 1940s or early 1950s—as always, I’m not sure how these things are figured out; you have to work on trust when going in on splits like these. Modern Ballantine’s has malt from Glenburgie at its core; I assume this has been true for a while now (if you can confirm or deny, please write in below). I’d guess Glenburgie’s malt in the 1940s or 1950s was also quite different from what they’re making now. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.

Ballantine’s (43%;  Late 1940s/Early 1950s release; from a bottle split)

Nose: Not a whole lot at first—some citrus, some metallic notes, a papery note. The citrus gets a bit more pronounced as it sits. After more time yet there’s a hint of sweeter fruit (peach?). Interestingly, the peat and smoke remain far more restrained here with only a slightly rubbery note behind the paper. With a drop or two of water there’s some cream and some milk chocolate.

Palate: Comes in with the citrus and the metallic thing; the paper turns into a decent amount of peat. The texture is just a bit too thin. The peat expands on the second sip as does the fruit. As it sits there’s quite a bit of sooty smoke. Okay, let’s add a bit of water. Hmmm water washes the palate out mostly—the fruit recedes and the smoke turns back into paper.

Finish: Medium-long. Nothing new here; the progression and development is pretty much as on the palate. Some milky cocoa here with time. Longer and sharper with water.

Comments: If contemporary Ballantine’s were this good I’d be like the protagonist of Tom Waits’ “Swordfishtrombone”, “ready…with half a pint of Ballantine’s each day” (though not the “stainless steel machete”). The grain can barely be discerned here. Instead the evidence is of sherry casks and a fair bit of smoke in the malt. Not a lot of complexity but what there is is choice. They drank well in the 1940s and 1950s. I preferred it neat.

Rating: 86 points.


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