Three Ballechins bottled by Whisky Sponge to start the month and year, I said. On Monday I reviewed a 17 yo distilled in 2004 and matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel. On Wednesday another 17 yo from 2004, this time matured in a refill fino butt. Here now to close the week is another sherry cask but this one was distilled a year later and is two years younger. It’s from a second-fill sherry hogshead—what kind of sherry does not appear to have been specified in this case.
As I said on Monday, I only recently learned that Angus MacRaild (the Whisky Sponge) was bottling whisky. I don’t know what reputation his releases have at this point or where they fall price-wise in the market. I will say that I liked the other two fine but did not find them to be anything particularly extraordinary. Will this one be a departure in either direction? Let’s see.
Ballechin 15, 2005 (57.3%; WhiskySponge; 2nd-fill sherry hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Darker, richer notes than the 17 yo fino cask with dark chocolate nibs and damp earth and dried tangerine peel mixed in with dry, phenolic smoke. Pencil lead on the second sniff and just a bit of raw lumber. The citrus gets brighter with time and there’s some butterscotch in there too now. A couple of drops of water and the richer notes intensify: butterscotch, toffee, apricot jam, dried orange peel. The smoke becomes meatier now as well.
Palate: Comes in with bigger sherry notes than on the nose and less of the smoke. Thankfully, that raw lumber note does not follow through at all. Quite approachable at full strength with a good texture. The wood begins to pop out more and more with time but stops short of being over-assertive. With time there’s more fruit (orange) and more smoke; the oak recedes. Much better here too with water: more orange peel along with some brown sugar and pipe tobacco.
Finish: Long. The smoke fades slowly leaving the bitter chocolate at the end. As on the palate with water: a lot of pipe tobacco and it now coats my tongue even more thoroughly.
Comments: This was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. At first and second sniff and sip I thought it was going to be very good. Then it threatened to get derailed a bit by oak before calming down again and letting richer sherry notes through. It ends up being an enjoyable mix of heavy peat and rich sherry but neat there’s nothing particularly interesting happening here. Water lifted it up a tier, shutting down all the sharp/potentially overbearing notes and emphasizing the rich ones. Well, I ended up liking this one the most of the three. The trio as a whole—if representative—suggest Angus M. is bottling good stuff (though I wouldn’t pay high prices for any of these). The blurred lines between his roles as blogger and bottler—and particularly, the reviewing of his releases by Serge on WhiskyFun—I remain dubious about but it appears that perhaps this does not bother very many people.
Rating: 88 points. (Pulled up significantly with water.)