I started this week of reviews of whiskies from distilleries in the northern highlands up in Wick at Pulteney. On Wednesday I went south, so to speak, to Glen Ord, a little northwest of Inverness. To close the week I go just a little further north again, to Balblair on the outskirts of Tain.
We visited the distillery briefly in 2018 and I still regret not having had time for a proper tour (as I enjoyed a couple of days later at Pulteney). That visit was just a couple of years after this 26 yo was bottled. [“That’s a forced transition!”, Ed.]. I purchased it at auction in the UK in 2017 for what seemed like a good price for a whisky of its age. The fact that it was bottled by Cadenhead from a single bourbon barrel seemed like further endorsements. Cadenhead have a good track record and bourbon cask Balblair is always a good bet. And then I forgot about the bottle on my shelves…I’m looking forward to finally getting into it. I quite liked the last Balblair I had of this age—the second official release of the Balblair 1990—though that was a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry whereas this is from a single bourbon barrel—one that dropped a fair bit of abv as it aged.
Balblair 26, 1990 (44.4%; Cadenhead; bourbon barrel; from my own bottle)
Nose: A lovely mix of lemon and tart-sweet apple to start; on the second sniff there’s a leafy note along with some polished oak. Pinpricks of sweeter fruit peep out but don’t quite make their way past the tart/acidic complex as the lemon turns quickly to lime, picking up some zest as it does. With more time the sweeter fruit finally emerges (ripe pineapple, apricot jam) and there’s some cream as well. Three drops of water and the fruit is well and truly tropical now with a bit of passionfruit and makrut lime joining the ripe pineapple.
Palate: Sweeter here (brown sugar sprinkled on the citrus) and more oak than on the palate. A burst of muskier fruit as I swallow. Nice bite and texture despite the low abv. With time the fruit—a mix of sweet apple, lemon and pineapple—stretches out past the oak, picking up custardy notes. With more time still the oak returns, more expansive but not tannic. Will water bring out more of the fruit? Yes, it pushes the oak back and the fruit custard expands to take its place.
Finish: Medium. That burst of musky fruit (makrut lime, pineapple) crests and then fades quickly, leaving oak to make the final impression. Develops as on the palate with time and water.
Comments: A lovely whisky. Maybe just a touch too much of the oak and just a touch lacking in depth of the fruit—especially on the finish. I’ll be interested to see how it develops as the bottle stays open.
Rating: 89 points.