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. Continue reading
I reviewed the Balblair 2005, First Release in May and in that review I noted that I do not understand how Balblair’s vintage releases worked. That has not changed. And so I can tell you that this was distilled in 1990 and released in 2015 and that it was described as the “Second Release” even though there was another with the appellation released in 2014 and again in 2016. Just typing this made my head hurt and glad again that Balblair has now moved to regular age-stated whiskies (though given the jump in price the occasional headache may have been a good deal). This was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks but my understanding is that the sherry is more pronounced. On the one hand, the last sherried Balblair I had—this 10 yo—did not do very much for me. But on the other, the last Balblair 1990 I had was from a single sherry cask—this 21 yo—and I really liked that one. Let’s hope that the shared vintage and general age makes this more likely to be on the level of its sibling. Continue reading
In the second half of April I went on a long run of reviews of whiskies from sherry casks. Let’s reset the balance a bit in May with a run of reviews of whiskies from bourbon casks. First up is a Balblair 2005. This is the first release. I don’t actually know what that means. I think you have to enroll in special seminars to understand how Balblair’s vintage releases work. Me, I am a simple man and do not dare aspire to such understanding. Now you may be thinking that even I cannot be so simple as to not understand that this must simply be the first release of Balblair’s 2005 vintage. But before you judge me keep in mind that different editions of the first and second releases of Balblair 1999 were released in the same years and that it is entirely possible—nay, likely—that different editions of the same releases were of different ages. Whose head’s hurting now? Let’s agree to not talk about this anymore. At least with changes with Balblair’s lineup this confusion is no longer an issue: they scrapped the vintage releases last year and moved to regular age-stated releases. On the other hand, most of Balblair’s lineup is now unaffordable. Isn’t the world of whisky so fun and not at all alienating? Continue reading
Earlier in the month I began a series of reviews of recent exclusive casks from the Whisky Barrel with a 10 year old Bunnahabhain from a first-fill oloroso hogshead. That one handily surpassed my low expectations. Here now is another 10 yo from a first-fill oloroso hogshead, this time a Balblair. Will this turn out to be as good? I can’t think of any recent sherry bomb Balblairs I’ve had. Anyway, let’s see.
Balblair 10, 2009 (59.4%; The Whisky Barrel; first-fill oloroso hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Big sherry (raisins, orange peel, a metallic note) mixed in with roasted malt and some powdered ginger. As it sits a leafy note develops as well. Water brings out some plum sauce. Continue reading
Here is a highly untimely review. This Balblair 21 was released in 2011, right around the time when I had begun to buy single malt whisky in a deranged manner. As per my spreadsheet it cost me $80 at the time (and back then the Euro was a lot stronger against the dollar). Sherry cask whisky was widely available then. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking but I also want to say that high quality sherry cask whisky was still widely available then. That is to say, it was possible to get sherried whiskies that didn’t seem to all have been matured in active oak casks that had a few bottle of cooking sherry pressure injected into them for a week or two. Whisky geeks are still enamoured of sherry cask whisky and especially of dark sherried whiskies but they mostly seem like dubious propositions these days, either flabby or raw. I can tell you that the sherry character in this Balblair is more old-school. I’ve been drinking the bottle down with pleasure since I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings a couple of months ago. Here now are my notes. Continue reading
I filled this bottle at Balblair during my brief visit in June 2018. We stopped at the distillery on the way to Dornoch from the Speyside. We got there too late in the day for a tour to be possible; a pity as I rather liked the feel of the place, dour as it is. (You can see my brief account of the stop here.) They had one cask on the go and having been foiled at Aberlour, where I had hoped to fill a bottle from their usual bourbon cask only to find they had no casks of any kind available to bottle, I was hoping Balblair’s would be a good one. Truth be told, it’s a bit dangerous pondering these casks at the distilleries. You’re gone a long way to get there, and if you like the feel of the place you’re very primed to take a bottle away as a keepsake. And, of course, the theatre of filling the bottle yourself, writing your name and the bottle details in the register, and applying the label yourself is appealing too. Nonetheless, I had resisted the charms of a number of distilleries’ offerings in the Speyside; but I was beginning to worry that I might not have the opportunity to fill bottles from any distilleries on this trip. And so I was probably pretty primed to like Balblair’s cask. And indeed I did. Will I like it as much more than a year later? Let’s see. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Here’s one last entry in my almost month-long series of reviews of ever-older malts, a series in which I have reviewed as many older malts as Serge reviews every Wednesday.
This is by some distance the oldest Balblair I have ever had, one that was distilled before I was born and which was bottled before I began to get seriously interested in single malt whisky. At the time that this whisky was bottled older malts were not yet hard to come by, and were available at prices that seem downright reasonable in comparison to today’s market. When I first ‘began to get serious about the hobby a few years later I had neither enough knowledge, money nor foresight to consider buying any of these whiskies. Thankfully, I was lucky to encounter a number of people on the WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum whose far greater experience and knowledge of whisky was to be an invaluable guide. One of these excellent people, Nick Ramsey, once sent me a sample of his favourite Port Ellen, all the way from England, just because I was dithering over my first-ever Port Ellen purchase, wondering if the distillery’s reputation was warranted. And for good measure he threw this sample of a 38 yo Balblair into the box as well. The WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forums—like most forums on food and drink—are these days sadly moribund, and Nick hasn’t been sighted there much of late, but I want to take this opportunity to not just thank him for this sample but to toast the generosity of so many older whisky geeks who so happily helped MUCH MUCH YOUNGER people like myself into greater knowledge and experience. Continue reading
After three Ardmores in a row (here, here, and here), let’s go a little west and then north to Balblair (see here for my write-up of my brief visit to the distillery this summer). This isn’t any more of a timely review than the previous three, however. This 16 yo was phased out in the late 2000s when Balblair’s vintage releases started coming out. While I’ve liked the few of those vintages I’ve tried, I didn’t like them enough to keep trying each new release. And there’s not a whole lot of Balblair available from the independents, especially of late. As such, I’m more than a little out of touch with what the distillery has been doing in the last few years. I did always like the old 16 yo a lot though. I finished my last bottle some years ago but saved a reference sample from it. I’m looking forward to tasting it once more. By the way, as with some other malts that were/are bottled at 40% in the UK and Europe, the US version of the Balblair 16 was at 43%. Continue reading
Balblair was my third distillery stop on the day of my visit. The day had begin with a tour of Aberlour. Then on the way out of the Speyside we stopped briefly at Glenfarclas. A couple of hours later we were at Balblair. If you’re ever planning a trip in this part of Scotland and wondering about distillery visits, you should know that it’s very easy to get to Balblair. It’s less than an hour from Inverness and mostly on a nice big highway. It’s very easy to combine it with a visit to the Loch Ness area. And if you so chose, you could stop at Dalmore and Glenmorangie along the way. We did not stop and arrived at Balblair about an hour and a half before closing time. Continue reading
So few Balblairs reviewed on this blog. It’s almost as though I have something against Balblair. But I assure you that this is not true. I am pro-Balblair; while I could not say that some of my best friends are Balblairs (I barely even know any people named Blair), I am certainly Balblair-positive. Which is not to say that I have been infected by Balblair, merely that I am positively inclined towards Balblair. Why is this? you ask. Well, I cannot say. It’s not the case that I’ve had any Balblairs that have made me want to rhapsodize (though I do have a sample of one from the mid-1960s that might fit that description). But their whiskies are always solid and they put vintages and age markers on them, and generally don’t engage in much marketing malarkey. I am hoping to stop at the distillery on our planned trip to Scotland in June, and may even attempt to convey my appreciation of these qualities to a befuddled distillery employee. But enough folly! What Balblair is this? It is a 11 or 12 yo from the 2003 vintage. The first US release, says the label from the industrious Michael K.—which leads me to believe that there may have been another twelve or seventeen releases since. Well, I don’t know if any of those have been any good but I will soon be able to tell you what I think of this one. Continue reading
Michael K. recently offered me a sample of this and I took him up on it saying I’d finished my own bottle well before the blog. That statement is true but, as with the Redbreast 12 CS, it turns out I had already reviewed it in the summer of 2013, when the blog was relatively new, and had just completely forgotten. Now I’ve got no shortage of never-reviewed whiskies (samples and bottles) on my shelves but it was sort of interesting to re-review that Redbreast and also this Ben Nevis recently, and so I decided I’d give this another go as well. I have not looked at my previous notes or exact score again before this second go-around. Let’s see if I come up with much variance.
(You can read Michael’s own review here, which as it happens was also posted in late-2013—I’ve avoided looking at his notes as well.) Continue reading
I’ve not had a very good showing with the two official Balblairs I’ve reviewed so far, but I have had a pretty good run with the A.D. Rattray bottles I’ve reviewed. So, what’s it going to be with this Rattray Balblair? Will the Rattray mojo prevail? Will the cask strength allow Balblair’s qualities to emerge more fully? Let’s take a look.
Balblair 20, 1991 (59.5%; A.D. Rattray, bourbon cask #3291; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Nice notes of biscuity malt come wafting up as I finish pouring and a little later some vanilla/butterscotch. Not much else; not surprising given the heat. Well, let’s give it some more air before adding water. Hmmm maybe some pine/wood spice and then some brown sugar. Much more sweetness on the nose after the first sip and the vanilla expands dramatically, picking some cream up as it goes. Water makes the vanilla even more intense if possible and there’s some aromatic lime peel in there too now plus definitely some pine. Continue reading
I reviewed the Balblair 1997-2009 some weeks ago and here now is the second edition of the 1989-2010 release. This got a fair bit of love when it was released; I liked it fine but it didn’t really rock my world. It’s got the northern Highland apples/pears/malt thing going on but turns out rather anonymous–which is not something that you want from an official release that’s at least 20 years old.
Balblair 1989-2010, 2nd. Ed. (43%; from a reference sample saved from my own bottle)
Nose: Gooseberries, apples, some honey, some vanilla and a fair bit of malt. The sweet-sour malty note comes to the fore and there’s more salt too after a bit, and maybe some sliced over-ripe pears. Not a whole lot else happening. A touch of water brings out a faint hint of milk chocolate. Continue reading
Balblair is a distillery in the northern Highlands, up there in the general vicinity of Glenmorangie, Glen Ord, Clynelish, Dalmore etc.. I don’t think it’s ever been a particularly storied distillery. They used to make a solid 16 yo but no one seems to have ever got too excited about Balblair. As of a few years ago the distillery seems to have decided to try and change that. The bottles got a redesign–flatter bottles in great big square boxes–and the entire range got refurbished as well. Out went the 16 yo and age statements and in came vintage releases (borrowing a page from the Glenrothes playbook perhaps) of a range of ages. Of the initial lot, at least the ones that came to the US, this 1997 was the youngest and cheapest. It has since been succeeded by a 2000 and then a 2001 and most recently, I believe, a 2002–though I don’t think all came to these shores.