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
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.
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.