A short while ago I paid a visit to the Edradour distillery, and while there my girlfriend was very generous and got me a bottle of their Ballechin 10yo, and that is what I’ve been sipping at over the last few nights. Now I have previously reviewed the Edradour 10yo, the standard malt that is produced by this tiny distillery, the Ballechin that I will be reviewing today is the peated version that they produce.
They call it Ballechin in order to differentiate their peated production from their non-peated – most distilleries that produce both peated and un-peated malt will do this, i.e. Tobermory and Ledaig, Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte – and so by giving it a different name it avoids confusion for the customer. The name Ballechin comes from a nearby distillery which used to produce a peated whisky which closed around 100 years ago now. The barley used in order to produce this peated expression is peated to a staggering 50ppm, which is very high, though a lot of this is lost through production and so it is nowhere near as smoky tasting as you might think.
I can happily say that the Ballechin is presented at 46% ABV, is natural colour and Unchillfiltered, so immediate brownie points there, well done to them! So, let’s get tasting.
The first thing that comes across on the nose here is smoke, I’m not going to beat about the bush, it is a pretty heavily peated dram. Though there is more to this than just smoke, it’s a very characterful, herbal smoke, think burning herbs; coriander, thyme and basil tossed onto an open flame. There is also a lot of green, earthy notes which come through, like damp grass as well as burning green leaves and turf, it’s kind of like when you are burning garden waste and you just chuck everything onto the fire that you want to get rid of, a very earthy-green bonfire. There is also a very heavy, malty character to it and an almost meaty note. Behind the smoke there is a definite sweetness, a rich and thick wild flower honey as well as a vanilla custard-like sweetness, accompanied by crushed peppercorns and chillies.
The meaty character from the nose again comes through in the palate, in the form of honey roast ham, specifically overcooked ham that’s slightly burnt. Again there is a strong note of damp, freshly cut grass like a ham joint that’s been roasted on a bed of lawn trimmings, drizzled in honey – an unusual tasting note, I know. There is also a very savoury malty character, which oddly has a slightly salty feel to it, perhaps dry roasted and salted nuts. The palate has quite a bitter and acidic feel to it, not dissimilar from fresh grapefruit juice, but it’s a lot more acidic. A sulphury note also comes through on the palate, likely as a result of their use of worm tubs, which again accentuates the meaty, malty character of this whisky. There is once again a lot of spice coming through, mostly pepper and chillies again, with the slightest sprinkling of vanilla too. There is not much sweetness to this dram; it’s a very savoury whisky.
The finish has got a decent length to it – likely as a result of the higher bottling strength – medium-long and very drying, with a dominating malty character. The finish continues on from the palate, with lots of earthy and green flavours. Again burning garden/farm-like scents, lots of herby-ness and white pepper.
There are a few things that I love about this dram, at the same time there are a few aspects that I’m just a bit underwhelmed by. Firstly, I love the way this dram feels, it feels like a very old fashioned and traditional sort of whisky, like it would have been made in the distant past. This is to me what whisky would have been like when it was made by the local farmer in his illicit distilling operation in his back shed; a spirit driven whisky that’s a bit rough around the edges with a good blasting of peat smoke and a big punch of spirit. This offers a great alternative to the classic Islay malts for a fairly decent price; it easily blows the NAS Islay whiskies out of the water. This said I feel like the whisky feels younger than it is, for being 10 years old there isn’t a discernible amount of cask influence here, it is a very spirit driven whisky. It could be as a result of this lack of influence but it does feel like it is missing something, its missing that extra dimension which would lift the complexities of this dram.
All in all, if you like your peated whiskies then it makes a good alternative to the usual Islay/peated Highland drams, for me though I find that the Edradour 10yo (at a similar price) is probably the superior of the two, despite this one being Unchillfiltered etc. that’s just personal taste though, I am a bit of a sucker for sherried drams! That said I would still happily drink both any day.