As some of you may know, especially if you follow me on twitter, I absolutely love Balblair, the story and history of the distillery, the way they present their bottling’s, and of course, the whisky itself! There are very few distilleries which I would say that I don’t like, I like to think that every whisky has a time or place to be enjoyed, but Balblair has always had a special place in my heart since I first tried an Indie bottling of it a few years back and since then I have always had at least one bottle open to enjoy. The Balblair that I have been enjoying lately is their spritely 05 vintage, and this is what we will be looking at today.
Balblair is one of the oldest, and in my opinion prettiest, of the working distilleries in Scotland today. It was founded back in 1790 by John Ross – a long lost relation of mine perhaps… – just outside of Edderton, north of Inverness. Strangely enough though the current distillery that you can visit is not the original from 1790. In order to take advantage of a newly built railway line the distillery was relocated a short distance north in 1895, all of around half a mile, so that it was easier to get coal and barley delivered in. Only a few years later however the distillery went through a turbulent spell, the result of financial downturn, and was mothballed in 1911. And it didn’t get much better from there, the result of tough times and World War’s the distillery remained closed until it was bought by Robert James Cumming in 1948. Luckily though, it is back up and running and is still producing today. This was a malt unknown to many, except for the locals, until Inver House Distillers released their Vintages series a few years ago, and since then it has come on leaps and bounds. At Balblair they don’t use age statements; they use Vintages, a bottling of whiskies laid down in a certain year. They don’t fill the bottle at an age, they bottle it when John MacDonald, the current distillery manager, feels it is ready, and as they put it ‘Timed to Perfection’. A lot of people tend to prefer the older vintages from Balblair, especially the sherry cask matured vintages like the 90 – I won’t lie, that is definitely a favourite of mine too – but they tend to avoid the younger, bourbon matured, expressions which, in my opinion, are just terrific. The younger expressions like this one or the previous 03 have a much fresher and more youthful style, and convey more of the distillery character.
Upfront on the nose there are all the classic haul marks of Balblair. There is a fresh and crisp green apple aroma on the nose, as well as a floral, hay-like smell, these I always associate with this distillery. This is backed up by a considerable amount of sweetness, in the form of rich butterscotch and Highland toffee bars. It’s a light and delicate style of whisky but at the same time has so much to offer. There is a buttery sweet popcorn note which runs through the nose as well as a slight meaty character. A gentle spice comes from the casks with vanilla and a slight cardamom note. Towards the back of the nose a gentle waxyness begins to appear which is accompanied by an earthy honey aroma, and accompanied soft cinnamon spice.
On the palate there is a soft and sweet arrival with runny honey and toasted malt. Much more of the cask character comes through here than on the nose. Bitter-sweet oak tannins mix in with notes of citrus peel and nutmeg as well as vanilla extract. With time on the palate it seems to get older feeling with more musky notes of leather and a dunnage-type feel – or what I assume dunnage would taste like… – appearing. The apple from the nose again comes through but it isn’t a fresh as before, it’s older and sweeter, coming through more like an apple sauce or stewed apples.
The ‘old’ character is what leads the charge into the finish with again leather and a musky dunnage-type taste. This is joined by heavily toasted malt, with a gentle wisp of smoke, and as before an intense sweetness, coming through as honey once more. As the sweetness fades a floral grassy taste takes over which accompanied by sweet oak and green tea.
Well. There we have it. I have finally got round to doing a review of a Balblair, I have no idea why it has taken me this long but it is well overdue. The nose on this dram is a real triumph, it is so rewarding and busy. It has an ever changing sweetness which, accompanied by its fresh youthfulness, makes it very enjoyable indeed. I have tried to be as unbiased as I can but everyone has a favourite! My only comment would be that the finish could be a bit longer, though for a 10yo whisky that would be asking a lot. This is another great addition to the vintages range and for around £40-45 you can’t go wrong. Keep the vintages rolling Balblair, and I’ll keep enjoying them!