May 222019
 

Balblair revamped also the duty free range, offering the 12, 15 and the future 25 years old in travel retail, but has chosen to offer the Balblair 17 instead of the 18 year old. Why keep 75% of your core range on travel retail shelves just to replace a single expression? This is the third time I’m coming up dry in my quest to understand a move the distillery is making, but I guess the marketing guys do (or at least I hope for Inver House that that’s the case).

You have probably seen my take on the the new core range, and if not, you can see it here.

Either way, it is what it is, and now it’s time to stop ranting, and turn our attention to the liquid in the bottle:

 

Balblair 17

Photo Credit: Balblair Distillery

Balblair 17 (46%)

Appearance: Bronze, with a thin necklace and sluggish legs.

Nose: OK guys, what went wrong? I was expecting a step up from the 15. Totally subdued with varnish and some sour farmy notes. The sherry is shyly hiding behind some red fruit jam. A hint of dried apricot and some white pepper. A drop of water brings out a whiff of honeysuckle and a touch of chocolate.

Palate: After an initial spicy wash, fruit galore come through, with hints of red apple and pears, with some faint hint of waxy feijoa and some dried pineapple.

Linger: Pepper and some earthy dryness. There’s a small hint of sourness and a lot of sweetness, with lovely spice running down the gullet.

Conclusion

The nose is weird, but the palate and finish are great.

While the 15 would win on the nose, this expression is the better sipper, but both are flawed.

May 162019
 

So Balblair went ahead and did it. They have actually taken the one thing that made them totally special and chucked it out the window. No longer specific vintages with an ever changing core range, rather a regular and quite mundane aged range, with a Balblair 12, 15, 18 and 25, with a 17 year old for travel retail.

What a shame…..

Photo Credit: Balblair, Inver House PR

Now Balblair is just another distillery, offering the same old core range. It’s not so much the vintages, as having different aspects of the same aged whisky be brought forth either with later same vintage releases, or with having the option to compare different vintages at the same age. Either way, this is a thing of the past, and Balblair will now be competing in the red ocean of every other 12, 15 and 18 year old expression, including against Inver Houses’ own Old Pulteney (switching to a standard 12, 15 and 18 year old instead of the 12, 17 and 21 of old) and AnCnoc’s 12 and 18.

Will it make things simpler for marketing? Who knows. But I have written in the past high praise for the vintage approach (see here) and I stand by that opinion today. Will it increase sales? I don’t think so, as if I were likely to buy a couple of vintages, I’d now keep just one bottle of my favorite of the core (the identity of which will probably surprise you….).

While at it, the bottle and distillery logo have been redesigned in the shape of the Pictish Z shaped carvings on the Clach Biorach stone located near the distillery.

Clach Biorach

Photo Credit: Sylvia Duckworth (c)

I got to taste the 12, 15, 18 and the 17 year old travel retail exclusive, and here are my notes and thoughts on the three core range expressions hitting stores as we speak:

Balblair 12

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Balblair 12 (46 % ABV, NCF, NC)

This expression is matured in double-fired American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks. I’m not really sure what “double fired” means. Being somehow distinct from bourbon casks would suggest that those are virgin oak casks undergoing a double toasting and/or charring. But not being a regulated term, who knows.

On to the notes:

Appearance: Straw, sturdy necklace with very slow legs.

Nose: Lemon meringue pie with honey drizzled on top, black pepper and fresh hay. In the glass after time, you get the pie base pastry with a lot of vanilla and a hint of green almonds and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Palate: Bitter citrus rind, honey, fresh green grapes, green apples and some black pepper.

Linger: Bitterness and spiciness in a pretty long finish, some of the green apples linger. Finish is dry, with a lot of spiciness on the palate.

Conclusion

Not bad at all for a fully bourbon matured entry level whisky, and it’s actually my favorite of the trio.

 

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Balblair 15 (46 % ABV, NCF, NC)

The 15 was matured in ex bourbon casks, and then finished for an undisclosed time in first fill Oloroso sherry butts.

Appearance: Amber, thick necklace and thick legs.

Nose: Lovely wood spices greet you, creamy malt and sherry notes, candied ginger, dried papaya and some fresh mango. There’s a hint of honey cake.

Palate: Sweet, dry and spicy waves wash over your tongue, with cinnamon and dried apricot leather.

Linger: Cinnamon and a hint of clove, dry spices that leave a tingle all over the mouth, and it’s a pretty short finish.

Conclusion

This is a nice step up from the 12, at least on the nose. I will say that the 12’s finish is better, and overall, I think I like the 12 a bit better.

 

 

 

And now on to the 18 year old:

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Balblair 18 (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

The 18 has the same profile as the the 15, with the whisky matured in ex bourbon casks and then transferred to first fill sherry casks for a finish, once again for an undisclosed period.

Appearance: Copper, thin legs with a viscous necklace leaving a lot of residue on the glass.

Nose: Milk chocolate, creamy malt, cinnamon and some nutmeg, toffee and raspberry coulis.

Palate: Toffee and honey, with a hint of sherry and red apples. There’s also some leather and oak.

Linger: Dry and spicy, with some apple. Pepper on the tongue and down the gullet, with a note of bitterness.

Conclusion

This is the most well rounded of the lot, but I’ll be blasphemous enough to say that by this point I’ve concluded that the 12 is my favorite…

 

Final Thoughts

I’m neither happy with the move away from vintages nor am I particularly happy with these specific bottlings. I do like the new logo though….

 

May 052019
 

I’ll come out and say it: I’m a fan of the use of virgin oak in Scotch whisky and think that there isn’t enough of it used. I’m sure this will be controversial, but it’s my opinion, and I’ve stated it before.

Of course, with a few exceptions, full maturation in virgin oak is something that is saved to very few expressions, especially if you’re talking about whisky that’s fully matured in virgin oak. For those, we have the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, Auchentoshan Virgin Oak and the Benromach Organic.

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Batch 1

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

When it comes to finishes and partial composition, things get easier. The Bruichladdich Octomore X.4 have varying compositions of virgin oak matured whisky, Deanston has a nice Virgin Oak NAS, Glenglassaugh has a peated whisky in a virgin oak finish and you’ll recall that the Ardbeg Kelpie had some whisky matured in virgin Adygea Oak, and you can read more about it in my post on the Committee Release. You might also recall that the Amrut Spectrum has partial virgin oak matured whisky. Going a little further back, I’ll mention the long gone Vintage 1993 Glenmorangie Ealanta, matured in virgin oak casks for 19 years.

You’ll find my tasting notes on the first edition here.

 

Photo Credit: Glen Garioch Distillery

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak No. 2 (48% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Light copper, it’s lighter in color than the 2011 virgin oak single cask reviewed yesterday, which would suggest that coloring wasn’t used (and shouldn’t be in the first place in ANY Glen Garioch expression). Thin and slow legs come off a pretty sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee and vanilla, with a note of baking bread and some nutmeg. The nose is mild and fresh, but in no way young. Some time in the glass brings out some Granny Smith apples and more of the mash tun notes, with that toffee.

Palate: Honey and malt, with gentle black pepper. There’s a barky bitterness tinged with the honey sweetness with a hint of floral notes coming up the nose as you hold it in your mouth.

Linger: First you have the layer of the black pepper on the dry tongue, with a tingle on the inner cheeks. Then the sweetness comes out, and while the pepper is still there, as the linger slowly fades, it leaves more of the sweetness in there.

Conclusion

This expression seems milder than the first batch, but this might just be my memory of it. I really like it, and this could easily become my daily dram bottle. I think Ron did a great job with this one!

 

May 042019
 

This 2011 Glen Garioch is a harbinger for the sequel to the very successful Virgin Oak. Indeed, a few months before the release of Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak, the distillery released a very limited single cask of the whisky that will make up that expression, at cask strength.

Glen Garioch

Photo Credit: blog.parkinn.com

I’ll have more to say about Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak in the upcoming review, but this is a very lovely single cask.

Virgin oak works very quickly on new make, and seven years are plenty of time for some real flavor to develop in the cask.

Photo Credit: Dave Farquharson

Glen Garioch 2011, Cask 1409, Distilled May 23, 2011, Virgin Oak Cask Distillery Exclusive (60.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, very slow and thin legs coming very slowly off a sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee, caramel and coconut, with sweet honey and fresh wood shavings. Faint popcorn and a creamy butteriness. It has some traits in common with bourbon on the nose. Water takes it further toward bourbon or grain. Water also brings out the malt, or specifically the mash, as well as a hint of fresh ginger and brine.

Palate: Dry and spicy, pretty intense. There’s a lot of oak – almost sawdust – and harsh pepper. It definitely could use some water. The addition of water highlights the pepper, but brings out some mint and some yellow plums and some chalkiness.

Linger: Warm and spicy on a dry palate, with a buttery sweetness remaining in the mouth. The gullet has spice lingering. With water, the linger is spicier and sweeter. It’s actually a more intense finish with the water.

Conclusion

It’s only seven years old, but the virgin oak really allows it to mature nicely. This is complex and deep, albeit a little ‘in your face’, and is fun. I’ll be reviewing the second edition of the general release of the Virgin Oak in the next few days, as well as a few other distillery exclusive casks.

Oct 272018
 

After trying the 1987 single cask (AKA Sage Galore), we turn to the Glen Garioch 1979. Now every once in a while you have a dram that makes you understand something new about whisky in general or about a certain distillery. When it’s you favorite distillery that you have the that understanding, it’s even more exciting.

Related image

Photo Credit: whiskybase.com

I have written about Glen Garioch’s dark 1980s, indeed, the whole Morrison Bowmore’s troubled decade. This decade left Bowmore with a pretty shoddy reputation, which has been admittedly rebuilt since the Suntory involvement. Suntory bought a stake in the company in 1989, and fully took it over in 1994. I have raised the conjecture that the soapy lavender prevalent in Glen Garioch from those years and Bowmore’s “french whore perfume” were products of the yeast used by MBD during those years, but I obviously have no way to prove that.

I have tasted quite a few 1978 expressions (and even reviewed a few here), and many expressions from 1990 onward, but the period between 1978 and 1986 is somewhat of a black hole, deepened only by the 1984 vintage which I have tasted both at 40% and at cask strength. All I can say about the 1984 is that I truly hope nobody ever tasted it as their first whisky ever, or they would swear off the drink forever. There’s the 1985 BYO that closed the gap between 1984 and 1986, which I reviewed here. Thus, tasting a 1979 vintage (and one matured in a first fill sherry butt) is exciting as it shortens the 1978-1984 gap by 20%.

What I have learned is that while 1978 was a high point for the distillery and a very sought after vintage, the herbal decade actually started in 1979. This cask has all the characteristics of a mid 1980s cask, so I would love to check a few things:

  1. Are there records of a yeast change in 1979 for MBD?
  2. I’d love to explore some 1978 and 1979 Bowmore to see if there’s the same change.
  3. Were they aware of this at the time?
  4. Is it possible that the loch getting so bad and the industry outlook so bleak that nobody really was paying much attention to the quality?

 

Photo Credit: Derek Zhang

Glen Garioch 1979, 38 Year Old, Cask 3831, Distilled 25.6.1979, First Fill Sherry Butt, Bottled for Chief Whisky Society (CWS) on 25.10.2017, 114 Bottles (42.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Mahogany, very slow droplets running off a sturdy necklace.

Nose: Polish and dried fruit with notes of prunes, figs and apricots, cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of fresh mint. Dry and somewhat chalky with a hint of smoke on the wind. The apricots shift toward canned apricots with the wood spices coming round softer. There’s cake on the nose, but it’s more an English cake than a Christmas cake and a cherry liquor filled chocolate. There’s also a coniferous note in there with vanilla and a touch of vinegar.

Palate: Herbal with lavender and mint over a compote of plums. There’s a herbaceous bitterness, with white pepper and cinnamon, and a hint of chocolate and cherries.

Linger: Sweet lavender and dry mint linger on the tongue. Dry and tangy, with a touch of sweetness that remains on the tongue. There is a bitter note that stays on.

Conclusion

This dram takes me back to what is probably the earliest instance of the herbal notes of the 1980s. No 1978 that I tasted (and there were a few of them) had it, and by 1990 it was gone. Fascinating piece of Glen Garioch history, and a beautiful choice for CWS!

Thank you very much, Derek Zhang!