Balblair should be a heavily favored distillery among anoraks, as this Highlands distillery has forsworn the use of chill filtration and artificial coloration, as well as the production of NAS whisky. With that move, the distillery switched to using only vintages, and the age is to be deduced by the drinker from the bottling date, also provided on the label. Is this the clearest and most productive way to sell whisky? Probably not, but it’s fun!
Yet, despite this, I don’t think Balblair has taken its place among the first line of anorak whisky favorites, and I’m honestly not sure why. I know whisky people who are crazy about just about every non generic distillery, from Glen Garioch to Bruichladdich and from Bladnoch to Highland Park. But do you know anybody nuts about Balblair?
Balblair seems to be doing everything right: Younger and older releases abound, prices are kept reasonably reasonable, single casks (some of them absolutely stellar) are released, and yet, other than a few coveted single casks, nothing! Why is that?
I think this is a case of a strategy taken too far. Core ranges are called core ranges because they stand the test of time. And while anoraks aren’t necessarily looking for the consistency of a Glenfiddich 12, I think that the idea of vintages always in flux means that a fanbase isn’t being built. Take Knockando for example. This little known Diageo gem is their only vintaged whisky, stating the distillation year on each bottle. Yet, they’re kept at a core range of 12, 15, 18 and 21 in the same style. I’m wondering if this wouldn’t have been a better path for Balblair to take.
But let’s say you want to be special, and not take the age route at all. What happens then? Take, for example, the Vintage 1990: There was a first release in 2009 for Travel Retail (19 year old), then a more sherried (and successful) second release done in 2013 at 23 years of age (reviewed here). That very same second release was bottled again in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, giving the same release at five different ages. Heck, this is confusing even for me. And as a consumer, can I really compare the price of the 2013 version with the price of the 2017 version as the same product?
I think these are some of the factors that kept Balblair from becoming an anorak’s craze, and yet some of the single casks (especially the sherried ones) sell out in a flash, and rightfully so!
Balblair 1991 Single Sherry Cask 1712 – The Whisky Exchange Exclusive (51.9% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Dark Mahogany, thin legs and a nice sturdy necklace.
Nose: Sherry sweetness and dryness with a hit of alcohol. Treacle and dried fruit, clove with a light fresh scent, like an open field. Notes of leather and some vanilla, quite possibly an American oak cask. Tobacco leaf and sultanas, with a whiff of a baking cake. time in glass brings out some vinegar.
Palate: Thick and viscous, spicy and sweet, with spice and some glue. Red fruit, brown sugar, freshly cracked peppercorns, hint of espresso and cloves.
Linger: Dry and very spicy, with pepper, clove and some green cardamon. There’s some tannic bitterness on the tongue, with a sweet hit that comes through in waves. It will leave your mouth watering, with hints of bittersweet chocolate. The linger is long and keeps the dram with you.
In my mind, this gorgeous single cask isn’t quite as striking as the legendary cask 1343 (reviewed here). I still have a sample of 1343 here, and I’ll save a sample of this cask (1712) until I open my own bottle of cask 1341, at which point I’ll revisit all three and see if we can come up with a definitive winner 🙂
In truth, though, if you come across a single sherry cask Balblair, do yourself a favor and just pick it up. You’ll thank me with every dram 🙂