Some years ago I introduced my mom to Balblair – and it was love at first drop, so to speak. Since then I’ve collected both a few bottles and a few samples in order to get to know the distillery as well as possible (and to keep Mother Dearest happy whenever the parents are visiting). Because of this it’s about time I create a little mini-series of sorts about the Balblair bottlings I’ve got here at home, both big bottles and small samples.
Balblair is a distillery situated in the whisky district Highland, and where they currently are making un-peated single malt whisky by the same name as the place itself. The distillery is beautifully situated north of Inverness near the east coast and since 2007 they only make “vintage whisky” here, instead of the classic age statement. Balblair has chosen to label each bottling with dates of both when the spirit was distilled and when it was bottles, and by that giving them names after their vintages instead of, for example, 12 or 15 yo and so forth. If they release the same vintage in several different batches they also put the release number on the label, like the Vintage 1999 which has been released in both “1st” and “2nd” ones. The interesting thing about this is that you can buy whisky distilled in the same year (that is, the same vintage) but still end up with whisky of different ages or maturation methods since you might have bought different releases. Balblair themselves say that the advantage of this system is that they can bottle the whisky when it’s ready, instead of when it reaches a certain age.
Balblair Vintage 2004 Bourbon Matured
General facts: This particular bottling is a travel retail release of 1 litre and 46% ABV. The whisky is distilled in 2004, bottled in 2014 and is therefore about 10 years old. When it comes to cask maturation it has been matured in bourbon casks only with no chill-filtration and no artificial colouring.
Nose: Very fresh and perky on the nose, with a lot of fresh fruits and some tangy undertones. Granny Smith apples, grapes, lemon, Cantaloupe melon. Some almonds and sweet honey in the background. After a while a deeper, heavier note arrives which reminds me of black currant jelly. With water loads of sweet vanilla (think vanilla sugar) appears and helps balancing the tangy fruits. The nose calms and becomes smoother.
Taste: A lot of vanilla, burnt sugar, even more almonds, sponge cake – wait, now I know, “Tosca cake”!!! In abundance!! With that buttery, caramel tasting almond layer on top of the sponge cake – and hint of bitter oak. Perhaps also some spiciness in the shape of cardamom. Kind of like those cardamom buns you buy in stores, you know? The fruit is definitely still there but is more cooked than fresh with canned pears and fruit cocktails in syrup. A faint, flowery note sneaks up and reminds me of summer flower, in a way. Maybe roses? After adding a few drops of water the whisky becomes richer, the flavours deepens and some cocoa is noticeable. The nuttiness and the oak becomes more evident but the bitterness and sweetness lessens.
Finish. The pears stays and a lovely pepperiness appears with a lot of really dark chocolate. The finish is medium lengthed but a hint of the chocolate stays longer. After water the pepperiness is toned down somewhat and the chocolate becomes more present. Something reminiscent of the melon from the nose and reappears a bit unexpected together with some oranges and mixes together with the feeling of cocoa at the end.
This is straight up, honest and packed with fruity flavours. Here is a heaviness which I like, and which makes this whisky a fruity dram with an attitude. Normally I am somewhat restrictive when it comes to watering whisky (I always water it, but in small amounts) and often I prefer my drams without water at all, but in this case I feel that quite a lot happened when adding some water. The richness became more evident, in a way. To have the pleasure of discovering two sides of the whisky in a clear way without it losing character is a bonus. Well, I guess I’ll have to pick up another bottle eventually when opportunity knocks.
Balblair Vintage 2004 Sherry Matured
General facts: This is also a travel retail bottling of 1 litre and a ABV of 46%, but instead of maturing the whisky solely in bourbon casks they’ve instead used a combination of American and Spanish oak – meaning sherry casks, so called “sherry butts” in this case. Just as with the twin edition this whisky was distilled in 2004, bottled in 2014 and about 10 years old. Natural colour, no chill-filtration.
Colour: light amber
Nose: Well hello, Nutella! Like a sweet mix between nuts and chocolate truffles. Deep down in the glass I find raisins and a faintly spirity note. Warm spices are there too, almost like mulled wine spices, together with some discreet oak. With added heat a thick fruitiness is noticable with melon, and then even more raisins together with canned pineapple. With time the raisins and sweetness turns into rum-pickled raisins and adding a few drops of water the nose becomes more tangy with something like candied lemon peels.
Taste: At first the taste is dry and astringent with oak and spices like nutmeg and cloves. Behind this there is a streak of honey which adds some sweetness. Bitter, dark chocolate and walnuts joins in. Despite, on paper, “heavy” tastenotes the body of the whisky is lighter than the nose indicates. After a while I also taste the rum-rasisins, and by adding water the whisky calms down a bit. The nuts makes room for a feeling of fresh stone fruit. Apricots, perhaps?
Finish: Black pepper, more oak and the same feeling of raisins as before. The aftertaste is medium lengthed and pretty light with some walnuts at the very end. After watering the whisky the finish lingers longer and the whole experience if rounded off with a note of orange.
I’m having mixed feelings. The nose of this whisky is incredibly yummy, almost seductive. I became surprised by the sherried depth it offered despite its young age. The body is hearty, fruity and offers a whole lot of mischievous sherried whisky for the money. However, the finish doesn’t quite manage to live up to the somewhat sky-high expectations the nose and the taste built up. Had I tasted the whisky without first having nosed it I probably wouldn’t have felt the same since the tempting introduction created huge expectations the aftertaste had problems matching. The nose is the peak, the taste continues on the same note and the finish slopes a bit. I was seduced but not mesmerized. Having tasted both whiskies I enjoy the sherried expression, but most def prefer the bourbon-matured one.