A Balblair threesome

All of these bottles were released in the last 5-6 years. Since then, prices for the older vintages have risen significantly, though some are still just about within reach. The question is, do the younger releases live up to the often magical oldies?

In vintage order we start with an independent bottling from the SMWS, who tend to present a naked view of Balblair’s wonderful spirit – given the cask isn’t too dominant.

 

Balblair 2007/2017 9yo SMWS 70.21 ‘Rosehip & Hibiscus infusion’ [239 bts] 60% WB0

Nine years in bourbon followed by a 1st-fill French oak hogshead finish for the remaining months. Infuriatingly, it’s the hogshead that takes all the credit. Why?

Balblair 2007 SMWS.png
Stock photo
  • N: Barley cereal meets raw varnished oak, full-frontal. Notes of freshly cut sharp red apples, hose hip [SMWS], a splash of emulsion over glycerol-ed apricots, onion-y=swede-like soft heat, [ginger] biscuits and caramel that decidedly turns to hard toffees. Adding water tends to promote the oak that hints a little towards [varnished] chestnut, but it’s the fresh onion-y, yeasty barley<oak that sticks. A tough and not particularly sweet nose, especially in comparison to the moderately savoury-sweet and certainly spirity-creamy official 2003, coming up.
  • T: Forget it neat. [With water], the cask yet again leads – varnished and again with hints of chestnut. Very clean, active-woody bourbon-malt with an onion-cinnamon-cumin heat. Oaked marzipan on the turn, creaming up slightly with some sour-cream white chocolate. [No apricot cheese this time].
  • F: Marzipan to vanilla and plentifully bourbon cask-led to a fresh bourbon-y finish. Medium-bodied all the way through. Sour, full-ish fat cream conclusion.
  • C: The cask character works nicely with Balblair’s spirit but boy does the oak dominate. An interesting malt for bourbon drinkers perhaps, for those who like it hard and sour. I had already sampled this in the summer [2017]. My conclusions were similar, though I was way too generous with the mark [82]. After much contemplation:

Scores 79 points

 

Now to two officials.

 

Balblair 2003/2013 Ob. 1st release 46% WB80.78[61] WF78 [Ralfy]89[12yo]

  • N: The savoury-sweet honeyed vanilla is expected, but just how creamy, fruity and/or grassy and dunnage-y will this be at the lowly age of 9/10 years? Remember that Balblair’s spirit can take an age to mature on site, especially in refill casks, though there has been far more first-fill cask use at the distillery in recent years – a bit too much in my book. Turns out this is pretty creamy/buttery>beeswax-y<fruity/yeasty>>oily=briny=sauerkraut-pickly with a vegetal-tannic, rubbery/blu-tac complex and a slight but particular smoked paprika=barbecue powder note. Is there a little sherry action in here? It’s certainly a really decent example of a well made youthful-yet-ready whisky, a distillate-led spirit with a relaxed vibrancy. A well-trodden path affirms a fine recipe. The more I nose it, the more I appreciate its “intrinsic quality”, as Ralfy would say. Summer fruits such as Guadeloupe melon, pineapples & pears nestle with ease into to the creamy~beeswax mould, a little desert wine poured over. The yeasty maltiness from the wash & then distillate, is clearly identifiable.

Balblair 2003

  • T: You can try one sip neat [just to say you have], before getting down to business and adding your water. Give it time. Then it’s [relatively] creamy/grassy/malty within spirit-y confines, lime vanilla honey, crushed minted peas and light dunnage-y hints each playing small roles. Incredibly though there’s a similar mouthfeel to the 1975 [coming up], with an undeniable family resemblance.
  • F: Light honeyed barley spirit, grassy green>briny olive skin with a white floury/chalk powder quality. Very clean coppery barley porridge at the death reveals the provenance of Balblair’s spirit.
  • C: Nothing to grumble at here. Simply a competent young version of a mature 37yo. Ready for sure and good for what it is – but without the magic. If I owned Balblair, I’d set aside a thousand full refill casks [65/35 bourbon/sherry], and leave to settle in a quiet place for 30 years+. Now there’s a legacy, let alone a retirement plan! Until then, happy hip flask sipping!

Scores 82 points

 

Balblair pair

 

Balblair 1975/2012 37yo Ob. 2nd release 46% WB88.14[24] WF89 WM80[1]

Why do some corks get wet with upright storage? This one was saturated, and remained so.

  • N: Every dram needed time to open up. I noticed the stark difference with every new pour. Once done, receptors on. Unforgettable youthful<old, floury fruity>floral dunnage [grainy wheat-barley vibe], honeyed leather [or leathered honey – if that was a thing], elderberries, lavender, un-vinegared capers, white bloomer bread, light fruit jams [apricots, rose apples, dragon fruit],… and a sweetness that is akin to a marmite & Demerara molasses umami-esque combo.
  • T: Delivers an unforgettable dunnage-dry/honeyed golden hay/chalky package, blend/consolidated in style. Opens out & out and grows & grows on you. Certainly one of the subtlest, well-aged, weighty-oaked malts. And there is plenty of oak [37 years of it!], but it feels like the spirit is still just about leading the way – the casks patiently adding to the complexity bar year on year. Every sip defies the last. Both the barley & oak carbohydrates are divine. Sugar peas, but not as you know them – the sugary tannin of the skin, blackberry cordial, a touch of crumble,…. If there were dad noises creeping in from the start, water takes things to a more animated level – dads-chatting-in-a-beer-garden level, whilst the mouthfeel swells. There is an acute soapy note but the [grapefruit] sharpness aides the balance, somehow. Did I mention the peat? It took [me] a few day before the peat was obvious enough – and although unobtrusive, it’s vital to the mix. No words now, only sensations. Let it all wash over whilst that mouthfeel massages the tongue.

Balblair 1975

  • F: Lots of heathery action, that’s for sure. Then, honey to cream to more soft hay. Bourbon for sure – any sherry? Near impeccable form. At the death: honeyed dried white bread, for the ducks. Later, deep putty notes leading to [Trustin] peeled chestnuts snacks [from your local health food shop], and roasted cabbage. Becomes more honeyed with treacle, then with some damp chalk powder and a little detergent. Now a dry cooked cabbage & rice-paper sweetness with some depth. All these notes come with clear shifts before lingering. This malt’s true age shows most now, but there’s no suggestion of overbaking. A soapy note again, but still only a touch. Later I detect more floral stuff. Whilst the nose got lighter [over time], the finish gets denser with a puttiness.
  • C: And who said it’s impossible to drink quality in quantity? I fully intended to take my time, to savour the bottle, to share samples and decant some for future years – but I couldn’t hold back from those irresistible oak sugars. We can’t drink oak, but in a way, we can. Caned in four days. Bon bon.

Scores 91 points

 

 

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