B-Sides: Balblair, Bunnahabhain & Ben Nevis

Bunnahabhain is the Ben Nevis of Islay don’t you know! But before that, let’s sneak in a Balblair.

Balblair distillery railway
Balblair distillery railway view [2016]
Balblair 10yo [1980’s/90s] GM 40% [5cl] WB83[1] [WB]85.94[18] WF73 WM78[7] 

Balblair 10.jpg

  • N: The stupidly dark hue suggests heaps of added colour, and nosing it backs up that premise. E150a aside, there’s a heavy presence of old, thick woody ripe sherried orchard fruits as if my local Wood Store had installed a fruity perfume atomiser – all well softened in the bottle, though there’s still plenty of life left in this 1980-90’s miniature. It later becomes more creamy [full fat], poured over a new untreated shed. Later I got mildly aromatic curry spiced caramel vanilla icecream inside stale wafers, followed by a grow-bag/fertiliser, butter=lard and plastic popadoms?!
  • T: Yikes, that’s prickly and woody. It’s temporarily very bourbon-like before the medicinal fruit lozenges have a chance to bustle out through the shed door. [With water], it soon becomes malty, dry and fruity-bitter followed by a touch of soot and plastic-y leather bitter oak – the wood thick in the mouth – with little sweetness despite a malty-milky heart. It’s become very dry now with slight aniseed-liquorice candy notes. I rather like the mouthfeel that develops alongside that dryness, right around the palate edge and almost onto the lips.
  • F: Even with water there’s a malaise of small prickles. Mellowed by water, there’s some milky vanilla caramel, a bitter fruity < maltiness, a roasted vegetal-medicinal-bourbon sweetness and more hints of soot.
  • C: This started out rather poorly but showed far more aptitude later on. A 10yo going on 25 with an Aldi presentation-vibe within, it’s a hairy ride with lots of curiosities to seek out. I’ll be backing these notes up with another miniature soon enough.

Scores 84/85 points


bunnahabhain distillery
Bunnahabhain Distillery in 2013

Bunnahabhain 2009/2017 8yo GM CS casks #326, 327 & 329 59% WB86.77[62] WF89

‘Puts colourful hairs on your chest’

  • N: Following on from another Balblair [1990 – blog], this is fairly raw. It can sometimes be a shock moving from sherry to bourbon, especially when also jumping from 46% to 59% abv. There’s a suggestion of peat or smoke here, but that’s not where the main story lies. We’ve a big salty hit with monkey nut shells, dried citrus-y/hessian cereals, clams & candy, gluten-free bread [certain brands], lightly smoked shortbread and various savoury [spelt/buckwheat-based] cakes, capped by an all-encompassing, abv-fuelled, oily cereal-spirit armlock.

[N:] LAST 1/4 BOTTLE: A waxy citrus barley richness coupled with some woodiness – so there’s a resinous youthful maturity if that makes sense?

Bunnahabhain 2009 GM CS casks 326 327 329.jpg

  • T: Well, that’s beautiful barley sprit right there: strong, assured, firm, focused, confident,… and then steady as she goes into a mixed bag with a congealed element throughout. Time & water thicken things up a great deal. Deep cereal notes apply.  There is too, a precociousness. With some push me-pull me action from three casks, it’s not an easy ride – well it is Bunna, and so it’s typically edgy all the way. Worth the commitment mind, but needs careful management.
  • F: A light pepperiness, creamy/lemony/bourbon-y and a touch fresh with putrid dairy/aniseed – happily all compliant. Finishes on wafer & rice paper, vanilla-y < chalk, a light sweet milky porridge [I’m talking service station takeaway pots], and a somewhat ungainly, dry & wood-heavy putrid note that’s a struggle. I get a Smarties coating conclusion. everytime.
  • C: A hardcore yet pleasing slugger that never lets up. Provisionally scores 86


Bunnahabhain distillery

  • N: Potent, yeasty, pollen-y >> floral, biscuity/floury, resinous & salty, paper-y, savoury-sweet barley juice that will gladly comfort your cockles on a winters night, or a brisk English summer evening for that matter. Pleasing and varied.
  • T: Some interesting plastic waxy notes have crept into the arrival over time, but the main story is still of a firmly assured, almost butyric barley juice base with a unique mixed bag layered on top – Bunnahabhain being the Ben Nevis of Islay don’t you know. Water doesn’t really touch the cereal, herbal barley ginger<aniseed-chilli mix – a little [chilli-barley] dry.
  • F: Decent mouthfeel on the turn with a gradually rising peppery aniseed heat, this is one dram that never lets up. It remains solid, yeasty & resinous with creamy barley underneath metallic witch hazel. There’s more chilli-barley dryness once again with an undeniable sweet barley conclusion.
  • C: I’ll push it one more mark given it continues to challenge whilst giving out at every turn – classic Bunna in that respect.

Scores 87 points


Ben Nevis 1996/2007 10yo Ob. Forgotten bottlings single cask [btl #337/700] 46% WB86.94[18] WF90

Ben Nevis 10.jpg

  • N: We start by soaking some breadcrumbs & Grape Nuts in Port Ellen single malt for a few days. A coastal hint is accompanied by sure-footed notes of [salty]-sweet > lemon juice. With water,…. a dry earthiness, sand,….. and an array of other topographic suggestions. It becomes more bready as it opens up.
  • T: It delivers on the palate too. There’s bready~shortbread into a waxy sugary sweetness on the turn whilst the lemony cereal notes never abandon us. Waxy glue as well as butyric aniseed on the turn.
  • F: Back to basics with cereal-dry malted barley & some dense sponge, the lemon juice there to the last. Eventually there’s a long breadcrumb finish later joined by some butyric < waxy < aniseed noises that soon fade out.
  • C: Ben Nevis giving Port Ellen a run for its money. Provisionally scores a deserved 90, but that’s your lot.


  • N: Port Ellen/Clynelish, savoury-sweet, waxy bready barley juice with plenty of varied & firm citrus action [sweet dried lemon > lime and < grapefruit with a touch of rind], a little cacao, bready KitKat wafer [without the chocolate], fig rolls, dry soil, toffee, clay, hessian, sun-dry salty rocks, sweet-vegetal butternut squash > onion, chewing gum,…. Super strength, super nose.
  • T: Initially firm, almost sharp, yet holding itself together for a lemon rind/grapefruit pith barley arrival. This leads to a waxy & chalky citric barley development before Copydex glue & sooty caramel enter on the turn. It’s far more liquid-bread-like with water.
  • F: A waxy bitter lemon, mineral-y & barley return with chalk, white bread and a little sawdust. There’s a slight yet controlled aniseed heat that’s joined by grapefruit & barley caramel that moves it on through to a decent length finish.
  • C: Form & mouthfeel are as notable as the complexity.

Firmly scores a competent 90







2 thoughts on “B-Sides: Balblair, Bunnahabhain & Ben Nevis

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