Some of you may know I’m a big Balblair fan, so the news in the spring of 2019 that Inverhouse were to drop vintages in favour of age statements & price-hikes was concerning. I guess the distillery will change the signage which reads ‘Vintages timed to perfection‘. At least they’ll be no more confusion over those 1st/2nd/3rd releases.
I admire Serge’s concise take on Inverhouse’s new direction in 2019 – ‘Balblair just fell in line‘ [WF]. Spare a thought though for Balblair sales ambassadors who have had to face the music from frustrated fans. Let’s see what the new range has to offer, starting with the 15yo.
- C: It’s nice, it’s distillate-led and current Glenallachie fans should relate. Similar in calibre to the 2005 vintage [WLP84], there are improvements whisky-wise, from Balblair’s [first release] 2003 vintage [WLP82]. Price-wise in the UK, we’re looking at an approximate price increase of 57% over comparable aged vintage releases.
Scores 84 points
Balblair 18yo  Ob. 46% WB86.17
- C: The same profile as the 15yo, just with more oak maturation, simples! Also, there’s a touch more mushroom foostiness on the finish gaining it an extra point. The price of around £115 is a stretch for a malt of this calibre and age however.
Scores 85 points
Balblair 25yo  Ob. 46% WB88.11
Let’s talk about the 25yo’s £500 price tag this way:
- Balblair’s fabulous official 1983 vintages [31yo+], are still available for significantly less than £500. I even found an official 1975 vintage available online for less than £400.
- Balblair 1989 [20yo+] vintages, frequently appear on auction sites and regularly go for around £100-120.
- For £500, five superb official 1997 vintages on the secondary market are yours
- ,.. or six G&M Balblair 21yo’s with change.
You decide. To the juice!
- C: A mix of bourbon and sherry cask-maturation can suit Balblair’s spirit rather well. There’s no obvious sherry action in either the 15 or 18yo, but then the overall cask influence isn’t direct, it’s subtly integrated. With this 25yo, there is more obvious sherry maturation up front – an oloroso finish? As a result, I find a butyric oakiness at the back of the palate. Even up to 50/50 water dilution doesn’t resolve it. What a disappointment.
Scores 82 points
We can’t end on that note. Let’s see what I can dig out. Here are some notes from a bottle I bought in 2013 and drunk in 2015-16, when my writing was even worse than it is now. [I’ve tidied up a little]. The bottle was £131.50.
- N: There’s no other distillery, Scottish or otherwise, that has Balblair’s profile. This instantly recognisable Balblair is an instant delight, possessing an involving and revolving profile. OK, on the one hand it starts out a bit chalky and pokey. On the other, we’ve plenty of dank yet spicy wood that’s met by sweet=sour lemons, orange=rose water & waxy fruits, pineapples, a little chalk & oiled putty, almond milk, savoury flapjack, sweet mushroom sauce, potpourri, new-leathery ‘things’, herbs [dill & mixed Italian herbs] and dank, old oak casks. It’s a little buttery but moving determinedly towards an oily viscosity. Also of particular yet not important note is de-icer, old leather car seats and faux-orange air fresheners. The decade this was distilled in appears irrefutable.
- T [initial]: Swirling sour-sweet-sour-sweet arrival and development, sometimes grassy and a little biscuity, sometimes more with a little chocolate-caramel. It’s forever-dry & grassy=chalky however, more so neat. Water brings subtle-yet-clear ex-bourbon notes that stretch out before the finish. Get’s a touch clogged up before the transition, but the best is yet to come.
- T [last few pours]: A little water to soften it and we’re all systems go! There’s still that dry [lemon] grassiness. Indeed there’s plenty of oomph with some buttery=waxiness on the palate as it develops. Add some more water and as the biscuity-ness arrives, the ‘dad noises’ begin. There’s plenty more [citrus] fruitiness on lemon, melon and apple along with orange Opal fruits and Terry’s chocolate orange. Sure it’s a little drying. A month later: sweet, pokey-sour lemons [neat], yet a floral sweet lemon aromatic bouquet with water and more dank cask notes showing. With water also, a moorish & encapsulating mouthfeel with a balanced oily=waxy coating and an increasingly malty/lemon development. A little hazy at the apex.
- F: Melon & [bourbon]-vanilla Opal Fruits, moving sweet <=> sour > sweet <=> sour. Additionally soft caramel, white chocolate and raspberry cocoa powder, perfectly compliment by aniseed and even more so, more of those sour-grassy-lemons into lemon grass. After a deceptively long finish, the soft caramac-caramel and sour grassy notes are left peacefully swirling around each other like dolphins graceful dancing away over the horizon towards the sunset. Old, sour. dank wood reigns supreme.
- C: For fans of Balblair’s beautifully distinctive distillery style, this will be as a treat. but water management is key. I added a few teaspoons to each dram and experimented with additional water in the mouth. Too little and it was dry and chalky, too much and it became too basic. Get it just right and a plethora of joy awaits with one of THE finest finishes.
Scores 89 points
If you couldn’t face reading through my meandering notes for the Balblair 1978, try Ben’swhisky review that sums it up concisely, albeit for a 2nd release:
- What’s not good about it: A little astringent if you’re just expecting a warm bath.
- What’s good about it: Stunning in every way, nose is beautiful, finish is perfect.