Balblair continues to be one of my favourite profiles. Though I’ve nothing positive to report about the new age-statement releases, thankfully, there are still plenty of official and independent vintage oldies around.
Today we taste four old & rare examples. We are sure to find distillery character even if some of these bottlings could be considered rather singular examples.
First up, a single cask 22yo 1975 vintage from an independent bottler. I’ve previously tried cask #7285 from the same series and enjoyed it very much [WLP90].
Balblair 1975 22yo First Cask #7282 [btl #598] 46% WB89.86
- N: Initially smells like an old blend with odd/random household smells from kitchen cupboards, especially the one under the sink. We let it sit. [Time passes]. Now husky oaky malty chocolate begins to appear. Elements of [Diamond-like] rum notes are suggested as the orchard fruits start to bloom. Ten minutes later we see luscious rich honeydew melon, one the honey dripper has run on and seeped into. With an oakiness now talking, there’s a light biscuity base with a quick lick of dusty [fusty/dunnage-y] 9-volt battery. A good 30 minutes in and the profile has trebled in luminosity, now rich oaky and malty. Let’s crack on.
- T: Tastes as the nose would suggest. Quite woody and malty with some rootsy freshness. The bitterness too, is forward, with a simmering woody-peppery heat. I reckon it wants for a little water. With careful dilution, we find it more consolidated with some malty chocolate-y sugars gaining some traction in an attempt to keep up with that bitterness.
- F: The cask holds court but there’s an amicable if compromised agreement by the finish. Within that agreement is where some of the more intricate action lies, if you’re so inclined.
- C: A beautifully representative Balblair [on the nose], though the cask just got the better of this one for top marks. Still, lots to enjoy, great whisky.
Scores 88 points
- N: There’s a treasure trove in this 1970s timepiece. Every time I go back to it, it’s another wow. Initially, it’s exactly like the previous First Cask 1975 vintage. This one opens up quicker however and soon reveals a sweet complex floral bouquet, and if I knew my flowers I’d list more of them. Honeysuckle for sure and then all those fruits, apricots and victoria plum jam, strawberries, kumquats, – all of which are members of the rosacea family don’t you know?! We’ve an earthiness here also and a deeper herbal quality that would encroach on Jagermeister’s toes if it weren’t for a floral jam-laced thread. This beautiful old whisky has a viscosity which is hard to describe, especially as I’m encroaching on emotional and sensory experiences rather than any solid analytical approach. 15-20 minutes in and we’ve rose caramel sauce [can that be a thing please, Chef Ramsey?], the floral aspect blooming & plume-ing alongside a sliver of puff pie meatiness entwined around the maltiness. Further joys materialise in the form of a dryish still-air warehouse and all those barmy old [bourbon > sherry cask] dunnage-y vapours.
- T: Somewhat sharp, every time. It does soften towards a squidgy dunnage-y cake sponge direction though there’s always some pepperiness to work through. The fruits from the nose are rather dimmed, though delightfully, the floral jammy aspect remains ever-present. Water creates a thick viscose [omega 3] and sour waxy mouthfeel, later with an oakiness similar to the 1975 First Cask albeit less dominant.
- F: More than echoes, the mouthfeel and oaky bitter green tea & vanilla cream linger, but this beautiful whisky is over all too soon – until the next sip of course!
- C: The spirit did its best to manage all those years in cask [on the palate], but provided us with a nose to die for. To enjoy a bottle would be quite something.
Scores 90 points
Next, young-old but strong!
- N: You could not concoct this in the finest lab or kitchen in a thousand years. With some OBE, we begin with that familiar chocolatey maltiness seen in many an old bottle, regardless of distillery. Changes in the glass are rapid. Compared to the previous two, this Balblair speaks of peat and notes more akin to the garage than the garden – oils, soot, treated and un-treated woods, varnishes, paints certainly, solutions, white spirit, turpentine,… I grab my Nocino [WA], now a shelf staple. There IS something of a walnut vibe here, not fusty yet earthy and with dried figs for certain. This is decidedly tincture-y also, though not rootsy enough for valerian, more a Neal’s Yard tincture mix – say echinacea, elderberry and olive leaf – and with a savoury miso-y gravy edge, dried sage, wine gums,…. I can’t imagine how this will play out on the palate?,….
- T: ,…. Desirably is what! The palate again talks of a tincture-y, earthy, savoury~sweet concentrated chew with some fruity/herbal bitterness and savoury liqueurs. This earthy liquid oakiness is more rootsy than on the nose. Whilst sometimes sweeter, sometimes it’s the savoury earthy bitterness that is brought to the fore. Fascinating development.
- F: A very long complex compote finish with a distinct gravy-dry mouthfeel at the roof of the mouth [corn starch-dry], but this is alongside all manner of savoury-bitter-sweet complexities already previously suggested including the miso berry-fruit rootsy tincture-y medicinal ‘jus’ with dried herbal melted wine gums – what the?!? Sweet and grassy at the death.
- C: Sensational whisky! Less emotion-provoking than the official 35yo, more intellectually moreish [on the day]. I’d imagine every bottle will vary. Add a case to my desert island order.
Scores 93 points
One more then, though what can beat that? Perhaps the oldest Balblair I’ve ever tried.
- N: Which fruits shall I talk of first and in which forms? This contains more soft ripe oozing fruitiness than you could ever want, a fruitiness that falls into complex oak-aged crystallised flame banana-like sugars with a hint of dry peat and brown paper envelopes almost turning into putty oils before the flowering shrubs appear. On the other hand, the nose appears light at times [40% abv!] and bourbon-y [in the cask sense], but nothing like contemporary bottlings – nothing! We grab the current official 12yo to compare [see notes that follow].
- T: The palate is very G&M generic [a taste profile I’ve commented on, on numerous occasions], and frankly disappointing after a simply stunning nose [and the previously stunning 10yo that wouldn’t have helped this one’s course]. What we have then is a short block of syrupy/molasses-sweet sugars with some OBE woodiness into a sour bitterness.
- F: Ends quickly with bitter > sour tannic barley before disappearing into a warren.
- C: What a nose . The rest .
Scores 88 points overall
In as useful as it may or may not be, by way of a comparison between then & now, the Foz reaches for his official 1990 vintage [WLP85] – still available at a fair price on the secondary market. ‘Dad noises’ ensue. Everything checks out there. [Scores around 87/88 points today]. What about the entry-level 12yo?
- C: Call it what you like – contemporary/resinous/[STR]-flavour-led/anaemic,… I can’t abide this contemporary wave of young unimaginative generic whiskies anymore and I won’t be buying them. The 1990 vintage by comparison is whisky from another world and yet a world that only just past us by! Perhaps it’s presentations like these that drive home the reminder that we are still very firmly in a seller’s market.
Scores 79 points
What other malts fall into this disappointing category? [NAS] Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold, Macallan Amber/Gold.., Jura Superstition,… In this environment, let’s see how the Jura 12yo fairs against the Balblair 12yo.
- N,T,F: The profile talks of soft fluffy sieved white flour-coated chewy caramel-ed & sherried raisins that become slightly more rubbery with a certain sherry pong, yet stay mainly steadfast in an easy-sweet-oloroso kind of way.
- C: I can see why novices [that will always be novices] like Jura. That’s why it’s so prevalent in pubs & bars [in the UK]. Surprisingly perhaps, this is good whisky. Jura better than Balblair you say? Today, yes.
Scores 82 points
We got distracted did we not? What about that G&M 10yo though, eh? Stunning!