I’m somewhat at a loss for words when speaking about Balblair. Regular readers of these reviews will need to stop their excitement at reading that, I’ll muddle through.
Bias up front: I don’t really go hunting for Balblair. Lack of CS releases in the OB, hard to have the standard releases because they release them when they are ready (that’s not a complaint), and they can be on the pricey side (again, for me, in Canada).
Granted they now release age statements so they’ve changed, but let’s take a moment to assume the above is me talking about my experience, which is in the past.
Those aren’t digs, by the way: Most places can’t do CS releases. It’s good to have an idea of releasing something when it’s ready rather than keeping to a standard timeline just so people will buy it (sadly they’ve changed this). And the pricey side? Join the club, it’s all getting expensive.
So today I’m lucky enough to try two rarities for me: Balblair offerings at cask strength from the original bottling line. So I’m frankly excited.
“But TOModera, how do we get them?”
Well I’m glad you asked, because I don’t have any way to quickly point you to it and no monetary way to make money from the buzz I’m inducing! Yes, that’s right, I’m causing capitalistic blue balls!
Joking aside one of these requires you to have shown up to the distillery in 2019. The other is a store pick. The idea today that we’re trying to figure out is: Is Balblair tasty in single cask at full cask strength, or can we all just be happy with the standard?
Let’s find out, shall we?
Balblair 11 2008 Hand Bottling
Thanks to Tim for sharing this sample with me.
Price: Honestly no idea
Cask type: Bourbon Cask
Cask Number: 714
Bottle # 77
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Guava, sunflowers, lemon mint, fuzzy peach, banana candy, roasted thyme
Basically it’s a mix between a BBQ outside and going to the penny candy section of a store and getting tons of sweets. Wait, I’m becoming that really funny guy from the video that went too long. It’s like smoke and stuff. Better, right?
Well now I’m sad. There’s some interesting herbal notes and roastiness going on. There’s also some fake fruit and real tropical fruit notes. It’s an odd pairing.
Taste: Limoncello, fuzzy peach, ginger, caramel, Twizzlers, dried papaya
Gone are the BBQ/herbal flavours and back are the sweet, fruit/spice based flavours. On the one hand it’s more focused and feels like a collection of flavours that make more sense.
On the other hand it’s gone from something unique and interesting to another after dinner dram. Depends on your view, really. Personally I enjoy candy, so I like it still, though you wonder about the lost complexity at times.
Finish: Mint, creme de menthe, strawberry milkshake, banana, black pepper
Long finish. Strong mint flavour that then goes sweet and creamy. Some heat, some fruit, but it’s mostly cream, mint, and strong sugar notes.
Conclusion: This dram takes you to the Candy Shop. It makes you drink until you drop. Because it’s a very high Abv. Seriously, watch out.
Now that I’ve aged myself 20+ years, let’s talk about the whisky: It’s a sweet one. Sweet notes dominate it. You won’t like it if you don’t like sweets. You may like the nose a bit, but you’re not going to love the rest. On the other hand those sweet notes aren’t just brown sugar/white sugar/hard candy that you get from other whiskies.
Thus if the flavour profile is what you’d like, this should (have) been something you hunt down. I don’t know if the cask strength element showed off more to Balblair than some of the nicer OBs. Which is impressive.
Balblair 19 1997
Cask number 908
Hand Selected for Store # 1201
Colour: 2.5Y 9/3
Nose: Cantaloupe, jujubes, honey, rice wine vinegar, roast peach
Tart, sweet, bit of sharp notes, and some roasty notes.
The age difference between the drams is about 8 years, however you can see similarities (which I didn’t plan, but probably the distiller did). You get acidity and sweetness however there’s a notable roasted note. The difference is this time it seems to make a bit more sense, like some sort of tomato/peach/soft cheese salad that was a rage this past year and I was too afraid to attempt.
Taste: Plum, honeycomb, cloves, passionfruit, caraway
Similar to before, though the funk, spice, and seed note is stronger here. Roast note goes to a cloves note. It’s simpler than before, even with water, and this is where the two whiskies differ.
Finish: Strawberry, char, cotton candy, cereal, cloves
I appreciate the char and spice notes balancing some of the strong sweeter notes. It feels very balanced. I can see why someone picked this after the finish is done.
It’s not super complex, but it’s well made.
Conclusion: Non-offensive, balanced whisky. Basically a better step up than your favourite Balblair. Again I ask: Did cask strength help it? It’s hard to say it did. If I compare it to previous Balblairs I’ve had (and I did) I definitely think they’ve created a whisky that shows good quality at high or lower proof.
That said, maybe I have a special place in my mind for Balblair: I’ve had a meal with the head distiller, I’ve met brand reps from them, and they run a decent tasting that is worth it. This whisky had nothing to do with those meetings or tastings.
What I’m saying is this: If you’re wondering about Balbalir, take some time to try before you buy. Figure out if you agree with me before you dive in (if you do, go for it). I think it’s a good whisky that is worth it. You should try it too, because it’s worth your time.
Scotch review #1433-4, Highland review #229-30, Whisky Network review #2120-1