I’ve been debating if I was going to do a review on Blair Athol or not.
I’m not saying my reviews somehow (solely) impact the market. While I don’t know what small or larger impact I have, I will honestly say I don’t think my writing will have a large impact on the whisky market. That said I’d like to think I have some impact what with all the effort I’ve been putting in to these.
Recently there’s been a few Blair Athol coming out that are showing promise. A Highland distillery I never really paid much attention to, in fact.
Not due to some bad whisky or an OB that I wasn’t a fan of. In fact I haven’t had the chance to try the 12-year-old bottling as my local provincial monopoly doesn’t deem it necessary to sell it. Also it’s owned by Diageo, meaning IBs are going to pay a pretty penny for it, and it’s going into blends (in this case Bell’s Blend).
Add in the fact that I’m not the biggest Highland region fan and you’ve got a bit of a pickle. It’s like when people find out a large predator was near them and they didn’t know it (think a mountain lion or whatever nightmare Australia has produced recently).
Today is time to make up for that. I had friends who poured me samples, so we’re going to try samples and catch up on Blair Athol. It may never be inexpensive (what with being in Diageo’s stable) but we should know if it’s worth it or not.
So let’s dive in, shall we?
Blair Athol 26 1988 Signatory Vintage Un-Chillfiltered Collection – Cask Strength is a refill sherry butt single cask picked out by those freaky people down at K&L Wine Merchants. Freaky in a good way. Like a fun way. That one friend you see every few years and you once woke up with a live snake due to their partying ways.
I’ve seen quite a few Blair Athol 1988 pop up. I don’t know if it happened to be a good year or if someone decided they needed a ton of Blair Athol at that point and then didn’t.
We may never know. What we can know is someone picked this barrel and thought it was nice enough to bottle. Let’s see if they were right or now, shall we?
Vintage: October 14, 1988
Bottled: August 17, 2015
Cask type: Refill Sherry Butt
Cask number 6844
Number of bottles: 544
Bottled for: K&L Wine Merchants
Colour: 5YR 5/10
Nose: Dried apricot, raspberry coulis, applesauce, burning cinnamon, violets
Sherry fill dram, light (think Oloroso versus PX), good amount of spice, and then some floral notes. Maybe the sherry is working right here, maybe I’m less experience with Blair Athol, however the nose is working nicely and doesn’t feel like it’s blown out, probably due to the apricot and apple notes (as well as the nice strong floral).
Taste: Pomelo, raspberry coulis, black licorice, mint, spruce, dark honey
Fruity, unique, spice forward in a Nordic flavour profile way, and then this strong floral sweet note.
It’s unbalanced to sweets. Yes, those sweets are complex, and there’s some tannic/oak/bitter notes that are trying really hard here to balance it, and it’s tasty because I like anise and mint in my sweets. But it’s still very sweet.
Finish: Grass, anise, butter, pineapple, grapefruit, nutmeg, mineral
Grassier, less strong sweet, and a lot more acid. Like your third significant other. And like that significant other you’ve got fun stories and rough stories, regardless of how great or terrible they were.
That was a tad bit of a stretch, let’s start over: Grassy, spice, bitter, and acidic. The finish feels the need to balance out the taste and comes in at the perfect time.
Conclusion: That’s a very, very tasty dram. The taste would be a problem if the finish wasn’t a perfect, quick way to balance it. The nose feels closer to the really good oversherried drams rather than just have the sherry notes dominate.
It’s more than just spice or sweets. The only caveat I would add to all of that is if you’re looking for something beyond sweets it may not work for you. It may overwhelm you easily.
As someone who can’t turn down walking into a bakery unless his wife reminds him he doesn’t need to? I’m in a flavour country, and it’s a lovely large country.
Blair Athol Distillery Exclusive 2016 is the distillery exclusive bottling from the year 2016. At this point the only way you’re finding this whisky is at an auction. Or maybe still at the distillery. I only received a sample and decided not to ask a ton of questions of the person who poured it for me as I’ve been told that’s “creepy” and “not okay to ask people you just met”.
What you do have is a special edition that’s only available at the distillery. Which reminds me of Jameson’s (if I may go on a bit of a tangent):
If you go to Jameson’s (a few years ago) you had the choice of the distillery edition or a pour your own edition. I’ve had both: One is a clear winner (pour your own) and a hidden gem that needs to be picked; and the other is the distillery edition.
However, that’s one country over, in a company that the average (non-whisky nerd) person knows about and has more money to bring in that very type of person.
Thus either I’m correct in my assumption it’ll be similar or not. Let’s see how that hypothesis shakes out, shall we?
Number of bottles: 3,000
Colour: 2.5Y 9/4
Nose: Green apple, grassy, birthday cake, oak, mushroom
What an odd nose. There’s fake vanilla, earth, woodiness, grassiness, and a tart/acidic note. It’s unique. It’s impressive in some ways? Like when your friend survives an accident in an impressive way. End of the day his arm was broken but the flip was cool.
Taste: Cinnamon, cloves, oak, licorice
Spice and oak, that’s what you’re getting here. It’s an alcoholic chai tea that someone pulled the bag on a bit quick. Not bad, though I wish the spices had something nice to pair with. Some of the fruit from the nose would be helpful.
Finish: Grass, char, pear/oak, farmy
For all of you funk/heather fans out there, this has it. Adds a nice dimension, though never really lands too much.
Don’t worry though: It’s still oaky and grassy! That’s a good thing for some of you. I think.
Conclusion: Nose is great, and the rest is mostly just spice and grass notes. I wouldn’t be angry about buying this.
Let’s be honest, it’s not for whisky geeks, but then again it is. The average person shows up to Blair Athol, has fun on a tour, and wants to get a souvenir? That’s who this is made for. It’ll sit on their shelf and they will enjoy it over 5 years for special occasions.
Whisky geeks? They are already going for something cask strength, or pour your own, or a special edition release. It’s a simple vatted offering that I’d say try before you buy. And if you can’t try something before buying it then take some time to figure out all the burritos you could buy instead of buying this.
Scotch review #1444-1445, Highland review #236-237, Whisky Network review #2132-2133