At whisky tastings and events, I frequently get asked: “Which is your favourite whisky?”
To which I, inevitably, respond: “Way too tough a question.”
Those people asking me often look at me sceptically, as if I’m trying to not take sides or if my answer might vary depending on who else is listening in on the conversation.
But, it’s true – it is too tough. There are so many incredible whiskies that choosing one (or even five) would be impossible for me.
So, I’ve started suggesting a broad range from varied distilleries that I often come back to or find myself truly enjoying from one expression to the other.
One of those consistent brands for me has been Balblair. Since a trip up to the distillery last year, I have tried and loved many expressions from the company located on the Dornoch Firth, an hour north of Inverness.
The fact it resounds so well with me may be, in part, because one of my favourite memories of whisky drinking involves trying the 1969 Balblair, which I wrote about here. But it’s also because, in Balblair, I’ve found a product that is consistently of interest since I have a great love of fresher, tropical fruit laden drams with lots of body, which many of the group’s vintages exhibit.
Now, as a bit of background, Balblair has been around since 1790, although the current distillery site has been in existence since 1895. The company is now owned by Inver House Distillers, which purchased it in 1996. The majority of the approximately 26,000 casks on site are first or second fill ex-bourbon casks (according to manager John MacDonald, around 97%) while only 3% are ex-sherry casks.
What you should also know about Balblair is that the company releases vintages, rather than age-statement whisky. So, I’ve tried the 1969, 1989, 1996 and 1997 releases, among others, rather than ones that are 12, 21 or 30 years old. This has been the way of things at the distillery since 2001 and allows John to choose casks when he feels they are ready, rather than when they fit within the age statement bracket.
Now, additionally, Balblair does not normally release peated whisky. So, it was with surprise that I recently received a sample from Master of Malt of a Peated Balblair 1990, Cask 1466. Intrigued, I questioned whether the distillery suddenly decided to experiment in 1990 and do a peated whisky run.
As it turns out, Balblair actually matured their normal spirit in a cask which previously held Islay whisky. So, the barley wasn’t peated; the smokiness only comes from the influence of the cask.
Master of Malt has exclusively released the single cask whisky, which has been bottled at 50.4% and is available for £124.95.
So, what did I think of it? Here goes…
(C): Sunshine Yellow
(N): If I was expecting a waft of smoke, I was mistaken. It’s there but sitting quietly in the corner. You wonder if it might change its mind suddenly but, to start, it’s very shy. Still tropical fruit and apple laden with a good burst of juicy pineapples and marzipan that are only slightly tempered. Lingering just behind is a salty earthiness, which I pick up on after my first sip. Bright orange candies come to mind too. With water, it’s very delicate but holds its structure still. There’s a dash more vanilla and some pineapple flan.
(P): Again, not what I was expecting. Still quite fresh but it has an earthy, soil quality too. So delicate for the strength! With water, it’s really creamy with floral, almondy notes. Again, the smoke is there but more to create a backbone than anything overwhelming.
(F): Hay fields in summer. With water, honeysuckle in very light ash.
In conclusion, this was so delicate but with loads of flavour profile to help it stand up. I really wasn’t sure what to expect with a peated Balblair but this was very interesting and definitely Moorish! A winner for sure.
For more information on the release, head to the Master of Malt page here: http://www.masterofmalt.com/whiskies/balblair/balblair-1990-islay-cask-1466-whisky/