Balblair Vintages 2013 releases

Last year I had a moment. A whisky moment. A full-on, wrapped up in joy and lost in the moment kind of moment.

And it was funny because I ask people all the time about their favourite moments involving whisky but I’m not always so good at answering that question myself.

But this one stands out in time because I remember it still (18 months later) so clearly.

Balblair 1969

I wrote about that moment here on Miss Whisky soon after – it was when I tasted the 1969 vintage from Balblair up at the distillery (check out that piece here). I then recently wrote about it for the company’s Gathering Place (an online whisky club for fans of its malt) as I was still blowed over by the fact that I remembered trying that dram so clearly.

And recently, I was lucky enough to get to try that dram all over again. While the whisky was originally released last year for the American market, it has only recently become available in the UK and it makes up part of the new vintages released by Balblair for 2013, all of which I had the chance to try recently.

John MacDonald Balblair Distillery ManagerThe event took place at the lovely Berner’s Street Tavern in central London and John MacDonald – the distillery manager – was on hand to discuss the latest releases.

As background, Balblair releases a set of ‘vintages’ each year rather than a 10, 12 or 18 year old whisky. The idea is that John noses and samples every cask in the warehouse to choose which casks are ready to be bottled rather than being hampered in by age-statements that say they have to reach a certain age before they can be. The distillery focuses mostly on blending (around 85% of its spirit goes for reciprocal agreements) so when it releases a vintage, it’s never in a huge quantity – although John did confirm the portion of whisky being put aside for its single malts is steadily increasing year on year.

John – who has spent 25 years in the industry (starting in warehousing at Glenmorangie) – took us through each of the new vintages. While I’d already tried a couple – the 1997 release number 2, reviewed here, and the 1969, reviewed here – there were three news ones for me: the 2003, the 1990 and the 1983.

According to John he would have the “1990 for pudding, the 1997 during the day and the 2003 before you get out of bed in the morning.” Because I was at an event – where lots of questions were being asked – my notes are less in-depth than if I were tasting at home but here’s an overview of what I thought of them:

Balblair 2013 Vintages

Balblair 2003: First Release: 46%:

Matured in second fill, ex-bourbon hogsheads; 18 casks make up this vintage:

(n): Quite floral, a bit dusty with notes of yellow flowers and butterscotch. Very delicate for the ABV.

(p): Lots of dry grassy notes but less sweet than expected from the nose. Quite round but not too heavy – lots of freshness, very ‘green’.

Balblair 1990: Second Release: 46%:

Matured for 21 years in ex-bourbon hogsheads, this release was then vatted together and transferred to five ex-Oloroso sherry butts for a further two years of maturation, producing around 3,000 bottles:

(n): Great rich, dark nose – it’s such a diversion from the normal staple of releases from Balblair as it is rare for the company to use ex-sherry casks. Lots of oranges and toffee, but still an underlying vanilla, ex-bourbon cask influence; also lots of dark cherries and dark brown sugar.

(p): Dry, dark, slightly spicy with lots of cinnamon notes, before a lovely creaminess sets in, along with baked oranges and dark chocolate. I agreed with John: one to have in place of pudding.

Balblair 1983: First Release: 46%:

Matured in refill ex-bourbon barrels, this vintage is made from 18 casks:

(n): Really vibrant, with loads of tropical fruit – it’s much more of a classic Balblair than the 1990 with bursting tinned pineapples and strawberry foams, and huge dollops of freshness.

(p): Lovely oils on the palate making it silky smooth. Bright (made me think orange and yellow, probably because I was getting lots of pineapple) that fades into a mellow, white sugar smoothness before a really big finish. Layers, layers, layers!