It’s fascinating to experience a brand of whisky that offers a whole host of expressions that are not to the norm. Vintages can be seen as an exclusive way to release something special, whether it corresponds with a certain milestone year, or a particular one-off style that’s never to be seen again. Indeed these sort of expressions become highly sought-after, and are rarely seen on a shelf within your favourite whisky haunt.
Balblair have seemed to buck the trend on this.
They only create vintages that are ‘timed to perfection’, and have done since 1790. No 12-year-old in sight. No 18-year-old to speak of. But a 1999 vintage? No problem.
But why this way? Lets take a look.
The Balblair Distillery was established back in 1790 in Dornoch Firthby by a local man, John Ross (although the first known records date from 1749) and was soon joined by his son Andrew. Eventually, the sons and grandsons of John Ross operated the Balblair farm and distillery until the last years of the 19th century until the sale of Balblair Distillery to Alexander Cowan in 1894. Cowan brings Balblair into the 20th Century by building the present offices, still house, mash house, kiln and barns.
After the launch of the Highland Railway Company rail line between Inverness and Ardgay in 1862, Balblair started to take advantage of its use and moved the distillery half a mile north to its current location in 1895. Unfortunately, due to the tough economic times, Balblair Distillery shut in 1911, with the last drop of whisky leaving the warehouse in 1932.
Despite a brief use of the building by the army, 1948 saw Robert James “Bertie” Cumming, a solicitor from Banff, purchase the distillery for £48,000, with production resuming just a year later and expanding with extra warehouses and the first steam boiler in 1964. In 1970 though, Cummings sold the Balblair Distillery to Hiram Walker, the company that later becomes Allied Distillers. This era saw the renovation of the distillery throughout the 1980’s until its sale to Inver House Distillers in 1996.
It was in 2007 that Balblair opted for the bold move to only release Balblair as a Vintage Whisky, with the first vintages released being 1997, 1989 and 1979 in March 2007. It’s said that “Each Balblair Vintage captures the essence of its year in a bottle. They’re only ever selected at the absolute peak of perfection. Handpicked, to represent the very best our Distillery has to offer”.
I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some of the Balblair Vintages, so below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Balbair 1975 – 46%
Fresh citrus and coconut notes on the nose. Sweet and spicy on the palate with honey and fruits on the finish. Warming.
Balbair 1989 – 46%
Apple and raisin notes on the nose and then combines with spice flavours on the palate. A long, rich offering with raisin dominating throughout.
Balblair 1991 – 43%
Bold and fresh notes of honey and butter, with subtle cherry finding its way through. Soft green fruits on the palate creating a very dry, almost ash driven finish.
Balblair 1997 – 46%
Tropical fruits on the nose with apples, honey and vanilla coming through. A hit of sweetness on the palate, but spice soon follows that creates a long, long finish.
Balblair 1999 – 46%
The second release of the 1999 that replaces the award-winning second release of the 1997 Vintage.
Honey and leather notes on the nose, with subtle hints of lavender coming through. Sharp lemon skin upon the palate, staying at the front of the mouth whilst the rest enjoys smooth vanilla and honey mixed with waves of bold spice. Long finish.
Balbair 2002 – 46%
Floral fruits on the nose with hints of vanilla and toffee following, A good mix of spice and sweetness on the palate with orange and lemons dominating.
Balblair 2004 – 46%
Bourbon matured. Light nose with no distinctive aromas coming through. Slight malt honey on the odd occasion. Dry orange with light, sweet hints available. A short and very dry finish.
Some fantastic whisky expressions here, and as you’d imagine, not the range that you would start to mix up a cocktail with. The odd drop of water would open up a few of the above, but personal rule is to enjoy it as it comes, and the Balblair range, currently, do not disappoint. A couple for the drinks cabinet won’t go amiss.
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