Old Ballantruan is a single malt whisky that is produced by the Tomintoul distillery. Tomintoul (pronounced tom-in-towel) was opened in 1964 and is located in the famous Livet glen, close to the village of Ballindalloch, on the southern edge of Scotland's Speyside region. It is large and produces around 3 million litres per year. Tomintoul is the second highest distillery in Scotland at 286 metres (808 feet) above sea level and regularly suffers poor weather and cold temperatures as a result. Dalwhinnie in the central Highlands is the highest at 326 metres (1075 feet). The current owners are Angus Dundee Distillers, and most of the whisky produced there is allocated to blending contracts.
Old Ballantruan is unusual for a Speyside whisky as it is produced using peated malted barley and is very smoky in nature. This style of whisky is normally associated with island distilleries but there is a growing trend in Scotland's other whisky regions to use peated malt. This is due to the current high demand for smoky whiskies around the world. Old Ballantruan was first produced in 2001 as an experiment and is bottled at roughly five or six years of age and 50% ABV. It has a peating level of 30ppm (phenols per million) which puts it at a similar strength to Until recently, it formed part of Tomintoul's core range but has now been discontinued. Tomintoul produce another smoky whisky called Peaty Tang, which is lightly peated and fresher than Old Ballantruan and production of this continues.
Old Ballantruan has a golden yellow colour with a brown tint and a nose that is simple but striking. There is plenty of peaty smoke (think of damp moss and earth) and malty barley grains. The nose has a touch of raw alcohol spirit to it which indicates that this is a young whisky, but it is not detrimental and is joined by an interesting dark and slightly bitter element (imagine a dark chocolate or espresso coffee). On the palate, this packs a peaty punch (that damp moss and earth again) but then settles nicely so that the peaty smoke element combines with the other elements present. This is rich, creamy (almost oily) and full bodied in your mouth. There is a lovely level of sweetness that comes from the peat and barley as well as elements of caramel, vanilla and a touch of something savoury (it may sound strange but it is reminiscent of smoked bacon). The finish is vibrant and long with a lovely combination of the obvious smokiness (this seems more ashy and less earthy here), sweet caramel, vanilla and some wood spice (think of cinnamon).
The Old Ballantruan is a pleasant and enjoyable dram. It offers some interesting characteristics and can certainly sit comfortably amongst its more well known smoky whisky rivals from the islands. It offers an interesting smoky whisky alternative, although it is hard to find as the bottlings were limited. A bottle should cost £28-35 from selected specialist whisky retailers.