Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Have just tried > Balblair 1978 Vintage

This old single malt whisky is from the Balblair distillery in the north Highlands of Scotland.  It was added to their core range of Vintage whiskies in late 2009, when it replaced the award winning 1975 Vintage, and was released as a 3,000 bottle limited edition. The Balblair core range is released as vintages, rather than the more common age statement in numbers of years.  Distillery Manager John MacDonald explains, "our whisky tells us when it's ready, not the other way round. Each vintage is hand picked from a selection of our finest casks, once its optimum maturation point is reached". The core range normally includes four Vintages, with a couple of others released exclusively for the Duty Free/travel retail market.

Balblair is located in the picturesque village of Edderton, near to the town of Tain. It lies close to the shores of the Dornoch Firth, one of Scotland’s largest estuaries, with the mountains of the Highlands rising behind it and the North Highland Inverness-Thurso railway track running next to it. The distillery is one of Scotland's oldest, having been founded by John Ross in 1790, although the current buildings were constructed in 1893. One cool story is that direct descendants of John Ross are currently working at the distillery and they feel this provides an important heritage link to its past. Balblair is currently owned by Inver House Distillers, which is a subsidiary of the larger Thai Beverages group, and they have owned it since 1996. The current annual production capacity is 1.3 million litres.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow with an amber tint. The nose is an interesting combination of rich, deep aromas - there are dried fruits (raisins, sultanas and dates), toffee and spicy cinnamon bark - and lighter fresher ones - imagine green apples, cereal grains, fresh grass and a hint of gooseberry. The overall mix gives a very pleasant scent. On the palate, a similar thing happens - it is rich but with lighter elements coming through, which makes the whisky very complex. It also has a slightly oily texture in the mouth. The key notes detected are vanilla, coconut, honey, fresh green apples and pears, almonds, plenty of delicate drying oak spices, plus hints of pepper and tropical fruits (especially mango, banana and pineapple). The dry wood spices (especially some cinnamon) seem to increase with time and carry through to a decently long finish - this begins sweetly with pleasant vanilla and tropical fruit before distinct cereal grains come through.

What's the verdict?
This Balblair 1978 Vintage is a delightful whisky, although one which is hard to define.  It seems to begin with plenty of richness on both the nose and palate, but then reveals numerous light, delicate and subtle characteristics.  This demonstrates sympathetic and balanced casking during maturation.  The other pleasant surprise is the freshness of this whisky given its age of 30 years.  It combines this freshness (which is so often missing in old whiskies) with a depth and complexity which makes this a dram to savour.  A bottle should cost around £150 from specialist whisky retailers.

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