Balmenach is a Speyside distillery. Originally opened in 1824, the distillery was closed in 1993 by Diageo, who were the owners at the time. Following five years of mothballing (the process where a distillery is taken out of action but kept intact), it was taken over and reopened by current owners, Inver House. The distillery is one of the most traditional in Scotland and they maintain many of the original production methods using some of the original distillery equipment. Whisky from Balmenach is rare and generally only available in specialist retailers. This is due to the distillery's relatively small production capacity (around 1.5 million litres per year) and the fact that the majority of stock goes to fulfill blending contracts (Balmenach is one of the key whiskies that goes into the Ballantine's blend, which is extremely popular in the UK and mainland Europe). There are currently no distillery releases (although one at 10 years old is expected next year) and independent bottlings are few and far between. This is bottled at 32 years old and it forms part of Gordon & Macphail's 'Connoisseurs Choice' range, selling for around £60 per bottle.
The colour is very dark, almost chocolatey brown and the nose is expressive. It is very woody with lots of vegetal notes (think of grass and hay). There is an earthy mustiness and something acrid (like sugar or rubber burning). These characteristics are common in whiskies that have been aged for a significant length of time as they have had so much contact with the wood in the cask. On the palate, this is think and feels almost oily. There is lots of dried fruitiness (imagine raisins, sultanas and candied peel) but there is also a bitterness (like a good dark chocolate) and it is very drying in the mouth. This is due to the high number of tannins picked up from the wooden cask, which again can be a characteristic of high aged whiskies. The finish is long but again bitter, grassy and very woody (it reminded me of drinking a strong black coffee). This whisky was OK but left me slightly disappointed, as there is a preconception that the older a whisky is then the better it is. This left me feeling that it was almost too old and had been left in the cask too long, making it too bitter and woody for my taste. very interesting to try though.