A Balblair vertical tasting ending with the brand new 1969 vintage? Go on then. I am easily convinced and it is well worth the Tuesday evening trip down to London to join a handful of journalists and bloggers to celebrate the occasion. To top it off I end up sitting with Billy (aka Cowfish) and Ian (of 101 whiskies fame). And then Balblair threw in some great whisky.
We started with the lovely and fresh 2002 vintage. No notes sorry, I was too busy chatting to Andy from Balblair and Malcom who runs the Soho Whisky Bar (a private members club where this tasting is held) and the fabulous shop underneath. Upstairs they have an incredible range of whisky including the entire Glenfarclas family cask series. I spied my year of birth (1980) so for my next visit I know what I am going for! Anyway, once we sat down the real fun began.
Balblair 1997 [46%]
This is a cracking whisky matured in 1st fill American oak that was released earlier this year. Retailing at around £50 it is excellent value and should be considered for all whisky collections.
Nose: Creamy and fudgey to begin with. Strong notes of vanilla and the typical Balblair characteristics of autumn fruits before a slight citrus scent came in. Very deep.
Palate: Continues in the same vein as the nose, but even more pronounced toffees and lemons.
Finish: Medium in length, reminds me very much of apples and autumnal forest walks.
Balblair 1989 [46%]
Retailing at around £85 this would be my choice of whisky to go for in a sensible price test. It’s complex, fruity, bottled at 46% and is naturally coloured and non-chill filtered.
Nose: The first note to hit is banana. It’s incredible – it’s so strong. Wheras the 1997 is English and autumnal, this whisky is definitely tropical – the bananas and pineapple notes dance around the nose. An exotic and complex whisky.
Palate: Very sweet and spicy throughout. I’m taken to the Caribbean and to hot long days on the beach.
Finish: Very long and dry.
Balblair 1975 [46%]
There are around 3000 bottles of this release. The whisky came from 6 casks (American Oak ex sherry) and retails for around £230. It is 37 years old and simply divine. A joy to taste.
Nose: Initial scents of melons gave way to an unusually subtle smokiness (John [Distillery Manager] commented on this being rare for Balblair and all he could find from looking through the distillery archives was that around 1975 Balblair stopped traditional floor maltings – could this have had an impact?). Further investigation found some coastal salty notes, Balblair autumnal fruit and some menthol.
Palate: To take John’s words “Amazing”. It was sweet and spicy with a little smoke. It almost reminded me of a subtle old Islay – no peat reek at all but a very understated smokiness throughout. It is a delight.
Finish: Long and glorious.
It was then onto the main event. What could possibly beat what had gone before it? How about the oldest official bottling of Balblair (ignoring the 1965 single cask special release). We were to be the first people to try this new vintage from almost the first bottle of the bottling run.
Balblair 1969 [41.4%]
1969 was a good year – Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the Beatles released some albums and this whisky was casked into American Oak hogsheads. 43 years later, a mere 4 casks were married together to create 999 bottles of an incredibly rare whisky. The Balblair 1969 will retail at £2500 so few people are likely to try it. Those who do however will be delighted and thrilled. It is an exceptional dram and I only wish we’d been given another sample for the train home.
Nose: Alive. That was my overriding thought – the whisky is very alive and fresh for one that has spent 43 years in cask. Yes the oak comes through but so does mint, lemons, honey and again, apples. Wonderfully complex – it goes without saying you could spend a night with this dram.
Palate: Mild and reserved to begin with, almost alluringly subtle. Time reveals oak chips, spices, aniseed and liquorice, before citrus flavours of orange and lemons burst through and mix in with delightful strands of toffee. I’d have to agree with Ian too and say there is a rather nice medicinal quality to the whisky too.
Finish: Very long, an hour later it’s still on my palate. It is a majestic whisky that lingers with some notes of cinnamon apple and raisin crumble to the end.
London is great, and it’s even better when you can go to a place like the Soho Whisky Club and drink some quite frankly awesome whisky with some fabulous people. Thanks for inviting me; I had a ball and have reaffirmed my love of Balblair. That’s what nights like this are for; to enjoy new whisky, reacquaint yourself with old favourites and to do it in delighful company.