As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am really trying to make a dent in the sample accumulation cluttering my desk and while sifting through the various small bottles I came across the remaining half of a sample of the Balblair 1978 Vintage sent to me by my friend, Mike K over at Diving for Pearls. Mike had purchased this bottle as a personal “celebration” bottle since it was from the year of his birth …… and he very generously shared a sample with me!
About the Balblair Distillery
Arguably one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, Balblair was founded by John Ross in 1790. First run by John Ross, then by his son Andrew, and finally by grandson James, the distillery remained in the Ross family until 1894. In 1894 Balblair was leased to Alexander Cowan. Cowan ultimately relocated the distillery a few miles away in order to take advantage of the newly expanded Inverness and Ross-shire railway line, which offered vastly improved delivery routes to the markets in the south of Scotland and England. The new distillery was designed by the renowned architect/designer Charles C Doig and possesses the iconic pagoda-style “Doig Ventilator” that improves the efficiency of drawing off peat smoke in the malting process.
Unfortunately for Balblair, Cowan ran into financial difficulties and in 1911 the distillery closed. The distillery remained out of service until the Balnagowan Estate upon which it was located also went into bankruptcy and the distillery was put up for sale in 1948. Purchased by Robert Cumming for £48,000, the distillery was finally reopened and restarted production in 1949. In 1970 Cumming sold Balblair to Hiram Walker which became part of Allied Distillers in 1988 when Hiram Walker and Allied Vintners merged. In 1996 Allied Domecq sold the distillery to Inver House Distillers, which was taken over by Pacific Spirits in 2001, which, in turn, was acquired by International Beverage Holdings in 2006.
According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, the Balblair distillery operates with a single stainless steel mash tun, six Oregon pine washbacks and one pair of stills. A third still that is on site has been inactive since 1969. Balblair is running 21 mashes per week and have reached their maximum production capacity of 1.8 million liters of alcohol. With eight dunnage warehouses on the property, Balblair has a total storage capacity of 26,000 casks.
Review: Balblair 1978 Vintage
Somewhat uniquely, Balblair ceased releasing whiskies with Age Statements in 2007, instead they began bottling their whiskies as “Vintages” based on the year distilled. Here we have the Balblair 1978 Vintage, which was released in January 2009, making this is an approximately 30-year old whisky (possibly, this could be 29 years depending on when in 1978 it was distilled.) Anyway, this whisky was aged in second-fill American oak ex-bourbon barrels, bottled at 46% abv, unchillfiltered and with no e150a coloring added!
Color: chardonnay, an amber-yellow-golden color.
Nose: Nosing this neat, an immediate and intense fruitiness comes out of the glass before I even pick it up. There is a mix of ripe orchard fruits – red and green apples, plus tropical fruits in pineapple and maybe a hint of coconut, and a citrus note of lime adding a tangy bite. There are notes of honey, confectioners (powdered) sugar, anise, delicate spices, and a dose of white pepper. With some water the nose doesn’t really change except perhaps the spice and peppery notes are stronger, but it remains fruity, tangy-sweet, softly spiced.
Taste: A beautifully rich, creamy, fruity-sweet arrival, full of delicate, yet very vibrant flavors. While the fruits are dominant, there are also notes of vanilla bean, the pepper and soft spices notes, and a soft, oaky (good) tannic bitterness. On the palate the addition of water really shows up the most. The arrival and mouth feel are thinner – still nice, but initially it loses a bit of the elegant, rich thickness on the palate. Given enough time, though, the richness returns along with a softly grassy element. But overall, this remains fruity, peppery and very “bright.”
Finish: Fruity, peppery, sweet, tangy citric, soft spices and gently drying. Now I also get some fresh orange juice, sweet yet slightly tangy. After adding water, more of the peppery-sweetness, tangy citric notes, and the gently drying spice notes.
Overall: This is quite a well-developed and matured whisky that remains vibrant and delicately bold in its aromas and flavors. It is a proverbial fruit-bomb that shows a great complexity and development, and there is a depth and richness that I believe comes only through time in cask – the “patience” that the whisky industry used to emphasize as being critical to making the best whisky, but that is no longer a focal point in this age of No Age Statement whiskies. Many, many thanks to Mike for his generosity in sharing this whisky with me!!
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 30 years
Maturation: American oak ex-bourbon (Second fill)
Availability: UK-only release when available through retail. Now only available on the secondary market.
Price: Per WhiskyBase.com, secondary-market pricing is over €300
Sample Source: Michael K, Diving for Pearls
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.