It’s an exciting one, this...
It’s not often that we get involved with Exclusive, Single-Cask bottlings direct from the distilleries themselves, as there’s generally much better value to be had from independent bottlings. We do lots of them instead. Lots and lots.
Every now and then though, something comes along that wouldn’t usually be available on the independent market.
This is one such bottling. A (very, very rare) Peated Balblair. Well, I say that – it’s actually a Balblair that’s been stored in a cask previously used to hold Peated Whisky. Sort of Peated through the medium of cheating. A Cheaty-Peaty whisky if you will.
Now – I’ll not bore you too much with a potted history of Balblair, but it does have the honour of being one of the distilleries I’ve visited personally, so I can tell you the interesting bits through the medium of slightly incompetent photos:
Firstly – if you’re travelling up to Balblair on the sleeper train from London to Inverness, you’re going to need a buffet. This is what said buffet looks like if you spend almost £100 of someone else’s money on M&S goodies:
Not pictured, a Caterpillar cake. We’d already eaten that
Secondly – even if an M&S buffet is on the cards, you’re going to want to bring a backup selection of Corn-based snacks. Well, you are if you’re Neil from off of Caskstrength anyway:
If anything, that is too many corn-based snacks
Thirdly (and this is more of a note to self) – This is not an adequate breakfast:
Fourthly (is that even a word?) – They make nice whisky at Balblair. Fact. They make it in this:
Massive, it is.
Fifthly (I’m not even convincing myself anymore) – Single cask official bottlings of Balblair are a comparatively recent affair – in fact, here’s an image of Distillery Manager John MacDonald with the first ever one, bottled in late 2011 when I was up at the launch of the new visitor’s centre (well worth a look in if ever you’re up there).
Penultimately – they have a bell. Here it is:
Insert Metallica joke here
Finally – If you do choose to bring a slightly larger case than usual in order to make sure you’ve got enough room for corn-based snacks, do make sure not to get it stuck in the airport on the way back so that an airport securitym’n has to come and remove it for you.
And just as I typed that, luckily enough, a bottle has just been delivered from the warehouse by a very helpful young lady which means I can stop vamping and see what it actually tastes like.
Right then. So – we’re looking at a cask distilled in 1990, and bottled in 2013. 22 Years Old. Bottled at full, natural cask strength (of only 50.4%, so it’s lost a good deal of alcohol during maturation), with no chill-filtration or caramel, just like all our other single cask bottlings. There are only 138 of this – so move quickly if you want to secure one.
The handy little neck-tag confirms that the cask in which it was matured had previously held an Islay malt – we can only guess as to which one. Probably Malt Mill*.
Official Tasting Notes
Tasting notes by me. Promise. Done them myself this time, so I did:
Balblair 1990 Islay Cask 1466 – £124.95 – 138 bottles
Nose: What the deuce? Some kind of trick, surely. This smells overwhelmingly, potently, of delicious, freshly squeezed apple juice. Copella Apple Juice to be precise. One of the most sweet, and fruity whiskies I’ve come across in a long time. The Bourbon cask has clearly had some influence here. Given time in the glass, there is a development of very subtle peat, which complements without ever being intrusive. A touch of cinnamon and brown sugar to go with the apple. Lovely Stuff.
Palate: Following an initial hit of mid-80’s tuck-shop sweetness (Refreshers of both sorts – chewy and chalky), the peat is immediately apparent here. Becomes much more savoury than the nose and initial palate would suggest. Initial short-crust pastry notes (buttery, too) are fleeting, giving way to caramelised bananas, and a touch of Nasturtium leaf. Becomes more grown-up than the nose hinted. The best of both worlds?
Finish: Herbaceous. Mint, and parsley give way to the seam of peat, which given time becomes more menthol than phenol. Hints (but only hints) of bitumen, and ash meld into one delicious, fruity, gristy, meaty ‘ball’.
Overall: This whisky has got that rare ‘x-factor’ which I look for in stuff I buy to drink personally. I’ve still not developed a proper way of describing it beyond saying that it’s ‘huge’, and very ‘spherical’. It starts sweet as you like on the nose, but the palate and finish progress beyond the simplicity that can sometimes be implicit with that term, and meld together into a seamless experience of mouth-filling flavour. Nothing is missing here, everything is balanced. Great Whisky.
*Probably not Malt Mill.