Balblair has just launched a 21-year-old single malt – the oldest single malt in the Highland distillery’s core range. Very exciting, isn’t it?
The whisky began its journey in second-fill American oak bourbon barrels, where it spent fifteen years maturing before it was moved into Spanish oak oloroso butts for the final six years. It doesn’t seem accurate to call six years of further ageing ‘finish’, this is very much a secondary maturation. The single malt Scotch whisky was bottled at 46% ABV and is now available in the UK but will roll out to markets including Europe, North America and Asia in the coming months.
“Balblair’s 21 Year Old is the culmination of our commitment to craftsmanship and the timeless art of whisky-making,” says John MacDonald, Balblair’s distillery manager. “From the moment the spirit touches the cask until it reaches full maturity, every detail is carefully nurtured, resulting in a remarkable whisky that flawlessly captures the essence of Balblair.”
Founded in 1790, Balblair is one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotch whisky. Its distinctive red chimney can be seen as you approach through the heart of the Northern Scottish Highlands near the banks of the Dornoch Firth in the shadow of Struie Hill. There’s five guys working here who have over 200 years of experience combined, including some descendants of founder John Ross.
The whisky-making process here begins with water from the Allt Dearg burn, a source of soft water that flows through an open ditch to the distillery, and concerto or laureate barley. A classic old Porteus mill does its thing before mashing takes place in a stainless steel semi-lauter tun. It’s a three-water mash at 60.5, 82, and then 92 degrees that processes 4.5 tonnes in six hours. Some distilleries will do three times that much in half the time, but at Balblair the process is done very slowly to produce a very bright clear wort which will in turn make the fruity wash it desires.
In six traditional Douglas Fir washbacks, with a capacity of 19,300 litres each, fermentation lasts for 60 hours. Smell it and you’re greeted by an intoxicating tropical fruit aroma. Distillation then takes place in two squat stills that don’t allow for too much copper contact to give the spirit an adequate body. Shell and tube condensers, installed in the ‘70s, do make sure the new make is still refined.
Then it’s into the eight traditional dunnage warehouses, where 22,500 barrels fully mature until they’re ready to be bottled in Ayrshire. There’s some hogsheads, and some sherry butts, but mostly it’s American oak. First-fill casks are a priority here and quality is key, with owners International Beverage paying out a seven-figure bill annually to the likes of sherry legend Miguel Martin for the very best. Every single malt is bottled with natural colour and without chill-filtration.
Balblair 21 Year Old review
The process above creates a spirit that’s teaming with exotic fruit but also has a weight to it. You’ll notice the texture is velvety when tasting Balblair and that the full-bodied nature of the whisky means that it can stand up to maturation in casks with lots of personality, like first-fill sherry.
In the case of Balblair 21 Year Old, that’s exactly what we see. The second-fill bourbon to first-fill sherry cask pathway for this spirit is a really clever move because the first 15 years of ageing bring out the Balblair DNA in all its glory before quality sherry casks add another dimension of flavour and character. The texture is so round you can almost chew it and the flavours are beautifully developed. At £300, it’s not cheap. But it does hit the mark of what you want from an older Balblair.
Nose: It’s gloriously tropical with grilled mango, coconut and pineapple chunks as well aromas of nutmeg, banoffee pie, creamy fudge, gingerbread, marzipan, and coffee.
Palate: More aromatic, woody spice with clove and ginger blends well with rich toffee elements and heaps of fruit, from red apples to nectarines and papaya.
Finish: Biscuity, chocolatey, tropical, and with just a hint of pencil shavings.
Balblair 21 Year Old is now available from Master of Malt, click on the link for volume, price, and more.