Friday, July 27, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #125

Balblair 1989
Highland Single Malt Whisky
43% abv

After 125 morning malts there can be little doubt that I love whisky. But when I hear the name Balblair I still feel the hair the back of my arms stand up, starting a wave from my elbows to my shoulders (yes, I have hair on my shoulders). A few years ago when I tasted the Balblair 38 a real problem began. Well it had already started, really, but this just accelerated it. It could not have been more than 15ml in my glass, but the impact was enormous.

I had been an ageist with regards to whisky in that I didn't hold older whiskies in higher esteem by default. Hallmark or Islay Mist 8, Aberlour or Glenmorangie 10 were enough for me. And my budget. Sure I found ways to try much more, but if I was going to take it home, it had to be below a certain price point. But Balblair 38, the concept that absolute spirit(ual) ecstasy was available by the dram, broke that budget and convinced me that money spent could be pleasure earned. The next bottle I bought was £30 and I felt like a big spender. And re-reading that paragraph, I sound like a whisky junkie.

Forgetting age, InverHouse Distillers has abandoned age statements for vintages. While most of the literature surrounding their launch makes claims about opportunistic investment while Balblair is held in high regard by connoisseurs, the
market opportunities on the premium end of the category and of capitalising on the emerging markets in Asia and Russia (to paraphrase Inver House marketing manager Karen Walker), there is a slightly more romantic justification that is more 'maturation warehouse' than 'management boardroom'. The vintage concept offers a totally different approach to cask selection: rather than having a goal of consistency from one batch of 10 or 16yo to the next, and therefore having to be sure to fill the appropriate number of X and Y casks every year to satisfy that objective in years to come, unusual expressions from varied casks of different vintages can be selected and vatted to create exciting and unique expressions of the diversity of this category 'A' blending malt.

Stuart Harvey sampled 1062 casks (jealous?) in his search for the best casks for the vintages range, settled on 1997, 1989, and 1979 (all from American ex-bourbon casks) and expects future releases of Spanish oak vattings and more bourbon barrels of different vintages. This is a big investment for Inver House in terms of research, marketing, and new packaging, but we are all looking forward to each new release, glasses in hand.

Thanks to Whisky Magazine Issue 63(May/June '07) for some of the above information and to The Whisky Exchange for the taster.


Very fragrant, tangerines, sweet canned peaches. Succulent oak influences exposing great depth of aromas. Bourbon creams. Subtle and laid back and worth becoming so yourself as this whisky really develops in the glass with emerging rum and raisin creaminess, a mineral saltiness, and exotic fruits.

Soft and sexy in the mouth, perfumy and floral that explodes in a different direction upon swallowing. Gets smoky and toasty, slightly charred. Plastic bags. Walnuts and chocolate chips. Finish is a slow fade of a grassy freshness on top of perfume and coca-cola Hubba Bubba, all smothered in oaky dryness.


While I really enjoy the whisky, and love the bottle (cool shape, great big cork, great design on back, etc.), the box drives me nuts. Yes, the pictures by Finn McRae are really lovely, but the box is just too big, too square, too wasteful. They must annoy retailers! These are the new core range and will not sit on shelves very long. The bottles will be consumed and the boxes tossed. Do we really need these big, multi-material bottle coffins for standard bottlings?

Malt Mission #121
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Malt Mission #124

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