This month, the Balblair 2000.
Away up North of Inverness in the Dornoch Firth there lies a wee distillery that has decided to do things a little differently. Balblair distillery was officially established in 1790, making it the 3rd oldest ‘legitimate’ distillery in Scotland. Records exist, however, that show whisky production occuring there since at least 1749. Established by John Ross, he and his family were to oversee the distillery up until the very end of the 19th century. Bought by Alexander Cowan in 1894, was moved (half a mile to take advantage of the new railway), modernised, and then in 1911, mothballed. In 1948 a solicitor named Robert ‘Bertie’ Cumming buys the dormant distillery with production resuming in ’49. A couple more changes of hands, some expansion and 50-odd years sees the current owners take over the distillery in 1970.
Balblair is now owned by the Inverhouse Distillers Group who have stable of 4 – including Old Pultney, AnCnoc and Speyburn. As a relatively small company in the world of whisky, the head distillers don’t have to follow strict corporate guidelines and aren’t bound by the need to maintain strict consistency. Recognising this, Balblair makes a vintage whisky. The one we have this month is the Balblair 2000 edition. Like wines which vary slightly from vintage to vintage, so too does the Balblair offer variations and nuances with each different vintage.
The bottle and packaging are beautiful. The clear bottle shows you with out reservation that this is an ex-bourbon barrel whisky and it proudly states Natural Colour on the label. It was distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2011, making it 11 years in oak more or less.
The flavour of the Balblair 2000 is quite unique in single malts. It reminds me, funnily enough of a single malt distillery, because I can actually smell the raw spirit. Usually the raw spirit of a whisky is masked by years in oak. This whisky is fresh and vibrant, displaying all the beauty, fruitiness and character of its raw self. The flavour is certainly enhanced by vanilla from the ex bourbon barrels, but the oakiness is not an overwhelming flavour as it is in so many other whiskies. Ageing in oak does 2 things, first it takes out the unpleasant flavours. 11 years in oak has certainly achieved this. Secondly, the oak adds flavour to the whisky from its previous contents (eg. sherry or bourbon) and the oaks intrinsic flavours. These flavours are very subtle in the Balblair 00. There is distinct vanilla from the American oak, but there is very little other oak flavour present. It is amazing how the fruit (Banana, Jonathan apples, passionfruit) is so powerful. It really is a unique whisky. These spirit flavours would generally be masked or over powered by Christmas cake, toffee, etc. In a whisky that does not have those dominant flavours its true beauty is allowed to shine.
What a wonder. Well done Balblair 2000. Well done.