Balblair, one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, renewed its complete range in February 2007, with a new branding and bottle design. The age statements were replace by vintages (1975, 1979, 1986 (duty free), 1989 and 1997). Around 15% of the production is bottled as single malt.
This Balblair 1997 is a mixture of mostly ex-bourbon barrels with a few 2nd fill sherry butts.
Balblair 1997 (43%, OB 2008)
Nose: clean barley with soft vanilla. Really fresh and minty, with quite a lot of fruity notes (apple, orange, lemon, pineapple). Honey. Also spicy notes (cinnamon) from the oak. I quite like the nose. Mouth: sweet attack, again really fruity (pineapple, apricot, grapefruit). Vanilla. Subtle oak. Very light hints of peat. Evolving on spices and liquorice. Finish: a bit too simple and maybe a tad too bitter (ginger).
Well, I have to say this dram exceeded my expectations. Good introduction malt. Around € 40.
Glenfarclas 39 yo 1970 (54,4%, The Perfect Dram 2009, first fill oloroso butt, 240 btl.)
Beautiful oloroso colour! Nose: classic sherry influence. 1+1 is definitely more than 2 here. Very big, dark chocolate smell with raisins, oranges and dry figs. Some toasted flavours (coffee, roasted nuts). Hints of matches but far away from the sulphur alarm. Just terrific. You might argue this is closer to sherry than whisky though. Mouth: very powerful and still very sherried, developing on dry fruits (figs, prunes, cherries) and going towards balsamic syrup. Slightly bitter hints (cafe cortado or over-infused tea) with a faint salty edge. Really mouth-coating and very concentrated. Finish: medium long and very elegant.
Amazing how sherry maturation can result in such an integrated dram (like only Glenfarclas can produce). A real sherry bomb. Actually, when diluted, this is getting really close to some of my best sherry bottles… Price unknown.
This Balvenie Roasted Malt is made from malt that has been germinating for only 1 day (instead of 5) and dried a bit heavier than usual (at 200°C). Roasting is measured in EBC (European Brewing Colour) units, and this malt reached up to 1800 EBC whereas normal malt reaches 30 EBC. Roasted malt is commonly used for the production of stout beer but not for whisky.
This is a limited edition, made from a batch of 43 casks, but it’s still available.
Balvenie 14y ‘Roasted Malt’
(47,1%, OB 2006)
Nose: Surprisingly dusty, like wet cardboard or even some church with some lingering incense. Hints of smoke and toasted bread. A bit prickly and spirity as well. After a while, hints of apple. Uncommon for a Balvenie, although there are more common notes of honey and vanilla as well, but more on a second level. Mouth: ah, much more typically Balvenie: marmalade, vanilla sweetness, crême brulée. Lots of oak influence. Slightly peppered. A bit harsh though. Finish: rather dry and nutty. A tad bitter. Subtle hints of coffee.
I’m afraid this is one of the lesser Balvenies I’ve had. Not bad, but I prefer the usual, gentle profile. Around € 70.
Baker’s is made from the recipe preferred by Baker Beam, the great grand-nephew of the legendary Jim Beam. It uses a yeast first developed in the 30′s to provide a smooth texture and consistency from batch to batch. This type of whiskey is called “sour mash” bourbon.
It is said to be appreciated by cognac afficionados as a replacement for their favourite after dinner dram.
Baker’s 7y (53,5%, OB 2007)
Nose: new leather, mint. Rye. Fresh oak. Caramel, vanilla and some cinnamon. Flowery notes as well, which is not really common in bourbon but quite nice indeed. Less powerful than other cask strength bourbons maybe, drier and a tad more complex. With a splash of water: hints of banana and ripe plums. Maple syrup. Mouth: rich and mellow. Peppermint, ginger, vanilla. Oranges. Some caramel and toasted peanuts. Spicy, although the alcohol may help to exaggerate this. Pine wood. Finish: banana with a dark chocolate coating. Ginger. Sweet and long.
It’s always nice to have a dram from a distillery you haven’t tasted before. This will be my first Glenugie. It used to be the easternmost distillery in Scotland, founded in 1831 but closed and dismantled during the whisky crisis of 1983. There are no official bottlings and independent ones are scarce.
Glenugie 27yo 1982
(50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 2009, DL ref. 5040, 216 btl.)
Nose: starts on vanilla and flowers. Quite a sweet but fresh nose, reminds me of a good (flowery) moscatel wine. Hints of bergamot and pollen. Developing on fruit candy. Pineapple, orange marmalade, peach. Caramelized apples. Pears on syrup. Slightly waxy as well. What can I say: wow! Mouth: here we go again… all sorts of fruits or fruit liqueurs, candy sugar, hints of cake and marmalade. Vanilla. Marzipan. The oakiness is well controlled for the age. More herbal notes towards the end. Finish: very creamy, soft vanilla. Medium length.
Glenugie is often ignored and getting difficult to find, but I think this one is a hidden gem. The previous cask of Glenugie in the Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask series was quite popular, and I can see why. TWE has an interesting price (£ 100) whereas the rest of Europe seems to charge around € 140. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about this one!
Duncan Taylor, like many other independent bottlers, sometimes bottle casks for certain stores or distributors. This cask was the second Caol Ila that they’ve bottled for The Nectar in 2008. Both were distilled in 1982 and the previous one was very good (I was able to taste it in a store, so no actual tasting notes).
The Nectar is the Belgian importer of Arran, Springbank, Samaroli… and Duncan Taylor. They also bottle their own casks in the Daily Dram series.
Caol Ila 26yo 1982
(54,6%, Duncan Taylor 2008, for The Nectar, cask #2738, 279 btl.)
Nose: nice and clean. Rather ashy but quite fruity as well. Lemon and lychee. Vanilla. Hints of smoked bacon, liquorice and bonfires. After a while, it starts getting slightly farmy (wet wool, stables) which is something I really appreciate. Some coastal notes as well. Complex with a subtle balance. Mouth: big invasion of peat, mineral notes and citrus. Quite salty and very powerful, more than you would expect at this age. Develops on sweeter notes. Finish on liquorice with a salty edge. Sweet peat smoke and lemon pie.
Like the previous cask: high quality Caol Ila with a large range of flavours to be discovered. Since it was bottled for a local distributor, it will be hard to find outside of Belgium. Around € 125.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Laphroaig’s profile, but sometimes I get the feeling that there’s some variation missing. I guess that’s part of the brand’s popularity and the fact that every independent bottler wants a piece of the cake and releases a few casks each year. This 1996 vintage is from a bourbon cask and part of the Malts of Scotland range.
Nose: very interesting. The usual seaweed, smoke and iodine but there’s something different about it. Vanilla and lemon. Quite some coal. Medicinal notes, but those are not uncommon of course. Some “garage” associations, you know the smell when you go into a car part store. Leaning towards linoleum, tar or plastics. Don’t get me wrong, I like it a lot. It freshens up with water, the citrus comes out as well as some floral notes. even slightly shampooish (in a good way). Subtly different. Mouth: really really ashy. Apart from that, almost everything is there: sweet, sour, salt. More lemon. Big and quite hot. Fruitier and sweeter with water. Finish: as it thins out, there’s mostly smoke and tar. Some pepper. Long aftertaste.
A classic Laphroaig, spiced up with some more complex or unusual flavours. Apart from the heavy smoke, great balance. Around € 60. Another Malts of Scotland release to recommend.
The Mountain of Gold is the tallest peak of the island. This Jura Paps was finished in Pinot Noir (Bourgogne) wine casks. It is one of the more difficult grapes to deal with but it has a complex aroma of black cherries and cinnamon. Sometimes there are hints of mushrooms or barnyard.
Jura Paps ‘Mountain of Gold’ (46%, OB 2009, Pinot Noir finish, 1366 btl.)
Nose: slightly more dusty, with indeed some hints of mushrooms in the distance. Apart from that, lots of cocoa. Almonds and violets. Generally a more spicy profile. Mouth: rather spicy (aniseed, slightly peppery), the most prickly of the trio. Blackberry marmelade. Hints of tobacco and liquorice. Finish: slightly more woody. Drying and peppery.
Personally I think this one has the biggest influence of grapes. It didn’t impress me as much as the other two. Around € 100.