Balblair moved away from its vintage expressions in March 2019 and launched a new core range with age statements, following the rest of the market and making it easier for them to stay consistent, I guess.
We’ll have a look at their offering, starting at the bottom with the Balblair 12 Year Old. It is matured in ex-bourbon casks as well as double-fired American oak casks.
Balblair 12 yo
(46%, OB 2018)
Nose: rather lightweight, fresh, citrusy and bourbonny, with butter cream, lemon meringue and floral honey. Sweet vanilla cake (of course), pears and muesli. Subtle hints of creamy peach yoghurt.
Mouth: easy and harmless. Lots of sweet malty notes, grapes and citrus, vanilla cake again and sweet apple pie. Creamy, honeyed notes. Then a little ginger and pepper, as well as lemon zest.
Finish: the dry and lightly bitter side of the oak grows stronger. Honey and nougat.
Not bad, but ex-bourbon casks tend to give this round vanilla and fruits combination, and this offers little more than that. Above all a well-made but safe composition, although I think even their youngest vintages (which were typically around 10 years old) offered a little more character. Get it here: TWE / Master of Malt.
Next up: Balblair 15 Year Old. This is a aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in first-fill Spanish oak butts. I’ve asked the distillery why they explicitly seem to avoid the term ‘sherry’ on all the new labels, but I never had a response.
Balblair 15 yo
(46%, OB 2018)
Nose: same style but it shows progression indeed. Juicy apricots, hints of raisins, plums and yellow apples. Rounder than its younger sister, with less of the (re-charred) oak edge. Oranges, touches of leather. Cinnamon and vanilla still.
Mouth: a creamy and rather fruity start (apples, peaches) with more oak spices along the way (clove, cinnamon) and a light earthy nuttiness. Subtle toffee, marzipan and milk chocolate towards the end.
Finish: medium, on nuts and spices.
It’s clear that the Spanish finish had a nice influence, adding some weight and complexity. Best value for money in the line-up. Same remark though: it might be a tad too civilized to really stand out in today’s whisky landscape. Get it here: Master of Malt / TWE.
And then Balblair 18 Year Old. It follows the same recipe: maturation in ex-bourbon casks and a finishing period in first-fill Spanish butts.
Balblair 18 yo
(46%, OB 2018)
Nose: the most aromatic and the most sherried. Apricot pie and poached pears, a little mango chutney and mirabelles, mixed with toffee and ginger. Some marzipan cake. Hints of sour oak and leather make it seem less sweet than its younger sister.
Mouth: same juicy fruitiness (including a light tropical edge – pineapple) moving towards raisins, chocolate cake and oak spice. Hints of walnut loaf and brown sugar.
Finish: medium length. The fruits seem to have faded, leaving the dry, earthy oak and cinnamon.
I’ve always respected Balblair for its high production standards and consistent output (and for their refreshing vintage concept, I must add). However while each of the Balblair whiskies is well composed and nice to drink, I feel the new range is rather close together and relies more on wood influence than in the past, especially the 15 and 18 year-old which share the same maturation and character. In my opinion the Balblair 15 Years is the best choice in the new range.