Balblair (Pronounced: ball-BLAIR)
57°50'33.6804 N, 4°10'41.2968 W
Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Teaninich
1894 (an earlier 'Balblair' distillery was built in 1790)
Two stills (the third still needs repairs)
1,350,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Pacific Spirits > Inver House (since 1996)
Edderton, Tain, Ross-shire, IV19 1LB, Scotland
Yes - but Balblair only releases vintages these days
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
1) Balblair claims that it is one of the oldest Scotch whisky distilleries still in operation - but the current distillery actually has very little to do with the 'Balblair' distillery which was founded in 1790 and located somewhere else on the same Balnagowan estate. Just a handful of other distilleries in Scotland were founded before 1790, including Bowmore and Strathisla. Well, at least that's what they claim - the records from these days are often quite vague.
2) Although Balblair distillery 'officially' has three stills, the oldest and smallest pot still isn't used anymore.
3) The people behind Balblair like to brag that the distillery was founded in 1790 - but that was actually another distillery with the same name. That previous Balblair distillery was built by somebody else, a few miles away on the Balnagowan estate. The current Balblair distillery was built in 1894 by Alexander Cowan.
4) The official motto of Scotland is "Nemo me impune lacessit", or: "No one provokes me with impunity".
This motto is used by the Order of the Thistle and on later versions of the Royal coat of arms.
5) One of the reasons to replace the original Balblair diustillery with a brand new one on a new location was easy access to the railway system. The nearby Edderton railway station near Balblair distillery was closed in 1960.
Balblair 2000/2010 (43%, OB, 1st Release)
Nose: Flowery and chalky. Sweet with fruity accents. A little honeyed, but you have to dig quite deep.
Taste: Malty and slightly fruity. Smooth. Grows very bitter in the finish. Feels strangely cool in my mouth.
Score: 73 points - a nice alternative for blends, but not really op to single malt standards in my book.
Balblair 1989/2010 (43%, OB, 2nd Release)
Nose: Chalky and a little sour. Some farmy notes emerge after a minute with more sweetness later on.
Taste: Round, mellow and a little flowery. The finish starts off a little bitter before very heavy tannins set in.
Score: 75 points - oddly enough, this mature Balblair malt whisky shows many underage traits.
Balblair 1978/2008 (46%, OB)
Nose: Clean and light. Malty with some chalk that disappears over time. Fruits, slowly opening up.
Leather and spices, but you have to wait for it. This is one of those whiskies that really NEED a lot of time.
Taste: Sweet. Malt and mocha. Very light smokiness in the centre. Tannins in the fairly bitter finish.
Score: 83 points - although it gains one or two points if you wait long enough for it (at least half an hour).
Balblair 1997/2007 (43%, OB)
Nose: Lemony. Opens up very nicely after a few seconds, sweetening out. Some spices.
Not really my kind of profile - but this Balblair is still a good, well-rounded whisky.
Taste: Lemony. A tad perfumy in the centre, growing stronger towards the finish.
Feels a tad weak on the palate, making my score for this bottling of Balblair drop from 78 to 77 points.
Score: 78 points - a second tasting confirmed that this Balblair was definitely a few points above average.
Balblair 1975/2007 (46%, OB)
Nose: Big, spicy and complex. A lot of development over time. I had so much fun I forgot to make many notes.
Taste: Brilliant mouth feel; a perfect combination of wood and tannis with a finish that lasts forever.
Score: 90 points - very good whisky, but not all maniacs agreed with my gold medal nomination.
Balblair 40yo 1965 (47.7%, The Single Malts of Scotland, Cask Strength, Bottled June 2007).
Nose: Woehaah! VERY nice. passion fruit, a bit like Bowmores from the late 1960's. Sweet wood.
Over time some 'glue' components pop up. Coconut - or rather the coconut in liquorice all sorts.
Then organics emerge, lifting it back up to 90 points (I dropped it to 89 a few minutes earlier).
Taste: Passion fruits here as well, and a mouth feel that suggests a far bigger strength.
Over time the passion fruit evolves into 'old fruits' with a gentle tangerine bitterness.
Score: 90 points - after a few minutes it loses some steam, but just give it some more time.
Excellent stuff; this is by far the best Balblair I've ever sampled - although it's 'on the edge'.
Balblair 1973/2006 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection, C#3184-3185, 385 Bts.)
Nose: Polished and woody. Classic. Evolving with more spices emerging. Wood dominates the other elements.
Taste: Extremely woody on the palate, just like the nose. Some fruits in this Balblair, but not a lot.
Very solid with emerging organics, but the wood dominates. After half an hour it finally jumped into the 90's.
Score: 90 points - I preferred this version quite a bit over the Balblair 1975 OB.
Balblair 16yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005)
Nose: Mild sherry, sweet and fruity. Beeswax? Faint spices in the background. Very pleasant indeed!
Later on I got oatmeal and warm milk. I like the fact that it develops, but I'm not crazy about the direction.
Taste: Smooth and sweetish, growing grittier in the centre. Feels a bit rough and grainy. Fruits. Hint of liquorice?
It falls apart in the finish - a little bitter, like burnt coffee beans. Could this be a blend or an Irish whiskey?
Score: 78 points - an enjoyable nose (subtle but still lower 80's) but the palate keeps it below the 80's.
Balblair NAS 'Elements' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2001, 70cl)
Nose: Light sweetness. Heather honey. Citrussy and malty. Raspberries! Toffee & Spices.
More 'coastal' and spicier after a few seconds, but the fruity/sweet undertone remains.
Hints of smoke, salt and peat. Chloride and dust. A little spirity with very soft sherry overtones.
Oily with a fair dash of peat. Some smoke, chloride and dust. 'Coastal'.Licorice root. Strawberries?
Taste: Ooh - that's a pity. Not as good as the nose. Clean with a hint of smoke. Sweetish, malty.
A tad too bitter in the finish; slightly metallic. Sweet and rough, with strong pear impressions.
A hint of peat; gritty with a tingle on the tongue. Smooth with apple overtones. Gingerbread?
Score: 74 points - I'm afraid the palate keeps it just below average.
Balblair 16yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000, 70cl)
Nose: Amazing development - very distinctive. A little pepper. Clove. Nutmeg?
Furniture wax. Hint of soap. Spicy. Fresh and old fruit. Quite entertaining, actually.
Taste: Flat start - malty, then bitter. Sweeter and nuttier later on. Someting fishy.
Smoke. Pinch of salt. Tannine without the grapes. Ultra-dry wood.
Score: 76 points - but I guess I expect a little more from a Northern Highlander?
Balblair 21yo 1975/1997 (56,5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #7275, 655 Bottles)
Nose: Another light and 'bourbony' malt - but it has much more 'volume' than the Glenury Royal.
Soon spices and organics emerge; nice. Strike that - very nice! Whiff of peat after adding water.
Taste: Quite drinkable at cask strength, although it grows very hot and dry towards the finish.
Fruity in the centre with a faint hint of smoke or peat in the background. Loses point in the finish.
It seems even more fruity after adding some water. And once again I seemed to detect a little peat.
Score: 82 points - very interesting but in the end it's a little too hot, dry and bitter in the finish.
The surprising pinch of peat keeps it the eighties, though - and interesting experience.
Balblair 10yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 1992, 70cl)
Nose: Furniture polish? Intruiging fruity notes. Lots of character, but it drops off quickly.
Taste: Soft, smooth and sweet. Toffeeish. Slightly bitter. Dark chocolate in the finish.
I didn't find a lot of individuality, but it's very nice for everyday dramming.
Score: 77 points - above average; a good sipping whisky.
Balblair 10yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled 1980's, 5cl)
Nose: Oily. Wet wood. Very faint hint of peat. Not very expressive but quite unique.
Taste: Sweet, malty and woody. I absolutely love the tannins in the (ultra dry) finish.
Score: 70 points - sorry, I couldn't get any more from my quarter of a 5cl miniature.
Balblair NAS (70 Proof, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled 1970's)
Nose: Lots of sherry. Antiquity. Chocolate. Furniture polish. Lemon. Salt. Organics.
What a lovely rich profile! Based on the nose alone this would surely reach the upper 80's.
Taste: Old cold tea. Not much else I could pick up - or if I did I didn't make notes of it...
Nice enough, but just not very interesting. Still a very good dram, mind you!
Score: 81 points - the palate pulls the score down to the lower 80's.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Balblair Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Balblair page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Balblair expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide).
2001 - Inver House (the parent company that bought Balblair in 1996) was bought by Pacific Spirits from Thailand.
2007 - The entire range of Balblair official bottlings is refreshed, just after the release of a few very impressive vintage expressions that were distilled in 1973 and 1975. Beforehand, the official range of Balblair consisted of the 'Elements' expression, as well as a range of releases, mostly with an age statement. These expressions have now been replaced by vintage editions of Balblair in a higher price range.
The first Balblair
distillery was built in 1790 by John Ross.
That distillery was later managed by Andrew Ross & Son.
A second Balblair distillery was founded nearby in 1894 by
Alex Cowan & Co. This second Balblair distillery was closed
during World War I in 1915 and it wasn't revived again
until 1947, after the end of the second World War. In the
mean time, the Balnagowan Estate went bankrupt in 1941.
bought Balblair distillery in 1996. Inver House Distillers Ltd. were themselves bought in 2001 by 'Pacific Spirits', part of the so-called 'Great Oriole Group'. This group is in turn controlled by a businessman from Thailand; Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.
During the 1990's, most of the Asian investments came from Japan.
The three major Japanese investors in Scotland are Suntory (owning Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch through Morrision Bowmore), Nikka (owning Ben Nevis) and Takara Shuzo Okura (owning Tomatin). That means that by the turn of the millennium, 5 out of the circa 85 remaining active distilleries in Scotland were under Japanese control.
By buying Inver House in 2001, Thailand
matched the Japanese investments in a single blow, doubling the East Asian involvement in the Scotch whisky industry. Through Inver House, there are now five more distilleries that are being kept alive with funding from Asia; Balblair, Balmenach, Knockdhu, Old Pulteney and Speyburn.
Comparing the two lists of acquisitions, I'd have to say that the Japanese seem to have chosen more carefully. Most of these 'Thailand' distilleries haven't produced a lot of malts that made a lasting impression on me... Well, at least no so far - but I guess improvements in Balblair's production policy won't be felt on our shelves for a few years.
In 1949 Balblair was taken over by R. Cumming & Sons, a
subsidiary of Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts Ltd from
Canada. They expanded the number of stills at Balblair
from two to three. Only two of the stills are used regularly.
The Japanese have a broader 'portfolio' as well, including Lowland and Islay malts.
The Inver House distilleries are located in Speyside (Balmenach, Knockdhu and
Speyburn) and in the Northern Highlands (Balblair and Old Pulteney). I don't know
if the more nortnern location of Old Pulteney has something to do with it, but most
of the expressions I tried had a little more power and character than bottlings from
its relatively southern cousin, Balblair.
A generous glass of Balblair whisky is nothing to be scoffed at either, mind you...
Not all of the younger expressions I've tried so far made my heart really flutter,
but then again I haven't tried a bad Balblair either so far - most scored around
average in my book. Some bottlings from the mid 1970's were quite fantastic.
Is the distillery or