Whisky is a multi-faceted beast with those who love to share and enjoy its contents diminishing against the tide that focuses on the atheistic, design and investment potential. An overlooked consideration in these Wild West times of press-ganging for a particular release and profiteering is that a bottle can become a time capsule for memories and its symbolic nature.
Whisky bottles can be used to outline your existence from the year or day of your birth, right through to milestones such as marriage, a first child, divorce and when your football team finally won something worth mentioning. Moments in time can be perfectly squeezed into a bottle and none more so than the bottle your own option that many distilleries offer.
Casks are plucked from the warehouse to entice visitors with the prospect of taking home an exclusive experience for others to enjoy, or to reflect upon in future years. It’s a popular option and sadly not every distillery offers this opportunity or one that is priced accordingly. Yes, the costs of taking home your own personal bottle have risen like everything else associated with whisky. There is still some value for money gems out there with Glen Moray springing to mind in particular and Glenfiddich is always a reasonable option. I can still recall the Glenmorangie bottle your own experience that was particularly well implemented and always offered an interesting whisky. The arrival of Moet Hennessy put an end to such a practice and no amount of boutique styling or fancy lighting can screen what a loss to visitors it represents who make the effort to head north to Tain.
Thankfully, Balblair offers more wholesome values, a relatively unscathed distillery with the emphasis on good whisky and an enjoyable tour. The current bottle your own option forms the basis of this review. Dating from 2006, cask number 448 is a traditional ex-bourbon affair that will produce around 230 bottles in total. At the time of writing in September 2017, it had almost reached number 100 so there’s room left before another is rolled out from the warehouse. The strength is a palatable 57% and the price for this 10 or 11 year old is £90, which is borderline in terms of value, but having had these Balblair casks over the years, an effort is made to offer something representative of the distillery character for visitors.
Another factor that a bottle can represent is the marking of a time and place. The relentless nature of time itself is often overlooked. Only when we pause and reflect do we actually realise things are changing – not often for the best – and we’re all becoming that little bit older. My visit to Balblair on yet another rainy day was a walk of mixed emotions. The day in question was my birthday and normally, believe it or not, we’re on our main holiday abroad somewhere. Sadly hurricanes and a Florida road trip do not mix well so we found ourselves on a stay-vacation. This offered the opportunity to be in the vicinity of a distillery to bottle a whisky to symbolise the date. I’ve considered this would make a good basis for a tasting – whiskies bottled on the same day across several years or more.
The visit was one of mixed emotions, as I’ve always wanted to have a bottle in my possession hand filled by a relative who has been tremendous to me and welcomed this southerner into the family. My most valuable bottle is a 1970’s Teacher’s, which has little financial value, but coming from my grandfathers drink cabinet is irreplaceable. The visit offered the opportunity to finally do the deed and obtain the bottle. Lately, I’ve noted the age of others that I’ve taken for granted and events as such confirm the passing of time. Whilst it’s great to actually have this hand filled Balblair, it is tinged with sadness. Meanwhile, you’re thinking this is meant to be a review! Indeed, we’ll shortly arrive at the verdict, but I wanted to underline that whisky is more than a commodity or an investment portfolio to some of us. The emotional attachment and what we hold dearly in life will always come above such considerations.
Recently I’ve been bombarded with unusual casks, finishes and sherry beasts. It’s all great fun and expands your knowledge, but the best casks, in my opinion, remain the ex-bourbon first fill barrels that come via North America. This is particularly true of Balblair, which I know from experience really feels at home with such a marriage. It’s a wonderful combination when you have the right cask – not the tired and scorched examples we’ve seen on the rise lately – with the fruity distillery character. It’s this symmetry and placing a marker in my existence that prompted a purchase and this review.
Balblair 2006 Distillery Exclusive Review
Colour: caramel wafer.
On the nose: the familiarity of vanilla, fudge and poached pears alongside red apples. A surprisingly gentle layer of spice exists with cinnamon and nutmeg followed by toffee and an oily luscious quality. A handful of charcoal and bitterness from the wood provides a rugged aspect before a Scottish breakfast blend tea rounds off an appealing experience.
In the mouth: my initial thoughts are one of balance with the sweetness and drying quality of icing sugar, moving into tablet and then the Balblair fruits step in. More of those apples and pears, assisted in midfield by Kiwi fruit and a touch of lime. Returning, there’s more sharpness to the fruit that pans out with pears drops on the finish. The vanilla emphasis is surprisingly subdued.
My initial taste at the distillery has been backed up by further arduous investigation at home. The distillery character that is so often swamped or missing with other distilleries, is present and identifiable here. This is a lovely example of a modern day Balbair, stripped naked that leaves you gagging for more and reaching for just another dram.