Last month, Balblair revealed their new vision and core line-up, complete with the anticipated marketing baloney. This time, the nearby standing stone Clach Brioach was sighted as the primary inspiration. Going so far as to suggest these new whiskies ‘embody the spirit of the mysterious, legendary Picts’, which begs the question: if they were that mysterious, how would we know what they liked anyway?
The MALT readership is well versed in such manoeuvres and marketing nowadays. Most whisky enthusiasts are sadly self-taught experts, as launches, re-launches and new concepts come and go with increasing frequency. As always, it comes down to two simple things for most onlookers: the asking price and the quality of the liquid within the bottle. These are the main drivers in any purchase for many of us.
The fact that Balblair has changed the core range isn’t much of a surprise given that the current owners have only recently re-launched the Old Pulteney, and such a move left Balblair out of sorts. My association with Balblair goes back many years, and I have fond memories of the distillery, the team and the fact that it shunned many of the practices that were creeping into the industry. In fact, just a few miles up the road at Glenmorangie is the perfect example. This distillery has undergone a metamorphosis into a French boutique haven for American golf enthusiasts and those who like their whiskies on the simple side and lacking dimensions beyond smooth, refined and ultimately dull.
Balblair for many years resisted such urges. The distillery tour itself remained a joy, but the seeds of change were being sown with photography restrictions and a step towards an experience offered up the road at Tain. Personally, I haven’t taken the tour in some time now, but friends all reported back with similar mixed messages. They remained thankful that the whisky was always the driving force, remained enchanting and worth the visit to bottle your own.
I believe there is a general acceptance amongst the whisky population that Balblair was attractively priced within the marketplace. As such, it represented a fair transaction for whisky drinkers in search of a wholesome and satisfying experience without costing the earth. Ultimately, we knew deep down that things would change. With the torrent of money and interest circulating around whisky, Balblair would be repositioned to take advantage of any windfall. That day has finally come with the new range itself.
A quick synopsis of what is incoming starting with the 12-year-old. With our Patreon support, we’ll hopefully cover most of the new range soon with our typical pernicious honesty. The 12-year-old is the straightforward replacement of the 2005 edition that I’ll be reviewing shortly. The only worrying aspect is the fact that it introduces double-fired American oak casks into the equation, a move that begs the question as to why on earth one would do such a thing?
The 15-year-old brings us the dimension of a sherry finish with first-fill Spanish oak butts being utilised to provide a twist. This will set you back £73 if you so wish to experience the minefield of short term finishes. Then the 18-year-old clocks in at £113 and again brings the same butt-finish to proceedings. So far I’m somewhat unmoved by the new concept, and whilst the branding looks good, we can venture into the debate of vintages versus age statements. We’ll save this for another Balblair piece, but I would say I’m not overly concerned with the switch. It does raise the question, though: after all these years heralding a vintage approach, what’s changed exactly?
Then we reach the 25-year-old, which replaces such releases as the 1991 third release, which we reviewed in November. This used to retail for around £115 and was seen as exceptional value for what you were receiving. The price also removed any inhibitions about opening a bottle, as you could pick up another without too much of a dent to your wallet. This new pinnacle exponent will set you back £500, which seems to be an excessive leap forward—especially when you consider that the Glenfarclas 25 will set you back around £125, Glengoyne £269, Laphroaig £375 and Bowmore around £300. These are all arguably more visible and prominent brands in the marketplace, begging the question as to why Balblair has made this move.
If successful, then the days of any sizeable age statement will be firmly out of reach of the mere mortal whisky drinker. Other distilleries will be watching and re-evaluating their own expressions and pricing. Not that I’d wish failure on a distillery, but given Diageo’s failure to establish Mortlach as a similar premium brand, it’s clearly not an easy task to achieve.
Time, then, for the no-longer-supported 2005 edition, whilst we source the new range. Bottled in 2018, the 2005 is still widely available and will set £43.95 via the Whisky Exchange, or the 1st release via Master of Malt for £42.83, which is the same price as Amazon.
Balblair 2005 – review
Colour: Lemon drops.
On the nose: Buttered pancakes, lemon oil, pineapple and sherbet. Chopped apples, grapefruit and a handful of floral heather. This is light and engaging, inoffensive. The wood influence is gentle and calming. Diluted vanilla, straw, peeled mango skin and with water more fruit sugars come through alongside marzipan, almonds and pink grapefruit.
In the mouth: Very simple and short after that nose. Light with apples, vanilla, lemon peel, grapefruit and a little yeast. Malty, pancakes with a touch of sourness towards the finish. Water showcases sweet pastry dough, more oils and lemon bitters on the finish.
A solid drammer that is bouncing around a 5 or 6 for me. Ticks all the boxes as a go to evening dram that doesn’t require much thought or dedication. You know what you’re getting and then some. Compared to the Glenfiddich 12-year-old that I returned to recently, this Balblair is in a different league and worth the extra £10 or so.
This was the perfect entry point into the Balblair core range – we’ll see how the new 12 compares soon.
There are commission links within this review but we’re all about the liquid and how good it is.