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Balblair 2005 bottled 2018

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.

Conclusions

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.

Score: 6/10

There are commission links within this review but we’re all about the liquid and how good it is.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Graham
    Graham says:

    Nice article as always Jason. In the weeks after the relaunch I noted a Balblair 90 making just £130 at auction which makes me think there will be little appetite for people to pay £500 for the 25yo. But Balblair remains a favoured distillery so I’m going to have to watch out for bargains like that to continue to enjoy the range.

  2. Jason
    Jason says:

    Thanks, Graham, this one was a little overdue. I agree, I just cannot see any traction in the 25yo even if it was great. I’m sure retailers will feed their thoughts back if these new releases fail to generate much interest. Auction bargain hunting is always good fun!

  3. Avatar
    Dan W says:

    Great article Jason and I agree entirely with your thoughts.

    I must confess to being very disappointed by the rebranding of Balblair and huge price hike and I’ve let the distillery know directly.

    As for the ‘premiumisation’ of Balblair I struggle to see it being succesful. Amongst casual whisky drinkers who aren’t short of cash (their target consumers with this rebranding) they’ve probably never heard of Balblair. Why would they part with their cash for an expensive bottle of Balblair that won’t impress their mates over their standard bottle of Macallan, Balvenie, Dalmore etc? Surely if you premiumise a product you establish product recognition first?

    For your more serious malt fan (Balblair’s current customers) they’ll know and probably be annoyed by the increase in price and they’ll know the value in the market place and the alternatives to Balblair and will just grab a bottle of Benromach or Glencadam etc instead.

    As for the ditching of vintages for standard age statements. I can see pros and cons for that. But I would say that if you have a unique selling point for your product its best to emphasise it rather than ditch it.

    1. Avatar
      thropplenoggin says:

      It’s a disappointing trend, but I appreciate the honesty of Malt to keep addressing it head-on. I recently picked up a Springbank 12 for £50, and I guess this is where I’d rather spend my money: on distelleries or bottlers where value is still to be had (well, before it sells out!) E.g. North Star Spirits. One needs to be savvier than ever – keeping an eye on New Arrivals on the usual sites, to snap up the occasional bargain. I also steer clear of the £60+ for 4 year old new malt brigade.

      1. Jason
        Jason says:

        Hi thropplenoggin , thanks for dropping by. Cheers, we always try to call it as we see it. We certainly need to be more savvy and less brand loyal when it comes to whisky nowadays. Plus being quick on the mouse helps as well!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Ed, I’ve had mixed experiences of late with the Provenance range and nearing £50 it’s not as cheap as it should be. I’d hold off for now. Cheers, Jason.

  4. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    I wondered how long Balblair would continue doing what it did. It seemed too good to be true. Unpretentious distillery producing good value quality whisky across the age spectrum. Unless people buy some of the 1991 while they can I suspect the days of 20+ yr Balblair will be a thing of the past. We all loved the old Balblair and Old Pulteney but I doubt many of us will buy it again. A curse on their houses. To add insult to injury it seems most initial reviews don’t even think the new expressions are as good. We all keep an eye on the whisky bubble but how long can this nonsense continue? I was very fond of Balblair but they now belong in the never likely to bought again list along with Old Pulteney, Aberlour, Mortlach, Royal Brackla, Bowmore and (enter distilleries of choice). Macallan and Dalmore occupy a special niche of bullshit that Highland Park and Glenmorangie seem to be aching to join. I’m very disappointed as you can tell. Cheers Jason.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT, yes another falls into the chase for money. I haven’t read any reviews of the new range and its safe to say we’re not on their PR list. I’m looking forward to chipping away at the new releases, as and when we can purchase these – much like we did with the disappointing Glenrothes and Pulteney launches. I hope I am a little surprised, but I fear that’s overly optimistic.

      Balblair is my family’s local distillery, so there’s always a positive connection to the place and especially the bottle your own. I’ll give these new releases a shot, but I fear, I’ll be moving on elsewhere in my heart.

      1. Avatar
        Welsh Toro says:

        I’m aware that I’m so upset and infuriated that it might cloud some serious objective tasting opinion of the new range. It’s the price that really irks Jason. We really are being taken for fools. I’m not teaching an old timer like you (and me) to suck eggs but where is all of this going? We are serious whisky drinkers and if it pisses us off who’s left buying this stuff? Huff. WT

      2. Avatar
        James says:

        When I saw the new releases I immediately stocked up on 2 bottles each of the 1991 and 2000 to go along with my currently open 1990,1999 and 2002 distillery bottlings. I certainly won’t be adding to them at the new prices but I’m on holiday nearby in November so will call in and see if the distillery bottlings are still affordable.

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