Things change and sadly not always for the better. That’s the stark reality of the world we live in today, where profit does dictate the final outcome. I don’t doubt that distillery workers and many on the team, want to show their distillery, their efforts and their whisky in the best light possible.
In whisky today, we have consistency. Many out there value the uniformity of it all and knowing exactly what they are getting. I don’t expect greatness with every bottle or dram I purchase nowadays, but what I do hope for is stimulation and interest. Balblair is a particular favourite of mine on many levels.
I’m sitting in the living room of a hired cottage right know, just a few miles north of Balblair. It’s 6am and I’m reflecting upon last night’s whiskies from this local distillery that we’ve seen prosper in recent times. Being able to compare and contrast is a wonderful thing. Purchasing double measures of both, I retreated back to my temporary residence where I spent a couple of hours debating change and the future. I’m not debating price as we’ve already discussed these new price points previously.
Balblair has always produced a characterful and entertaining whisky. The Speyside of the north in some respects and its output is valued by many blenders who appreciate its qualities such as Ballantine’s. Even so, it has made great strides across the single malt market. A combination of those stylish characteristics alongside a sense of value have endured its whiskies to a new market.
In essence, Balblair has become a victim of its own success.
The focus for many years on vintages and their justification for this approach have been jettisoned. I’m not especially swayed either way on vintages, but I do find it somewhat aloof that a core fundamental has been eroded quicker than a store shelf with the latest Macallan Edition release. We’re mean to literally swallow the new approach and exhale the old values. Ok, whatever I suppose and as always, we’re focused on the price and contents. However, I do feel some sense of loss that Balblair is losing its identity and adopting the corporate approach of ‘we’re doing it because everyone else does it that way’, which is something I hear from my employer on a regular basis. Why not do things your way? Do what you believe in? Harness and showcase your product or service in the best possible light? Don’t bundle something into an identikit mould and ship it out to the market thereafter.
InterBev has revamped the Pulteney range so it was only a matter of time until changes arrived at the door of Balblair. We’ve seen many changes, whether it is around tours, or the pricing of the popular bottle your own at these distilleries. Being in the north, I considered driving up to Wick to pick up an interesting Pulteney to open and enjoy. Sadly, there was only 1 option (as the manager is America currently and he has to pick the new casks), which was a sherry cask for 11 or 12 years of age and a mighty £130. That’s the wrong side of £100 to me and not worth the drive – it is symbolic of the higher pricing we’re seeing now across the industry. I suppose it is too sensible to have a running order of casks, so any shortfall, or absenteeism is covered?
The new Pulteney range is disappointing and there has been a great deal of interest around the new Balblair offerings. We’ve been asked to cover these on several occasions and while we don’t have a relationship with InterBev, we have purchased these whiskies thanks to our Patreon supporters. Both of these releases are bottled at 46% and feature different cask implementations having started life in ex-bourbon vessels. The Balblair 12 features an element of double-fired American oak casks. The 15 relies upon a 1st fill Spanish sherry oak butts as a finish of unknown duration.
Balblair 12 year old – review
Colour: a light honey.
On the nose: more lightness with almonds, cookie dough and freshly sliced apples. Pear drops continue the sweetness and a crisp vanilla. Wafer, nougat and green olives. Time reveals caramel, freshly plucked mint leaf, lime juice and white pepper. Water reveals talcum powder and coconut.
In the mouth: a little spirit driven and not hugely complex. There are elements of fruit but beyond their best before sale date. More vanilla and lime follow alongside typical Balblair flavours of barley sweets, wine gums, soft pears and white chocolate. Water is not beneficial.
Balblair 15 year old – review
Colour: a touch of copper.
On the nose: a tinge of red influence with rhubard, red apples and more raw dough. Juicy fruit chewing gum (unused), fresh pineapple and pink peppercorn. Brass rubbing and I wish I had more to tempt you, but that’s your lot!
In the mouth: neither here nor there in reality. Delicate flavours that lack definition and voice. An inoffensive marketing construct. Some withered orange peel, mustard seed and time reveals worn leather, walnuts, chocolate and a drying finish.
The 12 feels a little more sharper and vibrant on the nose. Whereas the 15 feels more muted and sedimentary with a little spicing. On the palate, this difference continues, as the 15 is very delicate and watery – noting the finish it feels very safe and insignificant. Neither justify the price, or showcase this distillery in the best light.
I’m somewhat disheartened by these whiskies as we know Balblair can be do much better. These are inoffensive and somewhat pitched towards a more neutral palate and rookie whisky enthusiast. Perhaps foreign markets are driving these changes? Personally, there is a sense of loss. Another official range has sold itself down the river and we’re forced to rely once again on the independent sector for value and flavour. At least we have an option to change our behaviour and I suggest that you do.
Samples purchased at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar with thanks to our Patreon supporters. There are commission links above that never influence our opinion.