Last year we brought you a series of interviews with independent bottlers which spotlighted the good work being done not only in the UK domestic market but further afield. For 2020, we want to continue this theme, but also develop new avenues and shed our tiny spotlight of influence elsewhere.
Mark and I agree that the lesser-known distilleries deserve more Malt time. He’s already on record as saying more Edradour would be a good thing and I’d agree, hence today’s article. Another piece of feedback was covering more widely available releases and this is something we’ll look to do as well. Thanks to our Patreon supporters, we’re able to buy the occasional bottle to review. It is this resource that we’ll look to utilise more to pick out such whiskies that meet the aforementioned criteria.
What started as a find an Edradour of interest, soon spilled over into Ballechin. We’re seeing more of this heavily peated malt from Edradour, which we’ve only reviewed once as a 2005 exclusive from the Whisky Barrel. Sadly, this very good whisky has since sold out. I’ve had a handful of Ballechin’s in bars recently and I’ve been impressed. So, when I suggested some heavy peat and a full wine maturation to Mark, he became very intrigued.
We’ve previously explained the origins of the Ballechin name and this liquid homage to a lost distillery. Ballechin is a heavily peated malt to 50ppm, which is just short where you’ll find Ardbeg (54ppm) nowadays. It’s always important to underline the fact that the ppm level applies to the malt requirement made by the distillery to the maltster. Edradour used to get their malt from Inverness, I’m not sure if that is still the case today? Being such a small distillery means a smaller mashtun and less need for a big order of malt. Say, if Edradour’s delivery requirement is a ton of malt, then some malting companies won’t consider this as it is below their minimum order. And there are plenty of distilleries in Scotland, so companies can be fussy.
Edradour likes to do things on its own terms and that’s been clear and refreshingly so. It began distilling Ballechin in 2003, long before the current fad for all things peat. I’m of the belief that this style of distillate is coming into its own now. At younger ages, the peat can be too overpowering and the memorable peated whiskies I’ve had over the years, have taken a step back and enhanced the overall experience.
Full maturation in a wine cask is becoming less commonplace nowadays. Wine casks can cost a pretty 4 figure sum, especially if it comes from a notable vineyard. Most of whom won’t allow you to use their name anyway, which explains some of the Bruichladdich initials on their releases. Cost is one aspect alongside availability. You can get more life out of a wine cask if you use it for short-term finishing. If it retains the power from the wood, then a series of 6 months to 2 years of finishes can expand its lifespan and reduce costs. The SMWS are pretty good at this approach as we’re all too aware.
Then, there is the fact that many distillates from distilleries cannot hold their own against a wine vessel for full maturation. They are swamped, suffocated and buried by the forceful nature of the cask. You need a more robust and savoury style of distillate such as BenRinnes or Mortlach to keep some form of balance. Failing that, then it comes down to the foundation of peat that offers an advantage and vibrancy within its 1st decade, before becoming a more civilised gentleman.
This Ballechin is a distillery exclusive, but for those within the UK, it is available via the Edradour online shop for £85 plus postage of £7.50. That’s a commission-free link for your convenience. It was distilled on 8th February 2007 before being bottled on 22nd July 2019. Cask #21 resulted in an outturn of 310 bottles at a strength of 57.2%. As always, this is natural colour and as Andrew says on the label, enjoy the journey…
Ballechin 2007 Côtes de Provence – Jason’s review
Colour: a dark toffee.
On the nose: a blast of earthy, mossy, floral peat that simmers down if left in the glass to open up. Becoming coated in brown sugar and toffee, blackberries, apples and a slight menthol note at the back. A little cauliflower, well-fired puff pastry, amber, honey, thyme and some cranberries. A sense of balance. Caramel and wafer, reminiscent of stroopwafels and a deep-fried doughnut. Adding water reveals a more fruity element, cinder toffee wrapped in smoke and a gentle oiliness alongside syrup.
In the mouth: very, very drinkable at cask strength. The balance comes through with the earthiness but up top the brown sugar, honey, toffee and cardamon. A nice gentle mouthfeel which coats nicely. Chocolate notes, a glimmer of a soapy note that vanishes and then brambles. Water showcases more oils, the finish less earthy and more fruits coming through with smoke. That soapy-thing is still kicking about but faintly midway, it isn’t detrimental.
In a word, harmony. The thuggish wine cask and peat spirit could have clashed or cancelled one another out. Instead, there’s a gracefulness present here. This continues the good efforts I’ve been tasting from Ballechin and Edradour recently. There’s nothing to grumble about whatsoever. A whisky devoid of toil, or anything else.
I expect the contents will only improve with time as well. You can keep your overpriced Islay’s. Those in the know will head towards Pitlochry and venture into the glens. This is so close to an 8 in my book, oh what the heck.
Ballechin 2007 Côtes de Provence – Mark’s review
On the nose: A real Port Charlotte vibe from the off, perhaps the wine-like nose – hints of Armagnac and PX sherry. Molasses. A sense of balance between the dirty peat: it’s not so sweet, rather ashy, charcoal smoke. TCP, slight iodine notes – hints of well-old Laphroaig! Blackcurrants and cloves.
In the mouth: again, this really puts me in mind of Port Charlotte; quite a saline-driven whisky with a nice balance again of sweet and savoury notes. Medium-weight texture, could be more velvety. More charred meats here; blackened; sweet and sour pork. A touch of sun-dried tomatoes, but then heaps of sweetness: maple syrup, heather honey. Cinnamon. Rounded off by a proper earthiness, mossy, turf. Cigars.
Peat heads, may I direct you this way. What a fabulous value little dram. Or rather, a hefty, sweet and dirty dram, enough oomph on different parts of the flavour wheel across different parts of your mouth. And a brooding dram for a winter’s night, without a doubt; fire on, wind rattling the windows. What is most surprising is the diversity of the Edradour offering. I continue to not have had a bad dram from this little distillery – indeed, I continue to be impressed. I will be seeking out more distillery bottlings, given the exceptional value it continues to offer.
But this also one for blind tastings, without a doubt – I’d easily wager 50% of the crowd would think this a Port Charlotte, perhaps even one of the less brutal Octomores. And for that reason, Jason will almost definitely hate this.