Next up on our virtual tasting tour is Bladnoch distillery. I have very little by way of a preamble for you, as I have tried only one expression previously (an extremely cheesy Cadenhead’s release), and our host Nick Savage was not overly forthcoming with geeky details during the tasting. This does not tend to bother me, as I have mentioned before, and I am far more interested in how the whiskies taste rather than pinpointing from which vineyards casks have been sourced.
Nick did tell us a little bit about some of his ongoing plans. The distillery has a fairly low output, and so he is actively focused on laying down more casks to bulk up future stock; mainly bourbon, red wine and sherry. As a result, all Bladnoch distillate produced now will also be held back for official release only. This will hopefully enable more variety for customers in the future, including more full maturation releases and not just finishes, something that Nick was keen to highlight, however, we are also bound to see those few independent releases dry up over the coming years.
While these stocks are maturing, we will tend to see the same sort of batched releases, or limited runs, as we have here today, however, there will also be five single casks released each year for the next five years, one of which is also included below. Upon taking up his position, Nick sampled all existing stock, and he has already earmarked all 25 of these special casks. Let us hope the whiskies are more inspired than my introduction!
Bladnoch 10 year old – review
Colour: Cloudy apple juice.
On the nose: Apples, vanilla, custard powder, cinnamon, whipped cream. Apple pie anyone? Some barley sugar and black pepper in the background. With time more fruits like ripe apricots and peaches, and some shortbread biscuits too. A bit of funk maybe. Water does not get me any further.
In the mouth: Punchier than I was expecting. Heaps of crisp apples, cinnamon and black pepper. Buttery pastry. The finish is surprisingly very long with toasted oak, walnut skins and lingering spices. With water it becomes a little creamier, and sweeter with honey.
Bladnoch 11 year old – review
Matured in bourbon and American red wine casks, bottled at 46.7% strength. Retails for £65 on the Bladnoch website.
On the nose: Sweet and spicy. Honey, caramel, cinnamon, pepper and some clove. Ground almonds and faint blackberry jam. Just a hint of something grassy in the background. With water, it becomes creamier and floral.
In the mouth: A tad thin. Honey and caramel sweetness dominate. A little cinnamon and pepper in the background. More of the same in the finish. Water helps to cut through the sweetness. A creamier texture, with more defined grassiness as well as ripe apples.
Bladnoch 17 year old – review
Matured in bourbon, finished for around 18 months in Californian red wine casks and bottled at 46.7% strength. This retails for £90 on the Bladnoch website, or Amazon will sell you a bottle for £79.99.
On the nose: Even sweeter than the 11. Honey and caramel again. A faint cinnamon. Possibly a little redcurrant. A nondescript mustiness, perhaps what was once grassiness in the 11. Water gets me no further.
In the mouth: Richer mouthfeel, but all very honey sweet without much else. A background cinnamon and pepper. No change into the finish. Water cuts the sweetness slightly, however, no new flavours develop.
Bladnoch Talia 26 year old – review
Matured in American oak red wine casks and bottled at 44% strength. Retails for £325 on the Bladnoch website.
Colour: Rose gold.
On the nose: A basket of ripe fruit: apples, pears, peaches, apricots. Overlaying that are stewed plums with lots of allspice. Marzipan in the background. A light grassy note darts in and out. Water brings some acidity and orange zest.
In the mouth: A little thinner than I was expecting from the nose. The palate is almost in reverse. First the heavy stewed plums with a big dose of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Some marzipan next. The apples, pears and peaches come through just before the finish, which is quite short and slightly bitter. The spices linger a little. Water tones down the spice level and brings orange zest that lingers well into the finish, as well as a floral quality.
Bladnoch single cask 2020/03 – review
Matured in single bourbon cask #229, bottled at 59.6% strength. Distilled December 2006, bottled March 2020. An outturn of 222 bottles. Retailed for £140 on the Bladnoch website.
Colour: Ripe wheat.
On the nose: A very bizarre nose. Intense honey sweetness and toffee candies mixed with a note that alternates between rancid cheese and creamy custard. Fresh vanilla pods, toasted coconut and flaked almonds. Cinnamon spice in the background. Water seems to settle that strange note into custard powder. Some chalk has appeared and tart green apples.
In the mouth: An unusual mouthfeel neat, creamy, but not oily at all. Very intense black pepper spice. Cinnamon, vanilla and toffee apple. A little bitter in the finish with that rancid cheese note coming back to haunt me. I definitely prefer this with water. It is less sweet now, but still a little too spicy. Some fresh apple comes through. Less bitter in the finish and thankfully the rancid cheese has disappeared.
Alas, the pedestrian opener was a foreshadowing of the equally lacklustre whiskies to come. Even so, there was a faint glimmer of hope in the form of the starting dram, the humble 10yr old. If anything, this line up just shows that maturity, cask types and price count for absolutely nothing in reality, and sometimes the simple things done correctly can provide a far more enjoyable experience. The bourbon matured 10 year old old packs a serious flavour punch, with a lovely creamy, buttery and fruity profile. The website price is a little high for my liking, however, do not be put off, as you can find it cheaper and more in line with other 10yr old’s elsewhere.
Sadly, it is all pretty much downhill from there. None of the following drams demonstrate as much balance or complexity as the 10 year old. The 11 year old is completely dominated by sweetness and lacking much else, including mouthfeel. It is not overly offensive, just quite dull. The 17 year old at least delivers a better mouthfeel, however, I was in for a serious shock having thought the 11 year old too sweet, as the 17 is intolerably so. I found it quite hard to finish the sample, even with water. The aggressive wine finishes have completely obliterated anything of interest that may have existed before, or not as the case may have been. Taking the rising price points into consideration also, I find very little of value in these drams.
The 26 year old thankfully provided a welcome respite. There is certainly more balance to be found here between the lighter orchard fruits and heavier stewed fruits and spices from a less imposing wine cask, despite the full maturation in this case. Water also adds some interesting elements. The mouthfeel is a slight let down after the promise of the nose, however, the major limiting factor is the price; I see, and taste for that matter, absolutely no justification for it. Look to the independents and you will find far better value for similarly-aged single cask expressions, although with Bladnoch holding back stock from now on, the days of these value releases are surely numbered.
Finally, the bourbon single cask, which I feel perfectly sums up the Malt scoring criteria for a 4; ‘Some glimmers of hope, but the negatives draw more focus than the positives. A bizarre rancid cheese note kept appearing, not too dissimilar to the cheesy notes I have tasted previously in a Cadenhead’s release. It detracts from some otherwise welcome flavours. Water definitely helps in this regard; however, the dram is still unbalanced, skewed heavily towards overpowering spice. I cannot help but feel that this cask would have been far better suited to a vatting, to highlight its qualities, and hide some of its flaws. The price for a bottle, once again, is too high in my opinion, though it sold out fairly promptly in any case.
Overall, If I had to sum up my impressions of Bladnoch following this tasting in just two words, they would be ‘disappointing’ and ‘overpriced’. I may be alone in this; however, it can often feel quite a relief to check distilleries or bottlers off a personal list, ones that have been tried and require no further thought or attention for the time being. This may sound harsh, however with the wealth of options out there at the moment, it is simply a reality that I will not be rushing out to taste any of the Bladnoch official releases in the immediate future. That 10 year old, however, may just persuade me to check back in at some point down the road.
Bladnoch 10 image via the Whisky Exchange. We’ve also included links to other retailers where possible, as Bladnoch seem a bit pricey. These are commission based, but fear not, you’re supporting Malt and saving a few quid, so it’s a win win scenario.