With the prospect of a new year on the horizon, Mark and I have an annual discussion about what should we focus on now and again throughout the coming 12 months. Early on, it became clear to us that Edradour was continuing to impress, whether it was its own traditional single malt or the heavily peated Ballechin distillate.
So far in 2020, we’ve brought you this focus on a small but perfectly formed distillery, sitting above Pitlochry in the relative obscurity of the rugged Scottish Highlands. The whiskies have been good and, in some cases, very good. We’ve managed to focus on widely available distillery expressions that hopefully you’ve managed to track down, or at least raise a token of awareness on your whisky radar.
Even now as I pen this in early September, part of me wants to shut the door on 2020 and embrace the prospect of 2021. I realise I’m probably not alone in that sentiment although what awaits us when January 1st arrives remains to be seen. Looking ahead, I’d like to do more Indian whiskies in 2021 and of course Waterford, as our embargo will be lifted and we can look to bring you some comprehensive and independent coverage.
Meanwhile, we’re in the here and now. Stuck in the monotony of the COVID-19 daily cycle of life. These past few months we’ve been denied many things including distillery visits. The ability to hit the road and taste whisky at its source is always a joy and educational experience. For Edradour, it’s only an hour’s drive from home. A convenient detour when heading further north or returning south, especially with friends.
As I pen this, I’m due to head north next week, subject to any restrictions not being in place. I expect Edradour won’t be possible as we’ll keep the A9 momentum going until Dalwhinnie, which is a perfect pitstop and chance to stretch the legs. Before swinging around the back the distillery and setting out for Fort William and the prospect of Ben Nevis. These brief forays at Dalwhinnie also serve to highlight any special releases from a distillery that isn’t supported by the independent sector and has a reputation as being inoffensive as seen with the Dalwhinnie 15 year old.
It seems an apt moment to consider the 2020 Special Releases and the inclusion of a 30 year old Dalwhinnie for just £550. As much as we’re all interested releases or something new from this relatively pedestrian distillery, the 2020 Special Releases continue to show their detachment from reality when it comes to pricing; not that many reviewers want to discuss or highlight the price. That’s the Diageo way and you should comply and not rock the boat. Take the other elder statesmen of the range in a 30 year old Pittyvaich. A closed distillery that is often celebrated by some enthusiasts for being closed! I’d say there’s more chance of me finding a great Jura as its been proven in 2020. Pittyvaich is a real oddity and often lacking character. The asking price for this roll of the dice is £400 (a £70 increase on the 29 year old from 2019), so in essence, you’re paying a £150 premium for Dalwhinnie or receiving a discount for buying a Pittyvaich. The choice is yours.
I expect many of you will avoid both releases as they are too rich for many of us trying to get by in 2020. In my own case, we should turn around and head back down the A9 to Edradour. A distillery that remains modestly small compared to the Diageo arsenal, but one that retains control of its own direction and releases. I find it refreshing that my visits often see Andrew Symington in and around the distillery shop, or moving barrels in the main car park. Prompting memories of Glenfarclas, where the owners get involved, unlike some more illustrious family-owned distilleries where the owners are rarely seen.
Edradour’s close relationship with Signatory underlines an appreciation of what independent bottlers offer. In a way, the success of the Signatory range facilitated the purchase of Edradour and becoming distillers themselves. A move that has been replicated by several bottlers since, including Adelphi and Gordon & MacPhail. So, it’s no surprise that we see Edradour and Ballechin supported well by bottlers across the world. And as we’ve focused mainly on the official releases this year, we’re bringing you a trio of indie releases from The Whisky Exchange and The Ultimate from Dutch bottler, Van Wees.
Ballechin 2003 15 year old – review
An exclusive bottling for The Whisky Exchange that has since sold out, this is a refill sherry cask #204, bottled at 55% strength.
Colour: cinder toffee.
On the nose: a vibrant, dense, intoxicating fruity peat with elements of strawberries, rubbed brass apples and raspberries. Plenty of autumnal vibes and freshly stripped bark. Chocolate, cinnamon, marzipan and rum fudge. Water reveals a campfire residue, black shoe polish and cola cubes.
In the mouth: more thuggish on the palate with more of that autumnal peat, fresh tar, treacle and toasted pine nuts. Adding water unlocks aniseed and blackcurrants.
Van Wees Ballechin 11 year old – review
Matured in a 2nd fill sherry cask #169, this was bottled at 59.5% strength.
Colour: a rich caramel.
On the nose: a pleasing assortment of toffee, figs and honey. The peat is within the mix but it has stepped back, there is more integration and balance. Orangeade, sweet tobacco, chocolate mint and a sense of harmony.
In the mouth: the theme of togetherness continues. Unlike the previous Ballechin, it tastes settled and in order. The peat is evident but not overly so and complemented by a smoky finish. Some traces of bacon fat – sorry proper Scottish bacon, Rose – coal dust, cloves and plenty of black pepper.
Van Wees Edradour 2010 9 year old – review
Matured in a 1st fill sherry cask #389, this was bottled at 59% strength.
On the nose: a sticky marmalade, cracked brazil nuts, beeswax, cigar smoke and honey. There’s also dark chocolate, bashed metal and fudge. Adding water unlocks the spice rack with added black pepper, honeycomb, caramel and new MDF (Medium-density fibreboard) straight out the box.
In the mouth: a thick sherry influence and its overpowering the distillate. Plenty of orange peel, honeycomb, walnuts and new leather. Adding a splash of water reveals the youthful side of the whisky with some cherry, cranberries and those retro flying saucer sweets.
A barrage of sherry and indicative of what we’re seeing independent bottlers gravitate towards nowadays. Colour sells and that means sherry. At least we have full maturation here and that’s a testament to the wood policy and distillate at Edradour.
And there are some interesting contrasts upon reflection. The Whisky Exchange Ballechin is big, bold and in places, relentless. In some respects it reminds me of the 1995 Clynelish they had as an exclusive, which had gone too far in sherry. We’re back to that colour sells aspect and the taste at times comes second. The same outcome applies to the Edradour that has been aggressively choked by the 1st fill sherry cask. Leaving us with a sherried whisky that could have come from anywhere and tastes like another sherried whisky from somewhere else. Last but by no means least, is the 2nd fill Ballechin. My pick of the bunch and just more cohesive overall.
The overall standard here is above average, as reflected in the scores and underlines the quality being produced at Eradour. That’s regardless of whether you buy from the official range or an independent release.
Lead image and samples kindly provided by The Whisky Sleuth and the Ballechin 15 via The Whisky Exchange.