Peter Morrell discovers that time, patience, and tradition create the perfect dram to sip, savour, and enjoy
Brunswick House, a very well-preserved Georgian mansion in the Vauxhall area of London, was the ideal location for a recent dinner and tasting of the Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection from Balblair. The building was constructed almost at the same time the Balblair Distillery was founded in 1790, in the northern Highlands of Scotland. The other similarity is that the building is an island of tradition sitting in a sea of modernity. This echoes the production of Balblair whisky, where time, patience, tradition, and the skill of Distillery Manager are the key factors in the production of the perfect single malt.
The Balblair Distillery, the oldest in the northern Highlands, is located in one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland, on a hillside overlooking the Dornoch Firth. Here the distilling process is time-honoured, an exceptionally long 62-hour fermentation and the 4 1/2 hours of extremely slow distillation starts the process. The whisky is matured in a combination of charred American oak ex Bourbon barrels, and first fill Spanish oak barrels. These are stored in long-established dunnage warehouses. These low buildings, where the barrels can only be stacked three high, make handling more difficult than modern warehouses, but they create an environment where the whisky matures more slowly, and evaporation through the wood of the barrels, the Angel’s Share, is minimised.
We were fortunate to have John MacDonald, who has been Balblair’s Distillery Manager for the last 17 years, to take us through the tutored tasting.
We started with the 12-year-old, which has been matured in American oak ex-bourbon and double-fired American oak casks. This poured a straw colour, it has a youthful brightness on the nose, with aromas of citrus, vanilla, and green apples. On the palate the fruit flavours remain and are joined by warming spices, candied orange, and the sweetness of honey. The finish is creamy, with vanilla and hints of leather. This whisky had lots of complexity and character.
Next up was the 15-year-old, this whisky starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks, followed by flavour-giving first fill Spanish oak butts. After pouring a bright amber colour the bouquet offers an abundance of aromas with lemon, honey, spices, prunes, and oak. The mouthfeel has a velvety texture, with flavours of chocolate, tropical fruit, and spices. The finish is long and mellow, with vanilla and citrus. Another whisky with layers of interest.
The third was the 18-year-old, matured initially in American oak ex-bourbon casks, followed by first fill Spanish oak butts. This has a light copper hue in the glass, the aromas on the nose are packed with interest – toffee and baked pears are to the fore, with a background of leather. The palate is a potpourri of apricots, mature oak, and vanilla custard. The finish is persistent with lingering spices and raisins. A highly satisfying whisky
The final whisky was the 25-year-old, maturation starts in American oak ex-bourbon casks, and it then spends years in Spanish oak, which gives it great complexity. Its copper colour is indicative of its depth. Aromas of apricot and liquorice are surrounded by mature oak and leather in the bouquet. The full-bodied mouthfeel has essential citrus oil, chocolate flavours, and notes of tobacco. The finish is filled with chocolate and blood orange. This is a rare and truly exceptional whisky.
The Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection from Balblair has something to offer at every price point, and every taste preference. Interestingly none of the whiskies are peated, which allow the more precise flavours developed during maturation to show through. The tasting was done with the Glencairn whisky glass, its tulip shape and bulbous base allows for superior swirling, sniffing, and sipping.
This was a very enjoyable evening, and the matched food which included Dexter beef tartare, Lincolnshire poacher cheese, confit trout, and herb-fed chicken were ideal companions for the whisky. The evening was made extra special by John MacDonald, whose knowledge of whisky production is unparalleled.
You can buy Balblair Whisky from Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange, House of Malt, Whisky Online, and other good spirits merchants
For more information about Balblair Whisky, its history, and its Distillery Tours go to https://www.balblair.com/