The whisky world must surely, if slowly, be developing a degree of desensitisation to bottlings directed toward wealthy drinkers, collectors or speculators. Be it £1000 worth of old Glenfarclas whisky, £2500 for some travel retail-exclusive exotica or the now all but ubiquitous 10k Dalmore, such release are certainly unobtainable for the larger majority of us. Debates still abound as to the merits of such bottlings, and the arguments show no sign of calming whether you fall on the “well if people pay it, they should charge it” side of the fence or take the contrasting “a fair price is not simply what the market will pay” viewpoint. Still, such whiskies never fail to court attention and this new bottling with a RRP of $3500 (the U.S.A will be the first market to receive it) will surely be no exception.
Balblair, and indeed the Inverhouse owned distilleries as a whole, isn’t a name you might instantly associate with such “ultra-premium” releases. Of course there have been a few, not least the excellent 1965 Balblair vintage we saw shortly after the brands re-packaging/launch in 2007, but in the main Balblair has remained a well-priced malt of sometimes overlooked quality. However, now that almost all of the aforementioned 65 has found its way safely into the arms/glasses/cabinets of well-heeled Whisky lovers world-wide, it’s time for a new flagship. Enter the 1969; previewed earlier this year at the distillery and formally launched this past week in London, this vintage with its elegantly understated packaging looks to be a hit, if you’re lucky enough to get a nip that is.
43 years old, 41.4%abv, 999 blts.
Quite waxy and mentholated at first, more so that I recall from the distillery tasting, with some pine resin, paraffin oil and church candles making the biggest impression. Begins to open up rather quickly though with whispers of almond oil and then a building avalanche of exotic fruit; ripe mango, pineapple, tinned apricots. The complexity grows with each passing minute as hints of green cardamom and caraway seed alternate with tiger balm, distant rancio and then a little eucalyptus and fennel herb. A remarkable balance of age, concentration and freshness.
Ah, not at let down at all, indeed a little peppery spice precedes a marvellous translation of the nose; juicy apricots, passion fruit, lychee cream and quince jelly. The caraway found earlier is now joined by a little camphor and hints of dried herbs. Past the mid palate a thread of sourness comes through –apple skins, bitter almonds?- along with some lovely, gently drying green tea and a wonderful layer of beeswax that keeps the building oak at bay.
Perfectly silky and refined.
Quite long with lots of beeswax carrying over alongside the green tea/herbal notes. The fruit is finally overtaken, not by rasping tannins but by a little dried juniper and the fennel. There’s a little leather and a distant sappiness in the length but the oak remains well within limits.
An unquestionably excellent whisky and worthy successor to the 1965. The casks that found their way into this vatting must have been of exceptional quality, a theme that’s fast becoming a feature of Balblair’s releases at any price-point, with a laudable freshness and wonderful, slow matured concentration of flavour. Certainly it’s priced for collectors and given its unquestionable quality; this taster can’t help but feel a sentimental regret in knowing most bottles shall undoubtedly remain un-opened.