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.
An excellent trip to Balblair distillery a few weeks ago left me with every intension to talk about the new vintages we were fortunate enough to taste. However, such are the complexities of whisky, the visit served as a catalyst for a more contemplativemeander through the broader themes of whisky, marketing and people. Back to the reviews today though, and being as it’s both rather affordable and starting to reach retailers’ shelves, the 2002 is an ideal place to start these new releases. Incidentally, it seems all future vintages from the distillery will be bottled un-chill filtered, without artificial colour and at a minimum of 46% abv. Certainly something everyone here at Whisky Marketplace and the vast majority of whisky lovers will be pleased to hear.
The last “entry level” Balblair was, unsurprisingly, the Balblair 2001 – you can see Pierre waxing lyrical about that one on the first episode of the rather lovely WMTV whisky podcast – a vintage that seemed to go down very well in most quarters, offering a light, fresh and rather naked example of the distilleries characteristically fragrant make. At the distillery we had the opportunity to taste a 2002 cask sample, cut to bottling strength, as an early example of the general profile for this new release. Even following some very high quality drams it managed to impress; time to find out if the final vatting carries forward the charm of that sample.
Visiting distilleries is rarely anything less than a pleasure and a recent trip to the small, East-Highland distillery of Balblair was far from an exception. The rolling landscape of Ross-shire, persistent Highland rain and warm, bright eyed welcome of the staff on such a trip is instantly disarming in its charm, but as a somewhat hardened and faintly cynical whisky lover there is always a sense that things may be less than they seem.
This critical eye of concern is evident all over the whisky world, be it a blogger lamenting the loss of staff and weather beaten worm tubs or the misty eyed, pipe smoking malt-scribe mourning the fading memory of a dramming bell. Such romanticised, evocative regrets are often more than mere wistful idealism though, after all for many a bottle backed by a quaint highland tale of history and permanence there is a computer, an expansion plan and sadly, compromises in quality.