Age statements are more than just numbers for whisky enthusiasts – they are practically the rule of law, and often influence whisky choices more than actual taste. One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Balblair is among a growing breed of distilleries attempting to buck the trend, and prevent the uninitiated and experienced alike from restricting their palates to promises made by numbers.
Where other whiskies are bottled and identified by age, Balblair releases its whiskies by vintage instead. This means that the whisky is bottled from a single source, at the exact time of maturity. Two numbers present on each label indicate the year of distillation and bottling respectively, allowing you to figure out each bottle’s exact age with a little arithmetic.
This method of bottling allows unique flavour profiles for each vintage. Where, traditionally, whiskies of differing ages are mixed to achieve standardised attributes corresponding to the distiller’s “big” ages (such as 12, 15, 18 or 21 years), Balblair’s are bottled and released only upon optimum maturity, retaining individual character and complexities in the process.
As if that is not particular enough, there are also first and second releases for each vintage, where batches that might not have reached optimum maturity are left alone to age some more before being bottled.
Like all respectable distilleries, Balblair still covers the spectrum of ages, but chooses to release its spirits when they are at their best, instead of relying on standardised thresholds.
Balblair has recently bottled and released three vintages: 2003, 1990 and 1983. Its 2003 is a good introduction to the brand, in the vein of a typical 10- or 12-year-old whisky, while the 1990 and 1983 are more complex, full-bodied examples of its craft.
All this new territory does not mean that Balblair strays too far from other time-honoured whisky-making principles, though. The distillery ages its whisky in former bourbon barrels with additives such as sherry butts to help build flavours with notes of vanilla, toffee and other aromatics. Even the most ardent whisky purist would approve.
Balblair whiskies are available at the Olde Cuban, La Maison du Whisky and The Auld Alliance.