Balblair is one of the easiest single malts to spot on the shelf. Like Glenrothes, it has a squat rounded bottle, shorter than the rest of the whiskies on the shelf but wider. The bottle is secured inside an even wider cubic box, usually displaying a single primary color. As a result it takes up more shelf space than any other non-luxury whisky. That's an interesting approach from a sales/marketing perspective, but probably a little irksome for retailers.
The 1978 "vintage", my primary birthday malt for the last two years, has proven to be a lot of fun, getting fruitier and fruitier the further down the bottle I've reached. But until now, it was the only Balblair I'd had. That seems a little backwards for a cheap-malt-cheering grump like me. Thankfully my buddy JLR hooked me up with sample of the 1997 during a swap last year.
The 1997 "vintage" used to be the youngest of the range, but over the last couple of years the distillery released a 2000, 2001, and 2002. While they don't state the bottling year or age on the bottle (though it can usually be sussed out via the bottling code), I do know that this 1997 was from the first US release in 2009. Last year they released a 15-year-old version overseas, though I don't know if they've done the same in the US.
After four years, this first version of the 1997 has become difficult to find on the shelves, but I've spotted them at random corner liquor stores at decent prices, so my curiosity has been on the rise...
Ownership: Inver House Distillers Limited
Age: approx. 12 years (1997-2009)
Maturation: first fill ex-bourbon casks
Region: Northern Highlands
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
From a 30mL sample, courtesy of JLR, tried neatly only:
The color is a very light amber, which makes me wonder if the caramel colorant is either absent or kept to a minimum. The nose is very shy at first but rather pretty. And with time it comes out of its shell. There are lemons, caramel sauce, pears, nectarines, and vanilla ice cream. There's also a floral note which reads more like actual flowers than perfume. With more time the vanilla ramps up and a bubblegum note emerges. The vanilla is present up front in the palate. A bunch of white fruits as well, like pears, apples, and white grape juice. Again the floral (as in flowers) note, along with some whipped cream and malt, all lightly sweet. It gets creamier and vanilla-er with time. And it grows more spirity, rather than calming down with time in the glass. The finish gains some new characteristics like black peppercorns, dark chocolate, and unsmoked cigars. It remains sweet and malty with a little bit of peach liqueur in the background.
While I'm not adding much to the mostly-positive reviews given by My Annoying Opinions and Chemistry of the Cocktail, I have to say I wish I'd tried this back when they had. Its character fits exactly what I was searching for when the heat hit Southern California. While it may be delicate in character, it is not characterless. It feels like it's in the style of the "Lowland Ladies", yet makes for more interesting drinking than most of the Lowlanders I've tried. It won't blow your mind, but it's cheerful enough that it'll lead you back for a second glass. Now, I gotta go get me that second glass.
Availability - Some major liquor retailers, though it's getting scarcer
Pricing - $48-$56
Rating - 85