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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Single Malt Report: Ballechin 10 year old

I will be reviewing a few Edradour products this week.  I know, you're leaping from your windows (with excitement).  My experience with the Highlands' tiniest distillery's single malts is limited but mixed.  The three I've tried that were distilled prior to Andrew Symington's (Mr. Signatory!) 2002 takeover were aggressively soapy.  In fact the old 30 year old is in the running for the single worst whisky I've ever tried.  It was horrifying and worrisome.  To get an idea of the experience see Andy's review from the LAWS site.  My luck with the whiskies distilled since 2002 has been more positive.  And my experience with their peated brand, Ballechin, has been even better.

The malt used for Ballechin is peated at Ardbeg/Kilchoman levels, near 50ppm.  Symington and his distillery manager, Ian Henderson (formerly of Laphroaig fame) began distilling this peated spirit almost as soon as they moved in.  Starting 2006 and ending in 2013, a limited batch of Ballechin was released annually.  Each batch of "The Discovery Series" was aged in a different cask type, from Port to Sauternes to Oloroso sherry and more.  And then in 2014 the first age-stated release came out...

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Bottling year: 2014
Maturation: from the back label: "predominantly ex Bourbon casks with a generous top dressing of ex Oloroso Sherry casks"
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(Thanks to Florin for the sample!)

Its color appears to be apple juice gold.  The nose has big rich peat, though it's not ashy.  A plate of pork with honey-citrus glaze and grilled corn on the cob.  Serious grilled corn on the cob.  Then there are red (not red delicious which smell like emptiness) apples, orange peel, and ginger powder.  It gets nuttier with time, sort of pistachio-ish.  After about 20 minutes, it gets a little more coastal/beachy.  The palate feels more charred, with dirtier peat.  Slightly vegetal peat notes as well.  Quite sweet, with plenty of vanilla and sugar.  A chili oil bite and some roasted malt.  After 20 minutes, a good rich oak note appears, perhaps from the "generous top dressing of ex Oloroso Sherry casks".  Some sweet baking spices as well.  The finish, though not complex, is extensive.  Sweet and peat.  More Kilchoman than Ardbeg.  The malty element picks up after a few sips, as does a hint of salt.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is milder and delivers more hay notes.  The peat reads more mossy than smoky now.  Salty/briney.  Something sugared in the far back.  The palate is nearly neutered.  Hints of sweet, salt, and bitter.  Smokier than the nose.  Almost a wood smoke.  The finish is much lighter too.  Briney, smoky, malty.

This is a solid whisky that could easily play in the Islay League.  It can't be accused of complexity and it doesn't swim well, but it smells great and tastes good.  The finish is impressive as well.  I used the Kilchoman and Ardbeg reference in the tasting notes because of their similar peating levels (or possibly the same Port Ellen maltings specs?), and also due to the fact that the Ballechin 10 would be a respectable alternative to the Ardbeg 10 and Kilchoman Machir Bay.  I'd still go with those two first, especially since they're cheaper (it is about $20 cheaper in Europe than in the US, though that's before shipping) and a half step better.  But again this is good stuff if you're looking for a new peated whisky (with an age statement) and don't mind paying the price.

Availability - Many specialty retailers in US and Europe
Pricing - $70-$80 in US; $55-70 in Europe
Rating - 84 86 (apologies for the score change, I was supposed update it before posting in the AM but didn't due to fatherhood forgetfulness)

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