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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

NOT Single Malt Report: Ballantine's Finest Blended Scotch Whisky (bottled 1970s)

One of the most exciting moments for a dusty hunter is when he or she sees the word "QUART" on a whisk(e)y label.  That means the bottle is from the 1970s, at the latest.  I'll be honest, I've rarely had that pleasure.  On one of those rare occasions, I found this bottle.


I was pretty geeked out about this.  I love old cheap blends from the whisky glut era.  One never knows what one's going to find in 'em.  Also, it feels like one's drinking something old, a creaky but vibrant, sometimes sort of moldering, likker that our grandfathers used to drink after long day of beating up scabs.

The fill level wasn't perfect in my Ballantine's, as you may be able to glean from the photos.  The bigger challenge was that the tax strip was virtually gone.  The screw cap was certainly sealed, that wasn't the issue.  The issue was how old was this damn bottle?  After researching a zillion Ballantine's ads from the past 50+ years, I was able to conclude that this specific label (with standard measurements) was used from 1968-1979.  So I'm going with 1970s.  More importantly, the whisky was entirely drinkable.

Brand: Ballantine's
Ownership at the time: Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts
Current ownership: Pernod Ricard
Distributed by: 21 Brands, Inc.
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 3 years
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottled: probably between 1968 and 1979

Its color is a yellow gold.  The nose can be a bit of an adventure.  At first it's very musty.  Some mild cheese, salty buttery potatoes, and oats.  But after than comes the limes and lemons and vanilla.  A mild maltiness (though not young stuff).  With time (20+ minutes), the citrus moves to the forefront.  Some orange creamsicles now.  A peep of prune juice and wisp of wood smoke.  Lemon creme filling in the palate.  Slight occasional musty moldy note.  Still has a little ethyl bite to it after all these years.  Mild smoke.  Some vanilla and sugar.  As it opens up, it gets very peppery on the tongue.  Some brief oaky moments here and there.  Its finish is shorter than yesterday's '80s Famous Grouse.  It's all Boston creme, toffee, a hint of sawdust, and a spicy nip.

Yeah, it's weird at times.  So are most of the dusties that sit on sunny Southern California shelves for 30+ years.  It takes time open up and let go of the funk, much like my old '70s JW Black Label.  But it's never boring and makes for a pleasant mindless sipper once the weird stuff fades out.  It's also better than the current Ballantine's Finest but not as drastically so as the Grouse issue noted yesterday.  There's definitely plenty of grain filler here and I do wish there was more fruit going on.  But I'd happily buy this for $20 or less (okay, maybe $25 for historical value) any day.

Availability - Happy Hunting!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 78 (needs a little breathing time)

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