...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ballechin 13 year old 2003, cask 221, distillery-only

Edradour was my first distillery stop during our Scotland trip last July. When you're at Edradour, I highly recommend the Signatory Tasting Bar. It was at that wee drinking room I had a chance to try a 13-year-old distillery-only single cask of their heavily-peated brand, Ballechin. It won me over. It also was my sixth drink in two hours. I bought a bottle of the whisky, which is still one of the oldest Ballechins they've yet released.

By (my) definition the perfect winter whisky, it was opened as soon as late November rolled around. Five months later, the bottle was still more than 1/3 full. That's even after I'd shared it with a half dozen people. So I had maybe eight pours in twenty-two weeks. It's not that the whisky was bad. It's just that Ballechin can be enormous, even when diluted to 46%abv. This whisky is a lumbering beast, full strength, dense peat and oceans of cask influence. It's not a casual sipper.

Distillery: Edradour
Malt: Ballechin
Ownership: Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co., Ltd.
Region: Highlands (Central)
Age: 13 years (May 16, 2003 - May 18, 2016)
Maturation: port cask (hogshead?)
Peat level at time of malting: ~50ppm
Cask #: 221
Bottles: 259
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant added? No
(bottom third of bottle)

Its color is a dark dark gold. Its nose starts off with new sneakers and new tennis balls. Dense dirty peat and brown sugar-crusted bacon. Raspberry jam. The palate has dark sooty Ardbeg-like peat, then, beneath that, is a layer of mossy peat. Then bitter baking chocolate. It's plenty sweet and winey but the peat is so massive that it usually holds the grapes in check. It's intense, overwhelming. It finishes sweet, salty and hot. Lots of port. Lots of peat.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose still has a sneaker rubber note, but the bacon, and now charred beef, are louder. There are also notes of roasted nuts, grape jam, salty air and orange peel. The palate feels more focused, simpler. The sooty peat and sweet are closer to merging now. The bitterness recedes. The only new note is that of toasted almonds. The finish is earthy, nutty and jammy sweet.

More water...

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has a salty beachy note; I'll go with seaweed on this one. It's still mossy, though there's a new note of fresh plums. The palate continues to get simpler. Peat, orange peel, raspberry jam and a subtle nutty note. The finish stays sweet, and keeps notes of walnuts and almonds. The peat has lightened significantly.

Five years ago (or five drinks in) I would have sung this whisky's praises for thirteen paragraphs and given it a 92+ point score. Because bigness.

This whisky is undoubtably big in character, but is its quality as great? No. Its depth, intricacies and balance were shamed by BenRiach Solstice 17yo when I tried them side by side. What salvages this Ballechin is its ability to take water well, which sorta pulls its shit together.

I don't know if I'm going to drink another drop of this stuff neat going forward, because I'm not as masochistic as I used to be about my whiskies. And if you're looking for a porty Ballechin, I recommend Discovery Series batch 3 for both bigness and greatness.

Availability - Edradour Distillery only (if it hasn't sold out)
Pricing - £90-something
Rating - 83 (with water!)