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Friday, April 10, 2020

Balblair 1990 Second Release from 2014, 2015 and 2016

Kristen and I drank scotch whisky when we visited Fiddler's Inn in July 2016. It's a good thing to do.

That's (BORAT VOICE) my wife, a bottle of Balblair 1990 and the whisky sponge. Very nice.

We sampled a number of other whiskies that night, including a 21 year old sherry puncheon of Balblair from G&M and an 11 year old sherry puncheon from Glendronach, but the official 1990 Balblair Second Release won the day, unanimously.

Over the next year I obtained this "Second Release" in three forms:
1. Bought a mini of the 2014 release at a gift shop near Ben Nevis.
2. Bought a sample of the 2016 release from Whiskysite.
3. Was given an entire 750mL bottle of the 2015 release by Amy of Ten27 Communications, which was a very very generous thing. Thank you!

Yes, these are three different bottlings of the "Second Release", with a different bottling year listed on its label. In honor of Kristen's birthday, I am going to review all three. Right here, right now.

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Region: Northern Highlands
Maturation: "American oak, ex-bourbon barrels"+ "Spanish oak, sherry butts"
Vintage: 1990
Bottled: 2014 and 2015 and 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

2014 Bottling
The nose is very tight at first, then fades out entirely at the 40 minute mark. In between, there's medium dark chocolate, black pepper, black cherry ice cream and cherry lollipops. The palate proves to be more vibrant with cherry lollies, cigar tobacco, blueberry jam and tart acidic citrus. With time it abandons the citrus for coffee and picks up a little bit of toffee, while getting sweeter and more floral. The sweet and floral finish also includes tobacco and coffee. It includes a mix of bitterness and berry jam.

2015 Bottling
The nose delights with tobacco, mocha, dried mango slices, cloves, cocoa, toffee pudding, rosewater, old books and on and on and on with something new emerging every few minutes. The palate has good mild cigars, molasses and toffee pudding with roasted almonds. Limes, dried apricots and just a slight saltiness. The finish holds onto the molasses and limes, then adds dried cherries and tobacco and stones.

2016 Bottling
This one's nose also offers up a wide variety of characteristics, though more hectically so. Cinnamon, pineapple, Heath bar, cherry lollipops, lemons, blue scented markers. Hints of walnuts and paint VOCs. The big, vibrant palate balances sweet and tart with a good IPA-like bitterness. Its berries are more on the fresh than dried side. It picks some oranges along the way. It finishes with the IPA note, brown sugar, nutty oloroso, lots of citrus and a little bit of tobacco.

I am delighted to say this big bottle of darkness was the winner:

The 2014 registered the most straightforward sherried style, and its nose was short on length and substance. Thankfully its palate pulled it up. The 2016 bottling sat right between the 2014 and 2015 in quality and character. It tilted a bit to the strange side sometimes, but that added to the fun. With its gorgeous nose, silky dense palate and dark earthy finish, the 2015 proved damned delightful. Usually I find the first few pours from the bottle to be a bit tight and limited, but not with this one. Or perhaps it will get even better with time.

One thing I don't know is: What is this "Second Release" technically? The first release seems to have been a travel retail thing, bottled in 2008-2009. The second release had at least five bottlings, from 2013 to 2017, so how does that make it a single release? Was there one giant batch that was kept in steel over those five years, or was it really multiple batches?

There are two things I do know. There won't be a Third Release because the distillery ditched their vintage bottlings and went with age-stated whiskies in 2019. And on the organoleptic side, the contents of the 2014-2016 have similar elements and the quality of the batch(es) is/are good to great. Though the 2014 was my least favorite here, I enjoyed it immensely in Drumnadrochit. So though the naming of the whisky is confusing, the bottles' contents are often delicious. (The 2015 is the best, though.)

Availability - 
Getting scarce in Europe and the US

Pricing - $150-$200 probably
2014 Rating - 84
2015 Rating - 89 (or potentially higher)
2016 Rating - 87


  1. Now I kind of wish I had sprung for a bottle when it was in the $120 range around here. I've been a little skeptical of sherried Balblair since I like the bourbon cask iterations so much, but it sounds like they hit the mark sometimes.

    1. Yeah, I like their bourbon cask stuff too. I am really surprised by the quality of the sherry casks on this one, though maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. It's too bad the vintages are now gone, but maybe we'll get a sense of their blending skills with the new age-stated stuff.