...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Birthday Malt Report: Balblair 1978 (2008 Release)

Distillery: Balblair
Ownership: Inver House Distillers Limited
Age: minimum 30 years (1978-2008)
Maturation: American oak ex-bourbon barrels
Region: The Highlands (North)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill filtered? No.
Caramel Coloring? No.

On New Years' Day, I placed an order with Royal Mile Whiskies for my birthday whisky.  It was significantly more expensive than any other liquor I've purchased, so I decided that it would only be enjoyed on August Twenty-fourths.

Of course, that's before I really understood the challenges of whiskies falling apart when they sit in a bottle for years and years and years.  But as I learned more about whisky, and as the bottle was torching a hole in the back of the Whisky Closet, I figured out a way to avoid the bottle aging issue.  I would drink the entire bottle in one sitting.

Just kidding.

Or am I?

Much research went into this purchase, as with all of my purchases in general.  Somehow both Jim Murray and Serge Valentin agreed on the high quality of the Balblair 1978 vintage.  How often do those guys agree?  I haven't quantified it, but I'll guess the answer is......not often?

It wasn't until this month that I realized they were talking about the 2010 bottling and not the 2008 bottling that I had bought.

But I have no regrets.  This whisky is one big glass of honey, just like its owner.

The color is of a late harvest sauvignon blanc or moscatel.  The nose starts with big candied American oak notes, later moving into the spirit's character.  Vanilla beans and vanilla pudding.  Coconut cream.  Fresh apricot?  Fruit cocktail juice.  There's something in the delicious blurry zone between dusty black pepper and wood smoke.  Citrus (but not lemon nor sweet orange).  White pepper.  After an hour in the glass, vanilla and spices take over.  The palate is very very very smooth; pain-in-the-ass smooth for a reviewer trying to suss out separate notes.  It did indeed require a second pour.  It's a glass of molasses and honey.  Then tart orange, pepper, lots of vanilla sugar, and a tiny note of mild cheese.  It finishes sweet and sturdy.  There's citrus, molasses, ground black pepper, and a moment of lychee.

Kristen, aside from documenting the event, gave it a few tastes.  I think she had a similar challenge as I do in divining individual elements within silky smooth whisky: she said, "It tastes like whisky."  Yes, yes it does.  The perfect palate note for a birthday beverage.  It tastes like whisky.

Availability - UK only
Pricing - the 2010 edition is a little more pricey at $200-$220 (w/shipping, w/o VAT)
Rating - 93


  1. Another blogger (My Annoying Opinions or Mongo as he's known on the whisky forums) pointed out something recently that I never really noticed till now. The Northern Highlands distilleries are all relatively similar in flavor profile. Balblair, Glenmorangie, and Old Pulteney (just to name a few) all have similar vanilla and citrus notes with an emphasis on the citrus. And he even notes that this flavor profile is probably what most people think of when they are tasting whisky (sort of the definitive Scotch whisky flavors when we're not thinking of Islay).

    1. That's an interesting point. Almost a terroir sort of thing. Those three all have that citrus element going on. Maybe it has something to do with the water? Or their spirit pulls those notes from the American oak. I like that character; that's reason #1507T why I'm grumpy about many finished whiskies.

    2. Glen Ord and Clynelish also have this characteristic that I'd chalk it up to terroir but aging in American oak certainly helps (especially when the oak is sourced from the same or neighboring forests). I have a feeling Dalmore would also show the same character if it weren't buried under finishes.

    3. Oranges! :)

      For Dalmore's spirit Serge says oranges, Charlie Maclean says orange peel, Michael Jackson says orange marmalade. Maclean's Whiskypedia says that the orange aspect shows up in the spirit that comes from Dalmore's larger still.

      Dalmore's 12 and 15 seem to choke that character out entirely with their oak action. But I tasted big oranges in the Gran Reserva -- the only Dalmore I've liked so far.

      As you mentioned, Glen Ord has an orange aspect to it too, but a little quieter. I have a Glen Ord I'm going to open soon because it's supposed to be light and citrusy -- hoping that it suits the summer well.