Balblair predominantly ages their whisky in ex-bourbon American oak casks – their unpeated Highland spirit is well suited to extended aging which brings out the natural fruitiness and prominent spicing from their spirit. Whilst the distillery fills several different types of casks, I’ve often found those whose principal maturation has come from ex-bourbon to be the most successful, and the truest to the character of the distillery itself.
Today's well-matured ex-bourbon Balblair comes courtesy of Scotland oldest independent bottler - Cadenhead's. As part of their Authentic Collection, this was distilled back in 1990 and bottled in October 2016 at 44.4% ABV. 108 bottles were produced and, like all of Cadenhead's Authentic Collection, it's natural coloured and non-chill filtered.
Nose: Pronounced brass polish with an assortment of green fruits – Granny Smith apples, pears and gooseberries. Lemon flavoured barley water and sharp grapefruit deliver both sweet and sour aromas. These sit alongside some interesting notes of almond brittle, copper coins and tree sap. There’s a herbal undertone here which only comes out after the dram is rested for a while – it manifests itself in the form of spearmint. A very interesting nose indeed, and not really comparable to any ex-bourbon Balblair I’ve tried before.
Taste: Full mouthfeel with some real waxiness. Our green fruits have translated into more tropical varieties – bananas, pineapples and mangoes. Oak spicing intensifies throughout the development with really pepperiness, light liquorice and sandalwood. The spearmint is more discernible on the palate than on the nose and is joined by some light grassiness and a chalky taste, not too dissimilar to what you might find in a damp limestone cave. Again, interesting with some notes which you might more commonly associate with old-school Lowland whiskies.
Finish: Medium to long in length and building to a peppery climax. Incredibly drying.
This Balblair is quite remarkably different and belies any expectations from past longer-aged ex-bourbon examples I've tasted to date. Overall, it’s fairly elegant and arguably complex, offering quite an altered experience on the palate compared to the nose (green fruits into yellow fruits). The intensely drying finish is going to be a bit divisive I’d imagine. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time a whisky has sucked this much moisture out of my mouth.