Balblair. I visited Balblair not sure what to expect. They do things differently in regards to single malt launches and branding in general. They are owned by Inver House, just like Knockdhu where I worked for a bit as well as Speyburn and Old Pulteney. I made sure to let them know I would be working at their sister distillery, Knockdhu, because you can sense the internal rivalry between the five Inver House Distilleries! Beside Speyburn, they all sit pretty comparable in regards to capacity. Speyburn recently went through a major renovation and is now very well automated and producing more than the rest. They compete over energy efficiency, weekly yields etc. It’s all healthy competition of course!
Balblair is located north of Inverness and in quite a beautiful area. They were bought over by Inverhouse in 1996 and it was only in 2007 that they started releasing their single malt as a brand, which they call “vintages”. I will discuss the vintages later on. As you are welcomed into the visitor room, there hangs pictures of all the distillery employees. I wonder if they liked their pictures hanging there and having every tour that goes through hearing their life story. There are 9 employees and 4 of them all come from the family line of the “Ross’s”. Only 15% of the 1.8 million liters of new make they produce each year goes to bottled vintages and the rest is used or sold to blends.
The mashtun is stainless steel and they run three waters to gather their wort. There are six Douglas fir washbacks and each on can hold 21,000 liters of wort. They then use 105 liters of liquid, cream yeast. Fermentation lasts about 60 hours before it moves on to the one wash still. Their wash and spirit still were quite short for what I expected and there were no reflux bulges. They fill casks on site and fill about 2000 casks per year. There are warehouses on site that can hold about 30,000 casks, but currently only about 18,000 are on site. As with the other Inverhouse distilleries, bottling is done in Airdrie, Scotland.
Similar to most Scottish distilleries they use a mix of bourbon and sherry casks for aging. What was interesting though, is that apparently some combination of their water and new make spirit, once aged for many years in just sherry casks, can turn black. There are bottles in the market that are apparently “black” in color and they aren’t sure why this happens. Seeing a black whisky must be quite bizarre, but most of their vintages that were aged in sherry are quite dark in general. They are sometimes compared to the likes of Balvenie in regards to taste and flavor profile. Their vintages are basically used in place of age statements. Instead of putting how long it was aged, they put down when it was put into the cask. This leaves the following Vintages that I tried listed below…
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Honey, granola, biscuit and citrus.
Palate: Hay, granola, chocolate, ripe apples with a tart citrus bite!
This was only aged in Bourbon casks.
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Old apples, honey dripped raisins, caramel apples, frosting and maybe some green apple blow pop.
Palate: Oaky, bourbon, vanilla lotion, pepper, and had a texture similar to mangoes.
I literally wrote in my notes—“very complex!”. This spent 14 years in bourbon and 2 years in sherry. The nose and palate didn’t match, but it was still delicious!
Holly’ Tasting Note..
Nose: Toffee, caramel corn, raspberry cobbler, raisins and coffee creamer.
Palate: Raisins, dried fruit, nutmeg and honey.
The 1999 Vintage was definitely my favorite. I quite enjoyed Balblair and would definitely drink it again.
Next up is Highland Park..