Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 22

22 12 2015

So remember way, way back in Day 1 of the calendar when I said that the calendar’s inaugural whisky, the vintage-dated 2003 Balblair Highland Single Malt, was released at the same time as the 1990 and the 1993 because Balblair’s distillery master holds all his whiskies until they’re exactly ready for release, even if out of chronological order?  (If you actually do remember this without clicking the link I will be shocked.)  Well, that may have been some inadvertent foreshadowing, because here on Day 22 I pulled that 2003’s older release twin out of the box.  Yes, Kensington Wine Market is bringing the thunder tonight with the 1990 Balblair, a 24 year-old malt (bottled in 2014) that is easily the oldest in the calendar to date.  It must be a winner, because it prominently graces the distillery’s cover page online.  Balblair is one of Highland’s oldest distilleries, established before Canada was in 1790, after which it followed the sort of sob story that seems to be par for the course for every Scottish distillery over the last 150 years:  it was sold in 1894, moved in 1895, mothballed in 1911, OCCUPIED BY THE ARMY in 1939, sold in 1948, sold in 1970 and sold in 1996 before being re-themed as a single-vintage-whisky-only producer in 2007.  The 1990 vintage malt was first released in 2008, with this 2014 bottling being the second iteration and release of that vintage.  I’m sure winemakers wish they had the luxury of making more of killer vintages after the fact to please consumer demand; I only know of one that ever did, and that didn’t end so well.

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This 1990 Balblair, 2nd ed., was matured in a mix of American oak ex-Bourbon barrels and Spanish oak ex-sherry casks.  But let’s stop the technical tasting talk for a second and just look at this whisky.  Wow.  Particularly in comparison to the pale greenish colour of the Balblair 2003, this is off the charts incredible, an amazing dark rich brown sugar hue that tells a story by itself.  How can you love whisky and not love looking at that?  The astounding visuals set the stage for the smooth, sweet, treacly nose, a languid mix of Kraft caramels, demerara sugar and those weird hard orange-wrapped hard toffee Hallowe’en candies, lifted and given life and freshness by apricot and mandarin orange fruit.  There is a surprising and prominent spicy edge to the palate that adds a sense of toughness to the flavours of coffee grounds, Mars bars, sultana crackers, melon and citrus, all surrounded by luxurious mellow sugared notes brought on by the long aging process.  I believe that this is the priciest whisky to date at $175, but you can immediately see, smell, taste and feel what the extra investment brings you.  Brilliant stuff.

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