KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 17

17 12 2016

Balblair!  Immediately recognizable thanks to its awesome squat flask-shaped bottle (complete with etching, even in the mini version) and standout modern labels, these guys have their branding right on point.  This is the third Balblair whisky to grace the pages of the Advent Calendar (and the third one I’ve had an obscenely hard time getting out of the calendar), after 2015’s lead-off Day 1 and denouement Day 22.  The distillery’s path to the present was a windy and interesting one, reflective of how difficult it must have been to be a whisky producing facility in the 20th Century:  founded 1790, sold 1894, moved 1895, mothballed 1911, run totally dry 1934, OCCUPIED BY THE ARMY 1939, sold 1948 (to a lawyer from Banff, no less, though presumably the one in Scotland), sold 1970, sold 1996.  Thankfully it’s stayed steady for the last 20 years, and in 2007 it made the decision that has become its rallying cry in the marketplace:  to produce and release only vintage-dated whiskies.  I don’t mean “10 Year”, “12 Year”, “18 Year”, etc.; I mean 1990, 2003, and tonight’s 2005.  The difference is that the former age designation only indicates the youngest whisky in what can be a blend of multiple different production years (what in wine would be called “non-vintage”), whereas Balblair’s choice commits them to only using whisky distilled in a single specific year in every bottling, which is proudly displayed on the front label.  Is that better?  Not necessarily, but it’s different, and the whisky world needs some different.

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This bottle was distilled in 2005 and just bottled this year, making it an 11 year-old dram.  It was happily matured in ex-bourbon casks (w00t – sherry break), which explained its ludicrously friendly nose, overflowing with maple and brown sugar, crushed pecans, cinnamon sticks, nectarines and smoke.  I’ve noted that many whiskies in this year’s calendar start quieter aromatically but then are more exuberant to taste; well, this one is the opposite, not shutting down but taking on more sour lemon and bitters flavours, leathery tinges and chemical/petroleum notes (almost like Vaseline) on the tongue to go with the still-present vanilla and butterscotch sweetness.  Like a nice guy made more complex by a darker side – I like it.

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