Balblair moved away from its vintage expressions in March 2019 and launched a new core range with age statements.
We’ll have a look at their offering, starting at the bottom with the Balblair 12 Year Old. It is matured in ex-bourbon casks as well as double-fired American oak casks.
Nose: rather lightweight, fresh and bourbonny, with butter cream, lemon meringue and floral honey. Sweet vanilla cake (of course), pears and muesli. Subtle hints of peach yoghurt. Mouth: easy and harmless. Lots of sweet malty notes, grapes and citrus, vanilla cake again and sweet apple pie. Honeyed notes. Then a little ginger and pepper, as well as lemon zest. Finish: the spicy / lightly bitter side of the oak grows stronger. Honey and nougat.
Not bad, but ex-bourbon casks tend to give this round vanilla and fruits combination, and it offers little more than that. Above all a very safe composition but I think even their youngest vintages (which were typically around 10 years old) offered a little more character. Get it here: TWE / Master of Malt.
Next up: Balblair 15 Year Old. This is a aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in first-fill Spanish oak butts. I’ve asked the distillery why they explicitly seem to avoid the term ‘sherry’ on all the new labels, but I never had a response.
Nose: same style but it shows progression indeed. Juicy apricots, hints of raisins and yellow apples. Rounder than its younger sister, with less of the (re-charred) oak edge. Oranges, touches of leather. Cinnamon and vanilla still. Mouth: a creamy and rather fruity start (apples, peaches) with more oak spices along the way (clove, cinnamon) and a light earthy nuttiness. Subtle toffee and milk chocolate towards the end. Finish: medium, on nuts and spices.
It’s clear that the Spanish finish had a nice influence, adding some weight and complexity. Best value for money in the line-up. Same remark though: it might be a tad too civilized to really stand out in today’s whisky landscape. Get it here: Master of Malt / TWE.
And then Balblair 18 Year Old. It follows the same recipe: maturation in ex-bourbon casks and a finishing period in first-fill Spanish butts.
Nose: the most aromatic and the most sherried. Apricot pie and poached pears, a little mango chutney and mirabelles, mixed with toffee. Some marzipan cake. Hints of sour oak and leather make it seem less sweet than its younger sister. Mouth: same juicy fruitiness (including a light tropical edge) moving towards raisins, chocolate and oak spice. Hints of walnut loaf and brown sugar. Finish: medium length. The fruits seem to have faded, leaving the earthy oak and cinnamon.
While each of the new Balblair whiskies is well composed and nice to drink, I feel they range is rather close together and relying more on wood influence, especially the 15 and 18 year-old which share the same maturation style. I think the Balblair 15 Years is the most reasonable choice in the new range.