Whisky Articles

Distillery Tour #2: Balblair


Day two of the trip started out similarly to day one: another early alarm (though not quite as early as day one), and another exceedingly unspectacular May morning. This time around, however, I was in a hotel rather than my room – don’t ask me its name or location, I was every bit the passive passenger – and rather than flying to Wick we would be driving to Balblair. Whiz past packing, breakfast and driving; see us arriving at Balblair. Greeted by distillery manager John MacDonald, the tour started promptly. Unfortunately my photos from this visit are, if anything, even less awe-inspiring than those from Old Pulteney, not least so the picture of John, but that is something that we will all have to learn to live with.

John MacDonald

While Old Pulteney has a somewhat unusual location in the middle of Wick, Balblair boasts a more traditionally rural setting. As I am firmly of the opinion that tours don’t make for particularly good reading, I won’t go into much further detail on that aspect of the visit. All I will say is that Balblair sports a new visitor’s center, which you can (just about) see in the picture below. This is where our tasting took place, each expression accompanied by two videos – one that summarized the year in which it was distilled, and one with brief tasting notes.

Balblair visitor's centre

We were offered three expressions: Balblair 2001, 1989, and 1978. I’ve already reviewed the 1989, and particularly keen readers may also wish to read my review of the 1997. Starting with the 2001, the nose offers up a light and refreshing combination of tangy apple, sherbet, sweet citrus, a shy bit of licorice fudge, and a touch of cinnamon. The palate, however, starts off with a somewhat surprising savoriness – the best way I can describe it is very mild Marmite but without the saltiness, if you could imagine such a thing. Don’t get me wrong, liking Marmite is far from a prerequisite and it doesn’t taste like it, it merely has the same savoriness. The fudge remains but shifts more towards vanilla than licorice, and it is joined by a spiciness that I didn’t detect on the nose; not an overwhelming one, mind, just a slight bite which makes it all the more interesting. A rather nice drink, overall.

Balblair line-up

To state the obvious and surprise absolutely no one, the 1978 immediately comes across as more mature. The nose offers one of the most sumptuous notes I’ve come across recently, and the best way I can think to describe it is as Brazil nut praline dipped in rich chocolate. This is joined by mild banana, a few crumbs of fudge, and warm pear. Need I say that my nose loved it? As with the 2001 the fudge comes across on the palate as well, along with honey, mild biscuit, and citrus, with a more pronounced spicy bite than on the 2001. The aftertaste is long and warming.

Another lovely distillery visit, and another impressive line-up of whiskies. So far so good – the next post, which will be the 2nd last detailing the tour, will focus on our visit to Speyburn.

About Whisky Critic

My name is Martin and I live in Scotland. I love fine things in life, such as gourmet food, travelling around the world and, last but not least, whisky (naturally, I’m partial to a tipple of whiskey or bourbon as well). I have tasted hundreds of whiskies during the recent years and I finally decided to share my experience.

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