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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Let's All Meet Up In The Year 2000

Balblair is not a distillery we have reviewed before, nor is it one I am hugely familiar with. When I’ve popped in to my (very) local whisky dealer, The Whisky Exchange in Vinopolis, I’ve always marvelled at their beautiful packaging and I even sold a few bottles when helping them out in their Christmas rush last year , which seemed to go down very well with the punters. (This year I have installed a Batphone-esque help line to my flat for if their shop gets as crowded as it did last year) But my only real experience was sneaking a tipple from TWE’s sampling stock so I knew what I was flogging.

Imagine my delight when Mr Postman turns up one morning this week with a package. Too small to be a full bottle but too big to contain a sample, I tore the jiffy bag open to find what can only be described as a small metal lunchbox with a window in the lid, housing a miniature of the new Balblair 2000. A small press releases fell from what remained of the envelope informing me that this was the latest in Balblair’s Vintage Expressions.

Only a small distillery, Balblair knocks out around 1.3 million litres a year (so twice the size of Arran, but just under half the size of Glenfarclas) and only bottles in Vintages, which is a cracking idea. The other Vintages in their range are: 1979 (God’s own year...), 1989 and 1997. And all at very reasonable prices, it has to be said. (£85-odd for the 1979. You’d struggle to find an Indie bottling on anything from 1979 that cheap)

As I opened the metal box which held the miniature in place, there was a further piece of literature in side (or should I say “marketing”?), a fold out document to remind us exactly what happened in the year 2000, and I’ve scanned this in for your pleasure here:

Major points Balblair have chosen to focus on from 2000:

- The last Mini being produced at Longbridge. This was a signal of things to come for the Longbridge plant which closed in 2005, leaving more than 6,000 workers unemployed.

- The Millennium Dome opened and, as observed by the leaflet, closed a year later.

- The Queen Mum turned 100. She’s now dead.

- People had Millennium parties worldwide. I know of not one person who really, thoroughly enjoyed themselves that night. And technically they were celebrating in 1999.

- The Tate Modern Opened. Yes, now we’re flying! A true, stick-on positive from the year 2000.

All of this just leaves me wanting Balblair to release a 1939 bottling, with a leaflet featuring such highlights as:

- The outbreak of World War 2.

- Albert Einstein writing to President Roosevelt about developing the Atomic Bomb.

- Marvin Gaye was born.

Balbliar – 2000 – 1st release – 43%

Ex-Bourbon Oak Cask, £31.50 RRP, very pale in colour

Nose: Vanilla, green apple, pear drops and some lemon and lime notes. This is creamy and very indicative of 100% American oak barrels. A little weak and slightly too sweet for me.

Palate: Honey, heather and delicate white flowers; this gives sweetly to the palate like a dusted boiled sweet. The sweetness dissipates quickly to leave the juicy notes of pineapple juice and freshly squeezed apple juice behind.

Finish: a touch of honeysuckle, some more vanilla and custard notes, this time with lavender. White chocolate. Short.

Overall: I didn’t think I was going to like this as from the nose I thought it would be a little insipid and too weak in flavour, but it has a lot of positives to make this a decent whisky at a decent price. It’ll get hammered by those who love their sherried whisky, but it holds a good place if you like a sweet, vanilla and honey tone to your dram as it comes across much more like a delicate Lowland than a Highland beast. It wouldn’t make it into my top 5 whiskies under £35, but it might make it in to the top 15.

I think Inverhouse (who also own Old Pultney, anCnoc and Speyburn) should be applauded for the direction they are taking Balblair in. Vintage-only is a great way to platform this brand as a Premium Single Malt, but with price tags that certainly are not. I hope that this continues as the brand grows and that the quality of the liquid inside their bottles matches the high standards they have set themselves for image.