1969. I wasn’t to be born for another 7 years but those were interesting times; the first ever Concorde test flight is conducted, Apollo 10 returns to earth after a mission well done, Monty Python’s ‘Flying circus’ first airs on BBC One (gotta love that EPIC show) and somewhere in the Scottish Highlands on the misty shores of the Dornoch Firth quite a bit of of malted barley is mashed, fermented and then distilled into beautiful spirit that will sit and wait patiently in the casks for the very right moment. The 1969 Vintage Balblair. That’s pretty awesome in my view.
When we’re speaking of malts (and I’ve had a few myself as you might have guessed) we need to remember that a whisky does improve with time, but ageing itself is not a guarantee for good whisky. First of all you need good casks, and by good I mean casks that will shape the spirit well and complement it. 80% of the flavour of whisky is said to come from the cask. But just putting a whisky in a cask for say 40 or more years does not guarantee anything. I’ve tasted a good few older whiskies which were aged for a long period of time in wood which dominated the spirit, resulting in bitter tastes, too much wood (or “pencil box whiskies” as I sometimes call them).
But not always and not in the very best of whiskies. The Balblair 1969 was beautifully aged and cared for in such a way that the wood did spice the spirit and add a magnificent dimension to it, yet it has not damaged the spirit or made it bitter and woody. Not in the slightest. Only for such rare casks were selected, then married (we tend to call the stage where a few casks are mixed together in a bigger vat , and left for the mercy of the whisky angels and spirits to mix and harmonize) to produce 999 such lovely bottles of whisky.
Another stunning aspect of this whisky is it’s liveliness. In many cases at a certain age a whisky loses its vibrancy, and liveliness after being tamed for too long by the wood, and we often say it was “subdued” by the cask. Balblair 1969 displays just the opposite, It’s really surprising to nose that one (and also to roll it on your palate) and see it’s so very much alive, like the 40-odd years in a dunnage warehouse did not break its spirit, It’s still kicking and spreading aromas all over. Brilliant.
Too much talk and not enough whisky some say, so here are my tasting notes for this excellent dram.
Nose: Mother of God! This is something else. Rich. Clearly at CS. Starts with majestic polished wood. Lovely wood spices, overripe bananas, stewed apples, vanilla and Demerara sugar. Lemons, a wee bit of mint and hints of ripe grapefruit. Mega complex. And lively. Vigorous.
Palate: Surprisingly smooth at this strength. Very nice starting again with that lovely old wood, like licking an old library bench. Wood spices, some aniseed and that mature grapefruit note I love in older drams. A pinch of licorice and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Heaven.
Finish: Long. Very long with cinnamon spice. Apple pie. And gentle wood. Dry and very rewarding.
That’s a lot of text to just say: it’s incredible. It really is. I’ve visited the Balblair distillery (splendid place and location by the way), and tasted most of their (if not all) releases in the last few years, But I really have to say, this one is by far the best yet I’ve tried from Balblair. A true sensory experience I feel very lucky to have been granted.
Many thanks to Balblair and LD of Allembic comms who provided this wonderful drop. You can also find the post (originally written as a guest post to the new Balblair Gathering Place blog. Check them out here.