Saturday, May 9, 2015

Balblair Single Malt Scotch Seminar Review

This past Monday, May 4th, I was casually strolling through the "Promotions" tab in my Gmail inbox when I noticed a message from Gordon's, a local liquor store chain, about a Balblair single malt scotch tasting.

Balblair is a single malt that's fairly dear to my heart, being in the same stable with Old Pulteney and AnCnoc single malts, all handled by the inimitable Brian Johnson of International Beverage for the New England region. (Brian and I did some events together many years ago, including a scotch whisky dinner you can read about here.)

The body of the email said the tasting was being held that evening, May 4th, in about an hour. "Whoa!" I shouted, causing my wife to ask what was going on. It wasn't just that it was a Balblair tasting - it was also that the tasting was to include a spectacular lineup: the 2003, 1999, 1991, 1990, 1983, and 1975 vintages! My birth year is 1983 and I had my eye on this whisky since it was introduced a few months ago, so I really wanted to go.

I'll save you the marital negotiation details and skip right to the part where I finally went to the tasting.

It turned out the tasting was being handled by none other than Mr. Brian Johnson himself, and he actually recognized me after all these years. Brian gave some generous pours and regaled us with many stories of the distillery and the whisky, including some great details about how the whiskies are matured.

So here are my brief tasting notes, in case you're interested in trying this lineup.

Balblair 2003 (46% ABV, matured solely in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks, bottled in 2014): Sharp fruits, charcoal backbone. Full but not too complex. Overall rating: 85.

Balblair 1999 (46% ABV, matured primarily in bourbon casks and then finished for 4 years in oloroso sherry casks, bottled in 2013): Cognac-like initial flavors, then medium cooking spices. Overall rating: 87.

Balblair 1991 (43% ABV, matured solely in bourbon casks, bottled in 2009): Oh so smooth. Thick fruits, juicy finish. Overall rating: 91.

Balblair 1990 (46% ABV, matured 20 years in bourbon and 4 years in oloroso sherry): Like the 1999 but smoother. Overall rating: 90.

Balblair 1983 (46% ABV, matured solely in bourbon casks, bottled in 2015): Nose is ripe fruit, palate is super deep with ripe fruit. A hint of smoke. Wow...what a whisky! Overall rating: 95.

Balblair 1975 (46% ABV, matured solely in oloroso sherry casks, 5% peated malt, bottled in 2012): Deep woods nose, heavy burnt rubber on the palate, and a bit of peat. Lots of old wood - a little too much for my taste. Overall rating: 90.

The 1983 was my favorite by far, but even for the evening's sale price of $292.49 a bottle, I just can't bring myself to buy it. I would still take the Old Pulteney 17 and pocket the remaining ~$200.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Whisky review: Pure Pot Spirit

This is "barley spirit straight from the pot still at Tullibardine," according to the label on the bottle. I bought this on a trip to Scotland back in 2010 and have been slowly chipping away at it.

Tullibardine, a Highland distillery slightly north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, was mothballed in 1995 and then revived when it was purchased by an independent company in 2003.

Pure Pot Spirit, 69% ABV
New-make spirit
Price range, 500 mL: £30 when I bought it in Scotland in 2010; not very available now

Nose: Buttery green apples, grass or hay.

Palate: A bit prickly, probably due to the high alcohol content. Super bright young fruit - again with the green apples, plus light malt.
Finish: Clean and fruity, turning to a darker earthiness after a while.

Rating (of 100): 83. I had the Wasmund's new-make right before this and I think I like this one slightly better, due to the cleanliness of this spirit. A few drams of this one at 69% and you'll be feeling pretty good whether you actually enjoy drinking it or not!

Whisky review: Wasmund's Single Malt Spirit

Wasmund's is made by a distillery called Copper Fox, located in Sperryville, Virginia. The distillery was started and is owned by Rick Wasmund, who started the distillery back in 2002 to try making whiskies using fruit wood for the malting (and some of the maturation).

This spirit is essentially new-make, being less than 30 days old when put into the bottle. It's made from 100% hand-malted barley, where the malting was done with light smoke from 60% apple wood and 40% cherry wood.

I frequently give this as the last sample at tasting events, so folks can see what a new-make spirit tastes like. It really gives you an appreciation for how much of a whisky's character comes from the wood!

Wasmund's Single Malt Spirit, 62% ABV
Essentially new-make spirit
Price range, 750 mL: $27-32

Nose: Honeydew melon and a malty toastiness.

Palate: This is pretty cool. I think the smoke comes out a lot more on the palate than on the nose, and the fruitiness plays a secondary role.

Finish: Subtle smoke with an undesirable mustiness settling into the back of my mouth after a while.

Rating (of 100): 81. For being a new-make at 62% ABV, this is pretty tasty and not harsh. The finish was the part that brought the score down for me; could have been in the mid-80s without the mustiness.