By Richard Thomas
In the northern Highlands town of Edderton lies Balblair, one of the oldest of Scotland’s distilleries. Founded in 1790, it was a family-owned distillery until 1894. Since then, the distillery has seen many of the ups and downs of the industry. It was closed from 1911 to 1948, and has changed ownership a couple of times in modern times. The current owners are Inver House, who also own Old Pulteney.
For a long time, Balblair did not have its own brand, so if you wanted to drink it as a single malt and not as a constituent in a blend you had to buy an independent bottling. Gordon & MacPhail used to have loads of them. That changed recently, and when Balblair began developing itself as a brand it became one of the few distilleries in Scotland to release its single malts as vintages. The Balblair 2005 was bottled in 2015 (making it a 10 year old), and it replaced a similarly aged 2003 vintage as the flagship expression. The whisky was bottled at a relatively hefty 46% ABV from ex-bourbon barrel stock.
The whisky has a very pale straw appearance in the glass, so pale as to be translucent. In bright light, it barely has any color at all. A swish, however, reveals a viscous (if almost colorless) liquid, as the coat forms tiny beads around the crown and no legs to speak of.
The nose has a ballsy character to it, rough around the edges and revealing a bit of youth. The sweet side is in the main, but only slightly, and that side full of apples and honey, seasoned with vanilla. What gives the scent its roughness are the oaky notes, because that leathery, dry, woody current is a strong one.
That viscosity from the swish was no lie; the whisky has a thick, buttery texture. The sweetness shifts towards honey, toffee, vanilla and banana. On the finish, that turns immediately to toasty, dry wood. The warmth is light, but lingers on and on.
Flavorful with a weighty body and only modest complexity, Balblair 2005 is a very approachable. With its easy sipping virtues, it’s easy to see how it has become the flagship expression for Balblair.
In the UK, Balblair 2005 fetches £45. In the U.S., expect that to be $65 to $75.