Friday, 17 January 2014

Balblair 1950s / 1960s


Distillery: Balblair
Bottling: Official
Age: NAS
Distilled: 1950s/1960s
Bottled: 1960s
Strength: 88 proof (50%)

Wow. What a surprise I had when several old bottles of Balblair appeared at auction, and one in particular which took my fancy was a bottle at the unusual strength of 88 degrees proof which is about 50% ABV. One thing which I have learned is higher strength bottles fair well over a long time in a bottle than the lower strength ones and this has been sitting in the bottle for 50 odd years. The immediate thing I noticed with this was that the fill level was high in the neck which tells me that it has been well looked after and protected from the elements of heat and light which tend to cause evaporation to the angels, and negatively affect the juicy whisky inside. After some frantic and probably out of control bidding at auction I came into the possession of this lovely bottle and I can't wait to enjoy it.

On investigation it was definitely bottled in the 1960s, but without knowing the exact age of the whisky it is hard to pin point the distillation date. I reckon the malt is between 5 and 10 years old which at the older side of the guess would put this as 1950s distillate, and it is something very special indeed to think that this was getting made in post-war Britain.

Back when this was made the production methods would have been a lot different from now with old fashioned floor maltings, cast iron mash tuns, and direct firing of the stills all which help result in a completely different type of spirit as produced today.

Nose: Very bright and fruity and the glass is overflowing with estery notes.  I am getting lots of tropical notes but pineapple stands out and it reminds me of the Lilt soft drink with an almost sharp and tart bite around the edges. Apple juice and the fruit turning more sweet like Banana foam sweets, and that soft, sweet foamy note turning into marshmallows. The sweet fruit notes are turning into  hard boiled sweets like the travel sweets you get at the airport and the candy element finishes with some soft bubblegum. There is something more savoury happening that reminds me of green olives which have been salted and covered in more olive oil. Briny and coastal! Some smoke seems to be lingering about which is a mixture of light peat smoke but also cask char smoke. Soft dairy fudge just rounds everything off nicely.

Palate: This is heavy and oily with way more than you would expect from such a young malt. It is sweet and rich, and like chewing on fruit salad sweets, and the sharpness from the fruit is enough to give a little kick alongside the higher alcoholic strength. It is waxy and honeyed and toffee.

Finish: Mouth coating with a medium length finish. There is a little young solvent spirit notes coming through, but this is big and fruity and oily and satisfying.

Comments: What can I say? Maybe not the most complex spirit in the world as it has clearly not spent the bulk its life in wood, but the spirit itself is magical and captivating and dreaming to a time when this was made is a truly special experience.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Hankey Bannister Heritage Blend


Hankey Bannister Heritage Blend
Inver House Distillers
No Age Statement
Strength: 46%.

A few months ago I wrote a review of the regular Hankey Bannister and this time I am reviewing the new Heritage Blend. Inver House recently came into an old bottle of Hankey Bannister from the 20s and the master blender Stuart Harvey set out to recreate it. It has been marketed in the old style black glass which was popular with several bottles (see Black Bottle blend) at the time but stopped during the war as it was made in Germany. The black glass is really slick and aristocratic and I am a big fan of it as it kinda takes away the need to use as much caramel colourings in the whisky as well. While the regular blend is made up of 20 odd malts the heritage blend is only made up of malt coming from Inver Houses own distilleries of: Balblair, Old Pulteney, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Belmenach.

Nose: The grain dominates straight out of the bottle, and my nose is telling me Invergordon as when I was having a tour of Inver House's blending room I got to try Invergordon new make and the blender told me to look for notes of dolly mixtures in it - and this I get here. After a while the malt emerges so it is worth letting it breathe in the glass a while. Smoky notes of insence  and coal fires. Fruity elements of blood oranges, cooked apples, peach, mango and melon. Marmalade on burnt toast. Some savoury notes of bacon and brown sauce. Some birthday cake with maybe a strawberry jam and marizpan icing, werther's originals sweets and after 8 mints chocolates.

Palate: The extra abv of 46% makes itself known and is fairly weighty and rich in the mouth. Smoky and creamy butterscotch and white chocolate.

Finish: Sweet and savoury smoke with some young malty and spirity notes.

Comments: I like this mostly because of the 46% as with most common blends, the 40% can be too watery on the palate. The extra kick helps boost the drink where the younger stuff can be detected and pulls it together a bit more. It is also pretty cheap at £30 a pop, and I would say better than many entry level malts at the same price.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Black Bottle (new style)

Black Bottle Blend (new style)
Burns Stewart Distillers
No Age Statement
Strength: 40%.

Nose: Richer and more sherried than the old style. This seems more like a peated speysider than an Islay, which by all accounts is the direction they are going with it. The simple savoury notes of the new style are deeper and almost more caramelised with BBQ pulled pork, or honey glazed ham, and there is also a note that is like roast beef and mustard - but in particular the brannigan's crisps. The richness is coming through as spiced ginger cake - the sherry influence here for me. There is also a touch of deep heat muscle rub, and of those firy cinnamon jawbreaker gobstobbers they sold when I was a child. Raisins and dates, christmas trifle and dessert fruits. Butterkist popcorn.

Palate: Sweet and sherried with chocolate, nuts and some spice.

Finish: Sweet but the savoury meaty smokiness again. BBQ pork again. Longer finish and thicker lasting in the throat than the old style.

Comments: I like this but this is a different dram from the old style recipe. I don't think the two are comparable in such a way other than the name. It is really a shame they are losing the old style, but maybe with this new style are they looking to break out into the foreign market now? I think they could have taken the opportunity to bump up the ABV a little, preferably to 46%, but at least to 43% - it is going to be a long time until they get a chance again now.

Black Bottle (old style)


Black Bottle Blend
Burns Stewart Distillers
No Age Statement
Strength: 40%.

Black Bottle is a name I am very aware of, even from when before I liked whisky because it is blended in my home town by Burns Stewart Distillers and is often to be found in pretty much every pub in the area. Black Bottle is an interesting blend in that this is pretty much only sold in the UK, when the UK isn't a big market for blended whisky. This is a very Islay centric dram with malt from handful of Islay distilleries, and I imagine a good bit of Bunnahabhain which of course is Burns Stewart's own little piece of the Islay world. I have decided to right up my notes for this as the brand has completely been overhauled both in marketing and also more importantly - in the recipe. I will be following this up with a report of the new Black Bottle.

Nose: This is sweet and honeyed with the initial aromas quite savoury and slightly salty with smoky bacon, worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce. There is also a distinct pickle like note which is like a picked onion you get with your fish supper, or dare I say it picked onion monster munch - which I hate and my wife loves - but I like this, and she hates whisky! hmm! A little wisp of cuban cigar smoke lingering around as well. Some smoked cheddar cheese, pepper, cloves, and on the fruitier side of things there is some red apple, and peach. Vanilla, cream fudge and Ovaltine malt drink. The grain is fairly obvious there as well of course.

Palate: Smooth and creamy, with a touch of milk chocolate with salted caramel. Slightly nutty and like chewing on a battenberg cake.

Finish: Vanilla custard with cream, a little carbolic and smokey. Medium length.

Comments: This is probably one of the best value for money blends you can buy if you like a good dose of Islay malt. Unfortunately the stocks of the old style will be getting less and replaced with the new blend. Hoard a few bottles if you can.

Ben Nevis 10 year old


Distillery: Ben Nevis
Bottling: Official
Age: 10
Distilled: 2003
Bottled: 2013
Strength: 46%

Nose: The sherry is young and distinctive on this straight away. Overripe strawberries, but specifically ones which have maybe been squashed and there is a jammy, creamy note which is like Scottish pineapple tarts. I get a cereal like nuttiness which is like Kellog's Crunchie Nut Corn Flakes. There is also a liqueur-like sugary, syrup note which is like Amaretto. The minty notes coming through on the sherry alongside some oak give the impression of the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby - that is the Mint Julep - the sweet sugar notes accentuate some bourbon connotations, but also some burnt sugar as well which is partly the sulphur side of things along side match boxes and a touch of rubber.

Palate: Not as sweet as the nose lets on with more of a drying effect. There is a thinness in the mouth but strangely at the same time that I can feel the alcohol burn from the 46% . The sweetness comes along later as the nip starts to creep across the mouth before tailing off again. There is a latex like taste as well.

Finish: A pretty long finish with summer fruits, mint and spicy coriander. Rubber at the end.

Comments: I always tempt the sulphur with sherried drams, but it is acceptable in this and the 46% definitely knocks it up a step. Quite expensive for a 10 year old though which is the bad side.