Def: to change the way that an organisation, company, or product is seen by the public.
Rebranding. We’ve seen quite a few over the last while. I completely understand the corporate need for them and, as a former business student, have always had an interest in brands and branding.
Balblair are the latest to rebrand / reinvigorate / refresh their range which represents a significant investment from parent company International Beverage Holdings (Interbev), especially after the recent changes to one of their other brands, Old Pulteney.
Balblair have not only gone for a new look, but have taken the decision to drop the vintage on their bottles in favour of an age statement, only a matter of months after another vintage led brand (The Glenrothes) dropped theirs. The argument being that the vintages were harder to understand and for the sake of simplicity, transparency and ease of comparison that age statements were the way forward.
Ok, so I’ll concede that the vintages made it more difficult to compare ages, especially when it came to second releases of certain vintages. They were definitely a part of what made Balblair a little different and I, for one, am sad to see them go.
Time will tell over the next few months in terms of sales data as to how successful this rebrand has been, but what about the liquid? Balblair has always been a solid performer in terms of quality and has built its reputation as such.
There is also the thorny issue of price. £500 for the 25 year old really puts it up into the upper echelons of this price bracket with many big name competitors of the same age being priced under that figure.
At the other end of the age scale comes the 12 year old. £45 isn’t as far off the mark as the 25, its still a touch on the pricy side in comparison to its predecessors but it is an industry pricing trend that Balblair are following.
Time to see if the quality can still shine from underneath the freshly polished exterior…
Balblair 12 Year Old, OB, 46%abv, (Press Sample)
This expression has been matured in ex-Bourbon casks and double-fired American oak casks.
The nose is citrus and fruity with some light wood in the distance. Not as fresh as I remember some other expressions other ex-bourbon Balblair. There is a big waft of tropical fruits but with a slightly darker and damper edge. Throughout there is an undercurrent of slightly over spun candy floss and fresh pears.
The palate is all about the lighter fruity tones, white grapes give a sweet yet crisp white wine effect when mixed in with some green apples that come later. It is a little citrusy at times with lemon peels leading to some other greener notes – unripe banana and touches of ginger lead to the finish.
The finish is a mix of ginger, touches of cedar wood and it turns ever so slightly nutty with a minimum of drying spices.
**Authors note: I had noticed that the lid on my sample jar wasn’t on that tightly, causing it to leak a little, so I fear this has tainted the sample sightly. On trying another sample it seems that this wasn’t presenting quite as fruity as it should have been.**
Balblair 15 Year Old, OB, 46% abv, (Press Sample)
The 15 year old has been initially matured in ex-Bourbon casks, followed by first-fill Spanish oak Sherry butts.
I’m instantly intrigued by the nose, the sherry influence has has a noticeable impact on the light Balblair spirit. Big hints of dark honey, and charred vanilla, perhaps even toffee apples. Elements of coffee intermingle with a slight hint of chocolate against a background of tropical fruits.
The palate is full of dried fruits and cinnamon Danish pastries. Theres a warming spice with some buttery ginger notes, the ginger is much more subtle than in the 12. The faintest touch of zesty orange lingers against a slightly earthy backdrop.
The finish is nicely rounded and lingering, full of juicy sherry soaked fruits and drying spice.
This is a great dram, layers of flavour and feels precisely balanced.
Balblair 18 Year Old, OB, 46%, (Press Sample),
Like the 15 this has also been matured in ex-Bourbon casks, followed by first-fill Spanish oak Sherry butts.
The 18 initially feels like the 15 but with the flavours amped up and refined. More fresh pastries and a heavier coffee note that mingles with chocolate to give a mocha infusion. There are also touches of fresh polish.
The palate is rather rich with a slight nuttiness and a touch of leather. The chocolate and mocha notes continue alongside some amoretti biscuits and juicy fruits. Theres a warm cinnamon and apple note here, reminiscent of Dutch apple cake.
The finish is long and warming with lingering spiced honey, cinnamon bagels and distant vanilla.
Balblair 25 Year Old, OB, 46% abv, (Press Sample)
This has been matured initially in ex-Bourbon casks then finished in ex-oloroso Sherry casks. I’m always wary of an older whisky that’s been finished so with an element of caution here we go.
The nose is worthy of spending serious time on with plenty going on here. Amongst the soft and subtle sherry influences there is the waft of unlit cigar and cedar wood you get when you open a humidor, complete with the slight lingering dampness too. There is a nice fruitiness too with orange, apricots and peach skin mingling with toast and marmalade with big dollops of butter.
The palate is very chocolatey with some more marmalade mingling in the vanilla laden and rich mouthfeel. Given time there are some subtle spices as it starts to turn pleasantly tannic. The tobacco returns from the nose as some nutty and malty notes appear.
More chocolate, more spices with a sprinkling of ginger and the mildest woody notes (cedar and toasted oak) round off a great finish.
In conclusion the 12 is a solid start, reminiscent of the old 2000 vintages with its light and fruity style. The 15 is an excellent dram indeed with the 18 being a deeper and more refined version. The 25 is really, really good but is it £500 good? It’s certainly not an amount I’m considering spending on a bottle anytime soon.
Personally for that money I’d rather buy 6 bottles of the 15, which is probably my favourite when you start to factor cost into the equation.
Bottles from the new range are available from The Whisky Exchange.
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