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Balblair 2001 Vintage (1rst Release)

Review: Balblair 2001 Vintage Single Malt Whisky  86.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra

Inver House Distillers own five Scottish distilleries, Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn, and Balmenach. The company produces a diverse portfolio of brands which includes mot only Scotch Whisky (Single Malt, Blended Malt, and Blended), but also Vodka, Gin, liqueurs, and premixes. The subject of this review, the Balblair 2001 Vintage is a Single Malt Whisky produced at the Balblair Distillery (which is located in the Highlands of Scotland). This distillery was founded by John Ross in 1790 on the shores of the Dornoch Firth in the village of Edderton.

Each year at Balblair, the Distillery Manager, John MacDonald, selects what he believes to be the best representative whiskies of the Balblair Highland Single Malt brand. Out of the thousands of barrels he samples each year, only a select number are chosen to be bottled as Balblair Vintage Single Malt. These barrels represent the very essence of the Balblair brand.

The Balblair 2001 Vintage Single Malt represents a bit of a change for the distillery. It is bottled at 46 % alcohol by volume and my understanding is that all future Balblair Vintage releases will be bottled at this minimum strength. Even at this higher strength, the 2001 Vintage retains the core characteristics of the Balblair style and flavour which stem in part from aging in used American oak bourbon casks.

I was sent a sample of the Balblair 2001 Vintage by Woodman Wine and Spirits, who are the Ontario distributors for the Balblair brand. The Whisky has recently been released in Ontario, Canada and is available through the Whisky Shop at the LCBO.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

The Balblair 2001 Vintage arrives with a slightly tweaked packaging concept. The protective cardboard box looks very similar to past offerings, but it has been slimmed down and features a new label which has been moved higher up on the box. The back of the box provides the consumer with a few tasting notes which (for me at least) are much appreciated. Single Malts are relatively expensive compared to other whiskies and as such, I believe that giving the potential consumer as much help in making the purchase decision as possible is just plain common sense.

As for the bottle itself, I like the  squat oval shape which is very pleasing to my eye, and I like the solid corked closure.

In the Glass 8.5/10

I began my review in the usual manner, by pouring a nice sample of the whisky into my glencairn glass. The whisky is a pale dirty straw colour, with perhaps a bit of a greenish tinge. When I give the glass a slow tilt and twirl, I notice the legs are stubborn; but slowly they begin their crawl down the inside of the glass. The initial air above the glass has just a bit of astringency; however, that is to be expected with a malt bottled at 46 % alcohol by volume.

I allowed the whisky to breathe for a few minutes and the breezes above the glass settled down. There is a nice oak taint in those breezes with perhaps a touch of charcoal or graphite. (The sensation is very similar to pencil shavings complete with the graphite powder.) A soft punky Halloween toffee is evident, as is a real sense of fruit and almond. The fruity smells are complicated. I sense both fresh fruit (green apples, peaches and pears) as well as dried apricots and plums. Other smells drift in and out of my sensory range, some sharper citrus zests, and even hints of an alpine meadow. I like the complexity in the air, and I like how over time, all of these smells begin to mingle together and become difficult to separate.

In the Mouth 52/60

The Balblair 2001 enters the mouth with a combination of oak spiciness, Halloween toffee, and a complex fruitiness full of both fresh fruit and dark berries. I taste impressions of orange peel and lemon zest, vanilla, and a soft marzipan which leaves its flavour imprint firmly in the whisky. The fresh fruit flavours reminds me of Granny Smith apples and almost ripe pears. Running through the flavour profile is a light charcoal smokiness which (as it was on the nose) reminds me of graphite powder.

I like what I am tasting, and the only deterrent for me is a mild bitterness which creeps in towards the end of the taste experience.

In the Throat 12.5/15

The 46 % bottling strength causes the Balblair 2001 to be just a bit strong in the finish. For some, this will be uncomfortable, but a nice splash of water with the whisky will quickly alleviate any discomfort. I actually like the full strength finish letting the spirit pepper my tonsils and heat my palate. A strong impression of almond lingers as do lighter flavours of Halloween toffee and graphite. Knocking the score down just a touch is a pithy bitterness which is stronger in the finish than it was upon the palate.

The Afterburn  9/10

The Balblair 2001 delivers more complexity than first appearances would indicate. Each time I sipped on the malt I seemed to find something new, and I found it challenging to properly convey the full taste experience in the review. I think the best way to say it is that the Balblair is complex, but the complexities are subtle and easily missed in a 46 % alcohol by volume offering. Yet, I believe, it is this higher alcohol content which concentrates the flavour bringing those complexities forward.

Going over my scores, I also believe that this is one of those spirits where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So I pushed a few of the numbers up just a bit to bring things into line. My final score is 86.5, which I think properly reflects the quality of this dram of whisky.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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