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New Whiskies

Batch 218

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Balblair 12, 15, 18, 25-year-old, Glenfiddich Grand Cru, Glenlivet 14 Year Old Cognac Finish

Becky Paskin gets familiar with Balblair’s new age-stated core range this week before a French renaissance with Glenlivet 14 Cognac Finish and Glenfiddich Grand Cru.

First to Balblair’s four new core range expressions, introduced this summer as a replacement for its annual vintage releases which have been hailed as representing a ‘new era’ for the Ross-shire distillery.

The range gets off to a strong start as Paskin finds a ‘weighty and bold’ Balblair 12-year-old to be a confectioner’s delight, brimming with sweets, ice cream and cookie dough. The whisky, matured in ex-Bourbon casks and double-fired American oak casks, is ‘a good value entrance,’ she says.

The Balblair 15-year-old, matured in a mixture of ex-Bourbon and first-fill Sherry casks, kicks things up a notch with deep notes of leather, dark chocolate and bramble fruits. ‘Hugely satisfying,’ Paskin remarks.

The 18-year-old, also matured in the same mixture of casks, is surprisingly lighter, bearing a more gingery, cakey and tropical persona.

The distillery’s headline act is a 25-year-old, matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-oloroso Sherry casks, which is oily, leathery and rancio-driven, but just a touch too timid.

South to Speyside now to Glenfiddich, where malt master Brian Kinsman has finished a 23-year-old single malt in French cuvée wine casks. Full of orchard fruits, brioche and buttered toast, this new permanent addition to the distillery line-up shouldn’t just be reserved for special occasions, she says.

Lastly to Glenlivet and a 14-year-old Cognac-finished malt bottled exclusively for the US. Paskin finds the Cognac accentuates the distillery’s already fruit-forward character with bushels of berries and cinnamon buns.

This week’s playlist revels in a relaxed party mood, taking in the French sounds of Rachel Portman and Jain, chilled out classics from Bill Withers and Oh Wonder, and dialling up the vibe with Florence + the Machine and Crystal Fighters. Click the links in Right Time, Right Place for a listen.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Balblair 12 Years Old

    Score

    87

    Balblair 12 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Citrusy and light yet densely sweet and fruity – plump clementines and freshly-grated lemon zest; dried apricots soaked in honey with juicy sultanas. There’s a creamy density to the nose, a rich rum and raisin ice cream. The components eventually settle together, bound by a wisp of char.

    Palate

    Creamy and leathery with more of the ice cream, tutti frutti this time. The honey has taken a back seat, beckoning the fruits to the fore – candied orange pieces and Jelly Tots, while damp, tannic oak dries the sides of the mouth. That double-charred cask makes itself known as dark chocolate, liquorice and cinnamon-spiced cookie dough builds toward the back.

    Finish

    Surprisingly dry, a little spicy, but long and creamy.

    Conclusion

    Fruity, weighty and bold, a good value entrance to Balblair’s new age-stated range.

    Right place, right time

    Sneaking a lick of the cookie dough mixture as Party Preparations get underway.

    Available to buy from The Whisky Exchange and The Whisky Shop. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.
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    Balblair 15 Years Old

    Score

    90

    Balblair 15 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Pretty closed at first, so give it a minute to relax into the glass. It gets increasingly leathery, with rich, dark fruits moving gently, nervously forward, awakening from slumber – morello cherries, dried figs, plums, blackberries and a giant, beastly Black Forest gateaux.

    Palate

    Silky and decadent, and darkly rich. Liquorice blackcurrant sweets, crisp, high cocoa dark chocolate studded with dried cherries and currants, then a touch of marzipan and Demerara sugar. Some baking spice builds toward the middle but subsides gently, playfully.

    Finish

    Beautifully rich and drawn out.

    Conclusion

    Hugely satisfying. If cherries and chocolate are your bag, go buy this.

    Right place, right time

    Sat quietly in the shed with the largest piece of the birthday cake. ‘I know that you’re Hiding.’

    Available to buy from The Whisky Exchange and The Whisky Shop. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.

    Balblair 18 Years Old

    Score

    85

    Balblair 18 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Ginger snaps and crispy, light, spongey madeleines. Notes of crunchy, caramel-coated popcorn, vanilla and marzipan satisfy the sweet tooth, while fragrant orange blossom and lemon barley water lift things considerably. It’s surprisingly lighter and fresher than the 15-year-old.

    Palate

    Juicy green apples and conference pears with a hint of tropical fruits – pineapples and yuzu – developing into toffee, vanilla and cinnamon-spiked cake mixture, Jamaica ginger cake and sugared almonds. There’s a floral element carried through, more of that fragrant orange, and rosewater.

    Finish

    A little dry and oaky, but zingy and pleasantly fruity.

    Conclusion

    A certain crowd-pleaser.

    Right place, right time

    Strolling past the patisserie at 7am. It’s going to be a Lovely Day.

    Available to buy from The Whisky Shop and The Whisky Exchange. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.

    Balblair 25 Years Old

    Score

    85

    Balblair 25 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Another shy one, offering only a hint of rancio, soft leather and sultanas.  Water reveals green fruits, kiwis, Mirabelle plums and unripe banana, with an underlying tone of sticky blood orange. There’s a certain staleness that prevails.

    Palate

    Soft and chewy, oily and mouth-coating. It’s deep and dank, with notes of tobacco leaves, leather and milk chocolate. The fruit is timid, appearing as stewed apples and sultanas with a hint of hazelnuts. Water lightens things (just add a drop or two to retain that texture), coaxing out more of Balblair’s fruitiness – sticky orange juice from concentrate and toffee apples, which harmonises well with a gentle oak and anise spice.

    Finish

    Leathery and a touch sour, the rancio element bringing up the rear.

    Conclusion

    I’m yet to sample a disappointing old Balblair – with an age statement or vintage. This one is funky, fruity but shy. Give it some time in the glass.

    Right place, right time

    Won’t you come out to play? All We Do is hide away.

    Available to buy from The Whisky Exchange and The Whisky Shop. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.

    Glenfiddich Grand Cru, 23 Years Old

    Score

    89

    Glenfiddich Grand Cru, 23 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Delicate and floral, with aromas of apple blossom and honey with caramel-drenched pear tarte tatin. There’s a bready element, lightly buttered toast, and gentle citrus notes in the shape of boiled lemon sweets (sherbet lemons).

    Palate

    Again, delicate at first, with creamy toffee, white-fleshed fruits – peaches and nectarines, and an oaky, slightly dry mouthfeel. There’s a spark of wood spice in the mid-palate before more fruits – baked apples and sour white grapes – and brioche weave in. There’s an acidic note of pomace [spent grape skins] that builds toward the finish...

    Finish

    …which leaves a light and fresh impression, albeit a touch oaky with more of that buttered toast.

    Conclusion

    Finished in French cuvée wine casks (which are used in the production of Champagne), this Glenfiddich has been designed as a celebratory whisky, though it’s a solid dram for any occasion, I’d say.

    Right place, right time

    Strolling through Reims as the Yellow Sun beats down.

    Available to buy from The Whisky Exchange and The Whisky Shop. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.

    Glenlivet 14 Years Old Cognac Cask Finish

    Score

    89

    Glenlivet 14 Years Old Cognac Cask Finish
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Availability
    US Exclusive
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Fragrant and fruity, with Parma violets, wild strawberries, blackcurrants and fat black grapes. There’s a patisserie element in sugar-dusted almond croissants. Tannic grape skin and crunchy malt keep things from becoming too sweet.

    Palate

    Glenlivet’s signature green apple and citrus lift with hedgerow fruits thrown into the mix – blackcurrants, redcurrants and a slightly sour raspberry coulis. There’s weight in liquorice root and milk chocolate, while spice sneaks in courtesy of cinnamon buns.

    Finish

    Bitter dark chocolate, liquorice and more blackcurrants.

    Conclusion

    Fruity and warming. The Cognac influence doesn’t steal the show, this is very much still Glenlivet. Can someone bring me back a bottle from the US please?

    Right place, right time

    Huddled up in a Speyside bothy, Dreaming of sun-drenched French vineyards.

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