Seldom will you find a Scottish distillery in more scenic and unspoiled surroundings. The distillery we talk about is located near the banks of the beautiful Dornoch Firth in the rugged shadow of Struie Hill. Are you eager to learn more about Balblair?
Experience true Highland spirit
We find ourselves in the ancient heart of the Scottish Highlands. Here, Balblair Distillery was established as early as 1790 by local man John Ross. The Balblair whiky perfecly reflects both the place and people who have been here for generations: a perfect mix of nature and nurture with the sole purpose of crafting exceptional whisky!
As we step on the property of Balblair we quickly realize that this is a place where true craftsmanship, tradition and passion build the foundation for something special.
Our distillery tour starts with the first step in crafting malt whisky: mashing! The ‚grist‘ (miller malted barley) is mixed with hot water in the ‚mash tun‘ which creates a sugary liquid known as ‚wort‘. It is then drained off and the remaining solids at the bottom of the ‚mash tun‘ – called ‚draff‘ – are collected to be used as cattle feed.
When crafting whiky, there is one key ingredient one shouldn’t forget: water! Luckily, the Balblair distillery sits at the foot of the Struie Hills near the Allt Dearg burn, their source of natural water. This soft, untreated water source flows through an open ditch to the distillery and totally lives up to its essential role in the production of Balblair whisky.
In the ‚wash back‘, yeast is added to the sugary ‚wort‘ to begin the process of fermentation which in turn creates alcohol. This part of the process takes approximately two and a half days and the alcoholic liquid produced is known as the ‚wash‘. This liquid wash is then heated to a point where the alcohol becomes vapor, which rises up to the top of the ‚wash still‘ and is condensed back into liquid. This produces a stronger alcoholic liquid known as ‚low wines‘.
Later, the ‚low wines‘ from the first distillation are passed into a second still – called the ‚spirit still‘ – for a second distillation. Here, the spirit still gives birth a very strong Highland spirit.
But first, the Balblair whisky needs to age in oak casks. This takes place in traditional ‚dunnage‘ warehouses. The legal minimum for maturation is 3 years, however Balblair is aged for much longer!
The majority of casks used to mature Balblair are ex-bourbon but they also use a small percentage of sherry casks. Over time, these casks give the whisky a distinct color and enhance its flavor. Also, up to 2% of the maturing spirit can evaporate every year. This phenomenon has become known as the ‘angle’s share’.
Tasting a product of time and place
As we leave the distillery building we can’t help ourselves but grab a bottle of Balblair 12 Year Old for the quick tour through the warehouses. Here, in the middle of the maturing whisky we do a pairing with finest dark Swiss chocolate by Läderach. There is no better place to do experience the contrasting flavors of fruit, spice and sweetness than in Balblair’s dunnage warehouses.
During our tasting we hear about the Distillery Manager, John MacDonald, who is an exceptionally talented, driven and, above all, patient man. Patience is especially important for a Distillery Manager since fine single malts won’t be rushed!
We also get to learn that the Norwegian Army occupied those warehouses during the Second World War while the buildings were commandeered by the British Army. Truly a place of history!
To finish off our wonderful tour at Balblair we get to taste something special: a 1999 vintage that was exclusively crafted for the Single Malt Club China. A true delight!
Tasting: Balblair 12y & 15y
On the nose we got two very round and soft whiskies matured on the site of the Balbair distillery. Both are matured in double-fired American oak casks. The 15-years-old Balblair is then moved over to first-fill Spanish oak butts.
This second maturation is providing a great spicy flavor on the palate of the 15-years-old malt. A deeper concentration of fruit notes compared to the 12-years-old on the finish, and joined by some dark chocolate elements too.
The Balblair whiskies are crafted with a lot of care and respect to the tradition of whisky-making. You won’t get these bottles in every supermarket as they are very exclusive. In our opinion the Balblair whiskies get a very nice and smooth taste due to the careful maturation in perfect and stable conditions. With their modern and stylish packaging these whiskies belong in every collection. In addition you can probably show your friends a new malt they never tasted before.
Therefore, we award 7.5 Artworth Whisky Points to the 15-years-old Balblair and 7 Artworth Whisky Points to the 12-years-old Balblair.
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