About a month ago, I tried my first Ballechin. It’s a peated whisky release from Edradour. This weekend, I tried my second. I jumped to the 6th release of the Ballechin, bourbon-cask finished. It’s a NAS (non-age statement) whisky, peated to a minimum of 50ppm and aged solely in first-fill bourbon casks, which means the influence of bourbon will be at an all time high. It’s a remarkable thing, when you consider how sought after rare and rare-ish whiskies can be, to find a bottle of only 6000 that were released in 2011.
Then again, half the pleasure is in seeking the treasure.
It’s not that this whisky is the best whisky ever made. That’s subjective anyway. Nor the most exclusive, hard to find or sought after. But in nosing the glass and enjoying the spirit, we are participating in the golden age of whisky experimentation and re-definition.
I for one, am not bothered by the NAS nay-sayers. There has always been a place for blended malt, that’s what the foundation of the whisky industry is built on. So why extend that blending skill and wizardry to other, unique expressions? Within that, there is plenty of room for whisky that can be defined by something other than its age.
To the same degree, a whisky that is defined by its age faces a different set of challenges – consistency, supply and demand on the global scale.
It would be foolish to say with one hand that NAS whisky is a marketing ploy, when those same tactics are equally applied to conveying the quality of time and what it can do to spirit. I recently tried something very old that was extraordinarily characteristic of the people and place in which it is made and I came up short. I found that age alone was not the expression of that whisky profile that made my palate sing, but it still told a story nonetheless. I learned something I didn’t know before, taken by surprise and that is a delightful feeling.
I think we ought to embrace the experimentation that leads whisky makers into bold new territories and not succumb to petty arguments about best, proper, true, right ways of doing things. Traditional is a constantly evolving story, after all.
It’s why I still explore and try new spirits – whisky, bourbon, rye, gin, tequila, rum and even vodka from time to time. The exploration keeps me humble and in constant posture to keep going further.
So then I went further with Ballechin and I was wonderfully surprised. Things have been pretty dark and peaty around here for a while (something to do with Ardbeg Day) so it was refreshing to the palate to take that peat in a brand new direction.
Colour: Pale yellow. Showing off some Highland colour.
Nose: Say hello to lemons, soft marshmellow and vanilla with a hint of sweet smoke and oats. Essentially, almost like deconstructed layers of lemon meringue pie. That combination is tinged slightly green and herbacious, before melting into a buttery, creamy embrace.
Palate: She starts out delicate and then gets bigger as both the spice and smoke develop into quite a compelling sweet caramel earthiness. Spice starts to emerge as distinct pepper and cinnamon. It feels complex because the lemon now becomes like a rich lemon curd sitting on top of that peat.
Finish: There’s a balance in this finish that I’d not had in the previous Ballechin. It’s smoky, deep, with tobacco leaves coming through but it’s effortlessly well supported by the citrus and spice notes. From nose to finish, there is a seamlessness to this whisky that is perhaps different from Islay malts, where the peat is so distinctive and often the only lingering central note.