Review: Balblair 1969

blbob.1969v2Balblair 1969 (OB) – 41.4%

One of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, Balblair was founded in 1790 by John Ross.

The 1969 was bottled in 2012 after spending 43 years in ex-bourbon remade hogsheads, 999 bottles of this extraordinary whisky were produced. This spirit was distilled at a time when the distillery malted its own barley on site and the stills were still directly coal-fired.


Colour: Golden and bright like a morning sunrise.

Legs: The thick oils take aaaages to form legs and slowly drop down the glass.

Nose: Instantly reminiscent of the best distillery tours (of which Balbalir is one!) where you’re taken around traditional dunnage warehouses and you take in the unmissable smell of years and years of whisky goodness. There are fabulous quality wood notes to be found here with a slight dry earthiness, and with time a gentle underlying herbal quality. The malt is there, but the years have given it a graceful beauty and a rich, although balanced sweetness. The nose is a warming yet exciting hug on your senses that keeps you mesmerised for a long time. With time to further open up there are wee notes of varnish and old leathery, well used bags.

Palate: The cask strength yet low abv nature of this dram make it instantly approachable and enjoyable, as soon as the first sip hits you, you feel like putting your feet up and having the night off. There’s a bit of malt, maybe even a touch of coal, or at least the idea of coal may be given to you from the cask charring process – although the spirit was distilled when coal was used to heat the stills, so who knows! It’s richly smooth and mouth coating, fairly sweet but with enough old wood tannins to be balanced and enjoyable. Hints of exotic fruits are there too.

Finish: There’s a refreshing note to this which you don’t really expect from something so old. It’s a warming hug to your chest and it’s packed with flavours which last for ages; there’s a grassiness and an old leathery note which outlasts most other notes.

Water: Don’t do it.

Thoughts: I’m a lucky guy, this dram is from another era; whisky from the 60’s is rare, hellishly expensive and from a time where production techniques were more… honest? changeable? Or should we say, less mechanised, more manual, less standardised. Balblair is well known for releasing their whisky in vintages and old, excellent whisky like this really helps exemplify a great reason to do this – distilleries get to showcase the very best of their wares, and this is some of the very best! If you’re ever lucky enough to try this then get your palate clean, get it in gear with a good first dram and then get your feet up with this for the rest of the night without rushing it… It’s taken 40 odd years to get to your glass, there’s no need to down it straight away, give it the respect it’s due. After you’re done the finish stays around for ages. It would seem that some great quality, very dark chocolate might work really well here to finish off the evening with and compliment that long finish.

Available: The Whisky Exchange – £1,295

Many thanks indeed to Balblair for the sample!


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