Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ballechin Port Cask Matured

Today I’ll be reviewing a bottle of the Ballechin Port Cask Matured, distilled at the Edradour distillery. I bought this bottle at Whisky Live last month towards the end of the evening for cool $154.

Edradour describe themselves as the smallest distillery in Scotland (although several other distilleries make this claim) and they only produce about 100,000 litres a year. By Comparison, Glenfiddich do about 10,000,000L and Ardbeg about 1,000,000L.

There was a good Edradour stand at Whisky Live, which had about six whiskies for tasting. They were displaying a 10yo cask strength and four or five 11yo’s finished in different casks. All were worth a try and I managed to get through them all. The one I enjoyed most was the one in the blue bottle, an 11yo Sassicaia Finish, but the Port Cask finish was also noteworthy. I tried this early in the evening and meant to make it one of the bottles I would purchase. Foolishly I didn’t.

The Ballechin range includes a Burgundy cask matured, a Port cask matured, a Madeira cask matured and an Oloroso Sherry cask matured. The Port and Madeira bottles were being displayed at a separate Ballechin table from the Edradour whiskys and this is due to their unique nature. They are described as ‘heavily peated’ and they are being produced by the new master distiller at Edradour who was formally employed at Laphroaig. The heavily peated label was a big factor in my selection. The Ballechin’s are aged solely in the wine casks, unlike most other whisky’s which are finished in different casks for a few years but are generally aged in bourbon casks.

I tried the Madeira cask matured bottle at the Islay: Land of Peat and Smoke Masterclass in the week prior to the Whisky Live Expo and to be frank, didn’t enjoy it much. So it came as a surprise that on the evening of the expo I was infatuated with Port cask matured variety. I recall, and other club members may too, encouraging other club members to try and buy as I had with the phrase ‘its delicious’ repeated over and over and over again. At the time I remember being somewhat surprised that nobody else was enjoying this particular bottle as much as I was.

However, it is with much regret that I have to report that those who managed to ignore my impassioned advocacy of the Ballechin made the right choice. This is certainly an interesting whisky, but frankly it is way (way way) overpriced. The nose is sweet, but in the mouth the whisky is harsh. Very harsh. It’s only bottled at 46%, which isn’t that high. I would have expected a smoother ride. I’ve tried this several times now to try and be fair and balanced in my comments, but I’m not impressed. I’ve found the best way to drink this with some ice, which tends to make consumption a bit smoother as it melts. But even so, I couldn’t recommend it.

The distillery itself must recognise that this bottle is not that great a product. They advertise this as a ‘progress report’, which to me indicates that they know it’s not quite up to standard yet, but they think it will be some time in the future. I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. This bottle is only 4.5 years old (WTF was I thinking $154 for 4.5 years) and could do with more time in the cask. As the years go buy I would expect some of the harshness to give way to a much smoother and sweeter dram. After a decade, it will probably be well worth a try.

I suspect that by the time I came to taste and purchase this whisky, I had been drinking for several hours and my objectivity (not to mention sobriety) had been compromised. Fortunately we have a record of the evening in the form of the Secretary-Generale's phone messages, from which I am able to confirm that I purchased the bottle at 8:12pm. By then I suspect I would have been on the wrong side of between at least 12 -16 drams and thus can rest happy, knowing
that I was making a bad decision, but for all the right reasons.

Although I have been critical of this dram, it does have some good points. Nice and peaty, and sweet from the port casks. It is a unique dram and as I said, given time it could mature into a great whisky, but it’s not there yet.

I’m awarding three lightning bolts to the Ballechin Port Cask Matured.