Friday, July 29, 2011

Beating the Ballantine's Drum – Ballantine's Finest

Ballantine's Finest 700ml Bottle
As a foreword to begin with I can honestly say I a not a fan of blends. Too often in the past my bad whisky experiences have come from blends. Blends that are old and have been open on a shelf for an overly extended period of time, or blends that are just horrible like the common Vat 69. They are either too sharp or too musty or just too ordinary.

In saying that I am not against trying something new especially in a blend. In the past I had always been put off by the idea of this whisky because not only was it a blend but because it was a blend that sat in the below $30AU price range. I was influenced to try the Ballantine's Finest expression through a recent review by fellow DTWC member The Diplomat. Now that the seeds of interest had been sown I had to submit to the challenge of Ballantine's Finest.

Before I begin though there is one last point of reference. I have never had the privilege of tasting or even seeing a single grain whisky and I really feel I must at some stage have one soon in order to understand better what it is that grains deliver to a blend.

Ballantine's Finest Blended Scotch Whisky
Location/Region: Scotland
Alcohol: 40%
Colour: Light Amber

On the nose an immediate smell of strawberries and fresh fruits making it very light and vibrant. There is something else though just lurking in the background which I know all too well… Japanese Sake. If you are like myself and have a swell appreciation for the Japanese brew you just know that rice grain smell. Is there rice grain in the blend? Maybe but don't take my word for it (more about rice grains later). If you have never tasted Sake then try this trick: if you have a rice cooker, next time you have cooking up a batch of the white fluffy stuff stand over the steam and take a good long whiff. In that steam you will most certainly find the smell I am speaking of which is distinctively light, sweet and rich.

To taste  the same fruitiness but with a citrus zest about it, hints of aniseed and or liquorish, while the sweet rice grain is prevalent. Across the tongue quite a silky texture though my lips and tip of the tongue get a good tingle about them.

The finish is short and light but still certainly warming to a degree.

Balance is ok but sways more towards the sweet fruits on the taste buds and too much citrus zests on the finish for me. You really need to keep sipping to refresh the sweetness if that is what you are looking for.

Overall not too bad at all and I like the lightness and sake-esque influences. As mentioned also by The Diplomat that this particular whisky has 40+ malts and grains in the blend. I am wagering that rice grains have to be in the mix somewhere but maybe I am just getting too tied up in the whole Sake similarities. If I was to give a dram then it would be 4 1/2 out of 7. This would be great as a table whisky in spring or summer with a cold rice dish such as sushi, sashimi or a fruit salad. Chills great with Whisky Stones.

I do enjoy this whisky and I would buy it again especially as it is great value for money and would easily buy it over any Johnny Walker Red. At $29 a bottle = bargain.

To finish off because I have carried on so much about rice grain and sake it is probably worth a little bit of additional background info for those not in the know. Sake is not actually a wine even though the common word for it is Rice Wine. Sake is very much brewed like beer and relies on introduced yeast stimulate fermentation of the sugars (the very traditional methods of introducing yeast was to spit on the rice though now days the yeast is cultured). Rice is also a grain and so it reacts in distillation much like barley and wheat. Though as I said I cannot say if rice grain is actually even part of the Ballantine's Finest, but if it isn't I really would like to have a whisky with a rice grain in it someday.

Signing off for now but if you have had a single grain whisky why not tell us about it? I at least will take an interest.

The Baron

PS. Thanks to The Diplomat!