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Sunday, 6 August 2017

Ballechin 10 Year Old Whisky Review!

This one's a bit of an underdog and is a little obscure (for now), but it certainly holds its own, even when matched against the big boys from Islay.

Ballechin is the peated whisky produced by Edradour Distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Located around 1.5 hours drive north of Edinburgh near the town of Pitlochry, Edradour (pronounced "Ed-ri-dowa")is also home to independent bottler Signatory Vintage, who have owned the distillery since 2002, and store their casks on-site alongside Edradour's own whisky. Established in 1825, one of contemporary Edradour's claims to fame was that it was the smallest distillery in Scotland, and while this is no longer the case (I believe Strathearn Distillery now has that title, along with a few other contenders), the distillery is still relatively tiny. With a single pair of worm tub condenser-equipped small pot stills, that are of the minimum legal size permitted for a commercial Scotch distillery, and a permanent staff of only two, the annual production capacity is only around 100,000 litres. The distillery is still housed in the original farm buildings, with all production equipment housed in a single room, although for obvious reasons larger warehouses were added after the acquisition by Signatory.

The name Ballechin (pronounced "Bell-eck-in") is a homage to a nearby farm distillery of the same name, which produced a peated whisky, which closed in 1927. I like this apparent tradition of naming your distilleries' different brands after closed distilleries, I think it's a nice reminiscent touch, and it also prevents your customers getting confused by tasting vastly different whiskies labelled under the same brand. Modern Ballechin whisky, which was first distilled in 2003, is peated to a minimum level of 50 ppm on the malted barley. Which is quite substantial for a mainland Scotch whisky, only beaten by Benriach's 55 ppm and Benromach's 67 ppm that is found in their Peat Smoke expression. So we can expect a nice smoky punch, but presumably without the salty, maritime and medicinal flavours that you'd expect from the islands.

There have been quite a few unusual wine cask-matured bottlings of Ballechin released, although until recently they were unheard of in Australia. Whiskies that were fully matured in Madeira or Sauternes wine casks for example, and more recently even single cask bottlings that were matured in various uncommon cask types, very Kilchoman-esque!. What has recently changed in Australia is that the The Whisky Company has become the official importer for Signatory Vintage and Edradour (among others), and Craig has been working hard to get the name out there in the marketplace, and to bring us new and unusual expressions. And his efforts are certainly working, because both Signatory and Edradour have been gaining serious ground lately, and at quite reasonable prices. Craig also kindly donated the sample for this review, so thanks Craig!

This 10 year old bottling is the first core / regular age-stated Ballechin expression, and like almost all Edradour whisky (the entry level 40% ABV Edradour 10 year old is the only exception) it's non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. It's mainly been matured in both first- and second-fill ex-bourbon casks, with a few ex-Oloroso sherry casks also thrown in. It's quite reasonably priced at $99 here, which puts it in-line with other peated mainlanders like Benriach 10 Curiositas and the aforementioned Benromach Peat Smoke, along with the heavyweights from the islands. So let's get to it!

Ballechin 10 year old, 46%. Pitlochry, Scotland. 
Heavily peated (50 ppm) whisky produced by Edradour Distillery. Matured mainly in ex-bourbon casks with a few ex-Oloroso sherry casks, both first-fill & re-fill. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Nice! Very much like an islander actually. A hint of salt, a fresh, lightly vegetal peat, some musty old wooden furniture, a little shoe polish. A touch of wood smoke, and a sweet vanilla custard underneath. Hint of musty honeyed stone fruit comes out with time, as does a light floral soap note.

Texture: Medium weight, nice punchy intense peat influence, and no alcohol heat at all.

Taste: Lovely powerful, fresh, vegetal, crumbly peat. Lovely! Hint of salt again, some thick, dry, slightly ashy & herbal wood smoke, a bit of chilli & black pepper spice. More creamy vanilla underneath, and a slight floral note again.

Finish: Long! Still quite peaty to start with, then more creamy vanilla, and the crumbly, vegetal peat taking a step back but sticking around. Then that ashy dry smoke returns, along with a slightly bitter vegetal note and more black pepper. Slight honeyed fruit note towards the end, along with the peat.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Well colour me impressed! Lovely characterful & really quite intensely peaty dram. If I tasted this one blind I'd probably guess it was a Ledaig, maybe with a touch of Lagavulin or Port Charlotte mixed in to kill off the medicinal notes in the Ledaig. Which is pretty high praise in my book! It's not overly complex or challenging, but it's seriously peaty and very entertaining if you're into that sort of thing. Which I just happen to be!

Ballechin 10 is considerably more peaty than I remember the above mentioned Benriach & Benromach being, and it's certainly not a dram for the peat novice! A great alternative to the Hebridean beasts though, still with that familiar DNA, it's a lovely straight-forward and in-your-face peat monster. Highly recommended if that's your preferred tipple. If not, try before you buy if possible, as it may be too much for you!

Thanks to Craig from The Whisky Company for the sample, I think you're onto a winner here mate!