The five expressions on show this evening were the "Finest", 12yo, 17yo, 21yo and their 30yo. A serious range for a serious tasting in which we were also joined, online, by Ballantine's own master blender Sandy Hyslop.
As many of you know Ballantine's is a huge name in the whisky market. It has the honour of being the second biggest selling scotch in the world and, considering they are second only to the behemoth that is Johnnie Walker, that is a pretty impressive position to hold.
The brand is also steeped in history, having been established in 1827, and has a wealth of stock to choose from when making it's blends. Being owned by Pernod Ricard they can call upon close to 50 different whiskies to compile their whiskies with the signature malts being Miltonduff and Glenburgie.
I was particularly thrilled to be taking part in this tasting as, apart from quickly reviewing the "Finest" last year, I have had no other experience with this brand and on that note I shall move onto the whiskies themselves.
Ballantine's "Finest" - Bottled at 40% ABV this is the oldest recipe in their range having been first created way back in 1910. There's more than 40 malts and grains in this blend which have been selected from 4 different Scottish regions.
Nose - Crisp, barley, lemon shortbread biscuit, oak resin and sugary orange syrup. A light grassy note along with slight perfume. Just the faintest smoke hides in the background then we come back to lemon sherbet and salted butter popcorn.
Palate - Fresh, spicy arrival that moves into zingy citrus, lemon, orange and lime juice. Bags of toffee and caramel show a serious sweet side to this one and then you get red apple and clove rock sweets which is slightly "new makey". The smoke doesn't want to show itself on this palate.
Finish - Slightly short but big on sweet red apples.
Overall - A very decent whisky that is perfect as an entry level blend and for the normal price you can pick it up for, especially coming into the festive period, a serious must for when friends call round.
Ballantine's 12 Year Old - Bottled at 40% ABV this holds the distinction of being the favourite of Sandy Hyslop who stated, on the night, that it ticked all the boxes due to it's smooth, creamy, toffee, vanilla. The maturation of this is a combination of American and European oak and the core malts involved are, as mentioned earlier, Glenburgie and Miltonduff.
Nose - Tropical. Banana, orange, lemon and candied pineapple. Some red fruits present here and back to the tropical with a feel of tropical mix dried fruit. With time this becomes more sherried with dried fruit, Christmas cake and mixed spice. Banana cheesecake and a light, gentle char. Not obviously smoke and certainly not peat just char.
Palate - Beautiful warm spice and stewed fruits with orange being dominant. This has a lot more depth then the "Finest". Blackcurrant / strawberry jam, clove and warm red apple crumble. Very smooth.
Finish - Slightly short with clove, menthol and deep warm fruit.
Overall - This is an obvious step up from the "Finest" yet shouldn't cost too much more, depending on where you shop, and in that respect this is fantastic value for money. I'll be buying a bottle this Christmas.
Ballantine's 17 Year Old - Bottled at 40% ABV this is marketed on Ballantine's website as having an extra depth of flavour, due to the longer maturation, which is characterised by a subtle sensation of smokiness that differentiates it from the 12 year old.
Nose - Deep, earthy fruits that are almost mineral in nature. Light coffee, Terry's dark chocolate orange and a whisp of smoke which doesn't appear to be any more than was present on the "FInest". More grassy notes with brown sugar syrup. Feels a lot like the "Finest's" big brother.
Palate - Very smooth but a tad flat. Brown sugar, malted bread, light clove spice, deep orange and a good initial juiciness. The flavour builds well enough but fades rapidly to the end with no distinguishable finish. I tried this several times to confirm my thoughts and each time the experience was the same.
Finish - Short and disappointing.
Overall - The promise of a great whisky, that was shown on the nose, did not deliver in the taste. A bit of a let down to say the least.
Ballantine's 21 Year Old - Bottled at 40% ABV, we moved into the big hitters. Hoping to see some great cask influence we were informed that this blend contains a higher proportion of European cask matured whisky than the rest of the range.
Nose - Rich and enticing. Banana, grapefruit juice, orange and lemon oils. Brown sugar, wood polish with rum and raisin ice cream. Rich vanilla cream, perfume and an even more gentle whiff of smoke. Huge deep leather and malt.
Palate - Sweet, sweet arrival with a good kick of clove and chilli spice. Rich malt, dark red fruits and more red apple. As hoped, there is a good sense of oak influence going on here. In time you get a dustiness of old books and leather and right at the very end you get a little taste of smoke, first time it has shown itself in the palate.
Finish - Very good with dusty spice and right at the end you get a last taste of melted butter.
Overall - A great whisky and a great balance of age and spirit but you get the sense, as with the previous expressions, that this could do with a % or two more.
Ballantine's 30 Year Old - Now for the grand finale. Bottled at 43% ABV, praise for the extra %, this is described as being the ultimate balance between distillery character and cask influence. We are also informed that some of the whiskies involved are incredibly rare with the distilleries no longer in existence, but we get let in on the secret that these include Dumbarton and Dalmunach.
Nose - Old, dirty, damp smoke which I mean in the nicest possible way. Thick oily feel to this one. Old worn leather with lovely vanilla. Tropical notes in here but the age dominates fantastically. Ripe, mashed banana and more polished wood. Dark melted chocolate and with time the, surprisingly fresh, fruit comes along with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Palate - Bitter / sour arrival. Massive amount of damp, dusty wood that dries the mouth nicely. Fruit is intense with a great feel of concentrated blackcurrant juice. The rich malty notes interplay well with gentle spice.
Finish - Great length and moreish with blackcurrant, spice and an end of orange zing.
Overall - The star of the show which obviously comes at a price. Great old flavours and sense of cask influence with intense fruit.
Well that has certainly increased my knowledge of Ballantine's. An excellent blend that shows great consistency of flavour through the range. Their young blends are fantastic for the price with the serious oldies being of great character. As for the 17 year old? I'm not sure what happened there but maybe I'll try it again in the future and see if I'm impressed any more.
Once again a huge thanks to Steve Rush at TheWhiskyWire.com, where anyone can apply to join in the fun of the tweet tastings, and also a big thank you to Sandy Hyslop of Ballantine's for passing on his knowledge on the night and giving us an extra insight into the whisky itself.
Until next time,
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