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Balblair 2003

A very under-performing 10 year old

2 3173

@GeorgyReview by @Georgy

6th Sep 2017

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  • Nose
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  • Taste
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  • Finish
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  • Balance
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  • Overall
    73

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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

I wanted to give this one a go, but I didn't want to buy a whole bottle of the stuff. So, luckily, I somehow bumped into a miniature and having no idea what to expect from the whisky, this is what I discovered...

NOSE: alcoholic, raw, grappa-like. It's mellowed out a little bit by some vanilla. Bitter grapefruit rind and lemon pith. A hint of white fruits and some sugar.

TASTE: slightly oily, sweet, fruity and mineral.

FINISH: short. Zesty.

Final thoughts:

I know it was matured in "tired" casks, but for a 10 year old whisky this one is really bad.

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31 comments

@Alexsweden
Alexsweden commented

Well this doesn't sound very exciting. How come you know about its tired casks?

2 months ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

Having only ever tasted the 1999 2nd release version, I can't really express an opinion, but there does seem to be a consensus among reviewers and consumers that these vintage Balblairs are very variable and far from the best bang for buck.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Maltmaniacmate
Maltmaniacmate commented

Sad to hear that they vary so much. The 2002 Vintage was a stunner. Ralfy named it whisky of the 2013 and after I opened mine I went straight out and got another bottle. The 2002 also had a lot of grapefruit taste, but it was countered by a wonderful milk chocolate core. What was the most stunning about the 2002 vintage, was the complexity; It was vibrant like a 10 year old but had so many layers. It was a perfect example of an excellent distillate in good casks. I would give Balblair another chance if I was you. All the best!

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@Maltmaniacmate That sounds like a good one. As I said, I have only had one of their offerings, so I am totally open to trying some more. Cheers

2 months ago 0

@Georgy
Georgy commented

@Alexsweden It says that this one was matured in second fill bourbon casks. So, that whisky should naturally be more nuanced in flavor (which is a politically correct way of saying "having less flavor", in my opinion). But...for a 10 year old whisky, this tastes very much like fresh distilate

2 months ago 0

@Georgy
Georgy commented

@Maltmaniacmate I might give it another try=) I bought this one out of curiosity, not expecting very much

2 months ago 0

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@Georgy, THERE ARE NO TIRED CASKS!

...unless you consider the depletion of the remnants/residue of the original contents that were in that cask during first use(bourbon, sherry, port, etc.) then you would be referring to diffusion...look it up. Scottish law does not allow for the addition of sherry or port or bourbon, (or almost anything) to single malts; therefore, Scottish producers must rely upon the contents of previously used casks to aid in the development of the whisky...if you doubt this, consider how many new oak single malts you can find in the retail market.

Good distillate given sufficient time in clean barrels = good whisky.

Casks keep giving to whisky/distillate for as long as they are casks. Alcohol interacts with the wood and breaks down molecules in the wood. The first few months in a new cask has the greatest impact on distillate, after that, it is up to time and climate to do the rest, over, and over, and over...until the cask falls apart and can no longer be used. A TIRED CASK IS A DESTROYED CASK and can no longer hold liquid*

The whisky in this particular review was probably not given enough time to mature in the cask. I have seen many 80 year-old casks that are still in use and making flavourful whisky. Call the cask what you want, but don't call it "tired" because the cask will continue to contribute to the whisky it holds until it falls apart.

Thanks for the heads-up on this one. It is always good to know what to avoid.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

@paddockjudge

Someone has been spending time with Dr. Don...

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Georgy
Georgy commented

@paddockjudge thank you for this information! I don't pretend to know everything about casks. The reason I said "tired" was because 10 years is a lot of time and whiskies such as Springbank 10, Ardbeg 10 are great examples of just how much flavor and complexity you can get out of those 10 years. This one tasted a little bit like Glenfarclas distillate I tasted some time ago, and it's so "raw" that I was really shocked that 10 years in casks hadn't done their job well.

2 months ago 0

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@Georgy, Agreed, Springbank 10, Ardbeg 10 are excellent examples of great 10 YO whiskies!

Interaction is necessary on this site for a good quality discussion, the same way interaction between good distillate and a clean barrel is necessary for the making of good whisky. Not all barrels are created equal, but all whisky is created from barrels. One thing to keep in mind is that after a barrel is dumped it should be filled as quickly as possible to avoid contamination... perhaps not all barrels are refilled after being dumped...and perhaps not all of the distillate is as it should be before entering the barrel.

@Georgy, I enjoy reading your comments and perhaps some day we will share a few drams together...and in the company of a few more Connosr friends.

Za vstrechu!

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Georgy
Georgy commented

@paddockjudge thank you!) Maybe we will indeed do that!

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Pete1969
Pete1969 commented

Excuse my ignorance but if a cask has bourbon in it for say 6 years and then gets shipped to Scotland for use as a Scotch barrel first fill average 10-12 years and then second fill for a further 10 years is there no depletion of the vanillins in the wood which interacts with the whisky as the fluid will only permeate to a certain depth dependant on the temperature.

If the casks are not refreshed by a new char does that reduce the sugars present for the new make to take on board as the caramelised sugars by the wood being charred have already been drawn on by the bourbon.

Also if the bourbon influence is drawn from the wood during the first fill what is let to influence the distillate in the second fill. Does this just leave an imbalance of tannins from the oak which is present in abundance until the cask collapses?

I have only read about the method and have no practical knowledge so would like more information but know what I like and know if I have a choice of first or second fill either sherry or bourbon would usually plump for first fill as tastes better in simple terms.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Georgy
Georgy commented

@Pete1969 that would make total sense, if the cask used for the second time produced less intensely flavored whisky. That's why it was my assumption that this Balblair was matured in "tired" casks. However, it may be more difficult than that, apparently

2 months ago 0

@Maltmaniacmate
Maltmaniacmate commented

Of course there is "tired casks". A cask that has been refilled 4-5 times doesn't give the same bourbon or sherry specific flavors as a first fill cask...

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@Maltmaniacmate, You are talking about the "legal flavours" allowed in Scotch whisky. Bourbon and sherry do not a cask make. A cask is made of wood - fibres. Sherry and bourbon are wine and whisky residue left in the wood and extracted through diffussion...look it up!

Alcohol continues to attack the wood and derives flavours from the wood, it will not stop attacking and the wood will continue to contribute until the cask completley falls apart. TIME is required. Time costs money and many casks aren't given sufficient time to reach maturity.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@Pete1969, I am not an expert by any means. I'm just a working stiff with a keen interest in whisky who hangs around with a bunch of whisky nerds.

Bourbon ages and draws from the barrel continuously. It is my understanding that a good portion of the vanillins are extracted in the first couple of months. After about 100 days the new oak effect diminishes. (see Livermore's Dissertation). Beam has a bourbon "Double Oak Twice Barrelled" I believe it is two years in each barrel. It has good flavour, but could use more time in oak for rounding (more time exposed to heavy char). I find it a bit too sharp. I prefer to sip my whisky, not "down it". There is more flavour in a barrel than just vanilla; I can find green apple, ripe fruit, coconut, maple, nuts, spices....

Charring in a barrel helps to mellow the bourbon and soften the whisky. A number 3 or 4 char turns the sugar to carbon. More sugar is released/available from a number 2 char (see Livermore's Dissertation). Before re-charring a barrel, it should be scraped. I don't know how much scraping the staves can withstand. John Hall told me that he had Canadian Oak barrels made with thicker staves so that they could be shaved and re-toasted...he seemed to have a good grasp about toasting and not charring, probably because of his wine background and also a bit of trial and error I suspect. I've since been told those initial barrels were used five times to make Confederation Oak batches Lot1867 through 1867E.

First fill sherry gives more sherry - makes sense to me. Sherry is residue from wine. When the wine is gone the barrel staves keep on giving. I don't confuse wine with wood.

I have sampled many long-aged Canadian whiskys (used bourbon barrels) and they are delicious. I tried a 19 YO Canadian corn whisky recently from a very old barrel, the whisky was fantastic. Some barrels are 80+ years in service and continue to make good whisky.

...hope this helps.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Pete1969
Pete1969 commented

@paddockjudge I think it does but your answer raises more questions than clarity.

Why call recharring, refreshing or refreshed barrel unless it is "tired"?

If most of the vanillins are extracted by bourbon and the first fill extracts most of the bourbon/Sherry or wine, tired may become the wrong word but over used does sort of fit.

If the distilleries know the casks are over used why release whisky solely produced from those casks, unless they know the return by enhancing with better casks would be negligible. Why keep a poor whisky at 10 years until it reaches 18 or 21 it is still likely to be a poor example for the age. While a good or excellent 10 year old has the prospect of being an awesome older whisky ( it could be awful) the investment required in taxes on the maturing barrel dictate a pragmatic view and only the best will make it through the ages.

In the end it probably goes back to profit margin. Chuck out one poor bottling in a ten year period and while there will be talk no one will boycott due to previous good reviews.

2 months ago 0

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@Pete1969, yep, lots of questions and most of the answers fall to the bottom line.

Call it what you want, but in the U.S. a new barrel must be used for bourbon, therefore re-charring is eliminated from that realm of possibility. In Canada, barrels are reused many times. the wood keeps giving. The so called "tired" casks in the UK have lost their finishes, the sherry and bourbon...the legal flavouring for single malt scotch whisky, but the barrels (wood) keep giving. I'm not disrespecting the Scottish method. My favourite whisky is Macallan Cask Strength!

The best batches of Forty Creek Confederation Oak were the first and second batches....the finishing times were measured by years. The new barrels were toasted before the first batch, but not for the second batch. These batches were both stunning! I don't know if the barrels were scraped for the other batches and I've been told the finishing periods were shorter. I do know that most Forty Creek whisky does not possess the same high level of quality in the past few years that it did during the John Hall era. I think a lot of that quality has fallen to the bottom line.

2 months ago 2Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt
MadSingleMalt commented

I agree with @Pete1969 and @Maltmaniacmate: Tired casks exist. That's been the consensus of every whisky writer I've ever read. This is the first time I've ever seen the idea disputed.

@paddockjudge is right to distinguish the "contribution from the wood itself" phenomenon from the "soaking up the previous cask contents" phenomenon. But separating the two doesn't disprove the former.

Do Nth-fill casks take longer to properly mature whisky? Yes. Why? Because they're tired.

Do virgin casks impart tons of flavor to bourbon, and then less flavor to each successive generation of spirit that passes through? Yes. Why? Because they get tired.

Do the super-old whiskies you see reviewed on the likes of Whiskyfun often fare better when they're less woody—due to their (supposed) refill history? Yes. Why? Because tasks become tired over time and eventually need 30 years to do their work.


@paddockjudge, are you just quibbling over the word "tired"? Or are you actually disputing that this phenomenon occurs?

Or maybe you're interpreting everyone else's use of the word "tired" to mean "100% exhausted"? That might explain the arguments you're making. But I don't think that's what anyone else was saying.

"Tired" seems like a fine word to me. I get tired sometimes. And when I do, I can still do stuff—but it takes longer.

2 months ago 3Who liked this?

@Georgy
Georgy commented

@MadSingleMalt I think we get attached to definitions too much. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion. I haven't read any book on whisky so far, but "cask tiredness" seems like a logical and natural thing to occur. It's just like when you brew good quality Sencha tea - the first brew is nice and can be brewed within one minute with warm water, but the second and third brews require higher temp and more brewing time to extract that flavor. Speaking of 30+ year old whiskies, my assumption is that a lot of them are left to mature for such a long period of time just to make the most out of those tired and abused casks so as to squeeze the last bit of flavor out of them. Any there may be some value and beauty in those samples as well. I remember sniffing some ancient Glenfarclas from the 1970s - it smelled like very high quality niche fragrance. Very complex and intense. Unlike anything else I'd ever experienced.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt
MadSingleMalt commented

As luck would have it, Diving for Pearls posted a review today of a similar 10-year-old Balblair OB, but from the 2005 vintage. He seems to have felt the same "tired casks" aspect, but he had a more positive reaction:

divingforpearlsblog.com/2017/09/…

2 months ago 0

@OdysseusUnbound
OdysseusUnbound commented

@MadSingleMalt He is not surprised by the "crazy" US price of $60-$70....I wonder how he'd react to the Ontario price..........I think I'll pass on this one.

2 months ago 0

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@MadSingleMalt
MadSingleMalt commented

Well, given this review, it sounds like it's worth about $32.48—so maybe I still overpaid.

2 months ago 0

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@MadSingleMalt, tomato, tomahto. I prefer to think of casks as acvtive or spent. Active in youth giving sugar. Inactive due to climate or location. The sugars are spent with age. Sherry and bourbon are given up by barrels - spent. Older barrels are no longer giving sugar, but still giving flavour...molecules drawn from the wood continue to influence the whisky.

Tired is an often used term, but what does it mean? The term is used in reviews and posts without much thought for what it represents. A blender or distiller or warehouse hand might know if a cask is tired, but any one of us on Connosr are justing regurgitating words. A cask is "tired" and did not give what? sherry?...bourbon?... sugars? Perhaps the cask is not tired, but was in a location in the warehouse that did not allow for the proper interaction between wood, whisky, and atmosphere. Perhaps I would be inclined to agree with @Georgy if he knew that the cask in his review was 80 years old and was not getting the job done for his 10 year old whisky. Perhaps then I would agree to that cask being tired. Until then, I'm inclined to believe the cask didn't sit long enough to do its job. Perhaps this would have been an excellent whisky after 25 years....if the 70 YO barrel could stand another 25 years.

2 months ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@paddockjudge I probably shouldn't be chiming in here as I know jack squat about this stuff. Nor do I know the revered Dr. Livermore. But it seems to me that at some point a cask has given most of what it is able to give vis a vis contributing to the flavour profile and strength of the spirit. If used beyond that point, I would guess that it would produce a lesser quality whisky and could be considered tired out. I don't know, but maybe you guys are arguing semantics here.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@BlueNote, your point is understood. Discourse is the object of many of my posts. I often play the devil's advocate in order to stimulate some debate. I'll try to focus on sharing information.

...as for lesser quality whisky from older casks, I would say different flavour profiles from older casks. These barrels can lend character to other barrels of whisky. I can't understand why anyone would dump and bottle a barrel that would not excite whisky drinkers. @Georgy's barrel should have been married with other barrels.

2 months ago 1Who liked this?

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