I picked up this 1950s bottling of Ballantine's Finest at the last LCBO/Waddington's spirits auction. At least, I think it's from the 1950s as the auction website is terrible and doesn't give any information whatsoever (I looked at some photos online and the closest match was from the 1950s). I presume this is 40%, though there is no ABV listed on the bottle. Just for fun - and so I can drink more scotch - let's compare it to today's bottling of Ballantine's Finest.
The colour is straw with golden highlights, with thick oily legs (incredibly, the colour is identical to the current bottling). The nose is relatively closed, but you get all those old-scotch-blend notes: heavy malt and peat smoke. Also heather, thick honey, linoleum, kumquats and wood polish. Banana skins. Lemon pith. Seems relatively young but those dominant fruit and honey notes push it over the top. A very carefully placed drop of water brings out sea breeze and more honey. Noses like an old blend (but young, if you know what I mean) while still retaining a certain freshness.
On the palate we are back to those thick honey and citrus notes, but the peat has a lot more volume. Oily mouthfeel. Sage. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Pine. Lots of lemon. The longer you hold it in the mouth, the braver the spices get, coming way out front. Oilier and spicier with a drop of water, though also a bit metallic. Highly complex for a youthful blend.
The long finish is smoky, spicy (cloves, cayenne) and develops into toasted oak. How does it compare to the current bottling? Although they are both identical in colour (though the older one is much oilier), the nose on the current bottling has more lemon, less honey and very little peat (though it is there). As for the taste, there is no comparison; the older bottling has much more depth and complexity. Now, I like Ballantine's Finest (unlike most people I know), so this is not to create a good / bad dichotomy. The DNA is undoubtedly the same, so if you don't like the current bottling, you might not like the older one either. As usual, however, the older edition of a popular blend has more malt, heavier peat and more overlapping layers of complexity than the newer. By the way, Pam tried them both with me too - even though she's not really a fan of Ballantine's anyway, she prefers the current bottling, so there you go.