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This was a bit of a challenge. Before I bought a bottle of this, I had very little whisky experience. I hadn't tried anything above 46%. I hadn't tried anything unchillfiltered. Mostly blends and standard, branded single malts. It's no wonder, then, that I found Old Ballantruan a tad bewildering.
First of all - the nose. This whisky is young. It's well young. Raw alcohol burns the nostrils. There is smoke and there is peat, but they are both in competition with the (still) rather feisty spirit. Water mellows it out considerably. Secondly - the taste. It has a nice oily mouthfeel and a salty and sweet... peaty taste. There's also hints of honey and that medicinal quality that Islay whiskies are famous for. In general, though, the peat isn't Islay peat. It's much darker and earthier in nature. As with the nose, though, it can be quite harsh. And I do mean harsh. It's not intense like a cask strength or even QC Laphroaig. It's plain harsh and vicious. This whisky has a very dark soul indeed. Water calms it down somewhat. And finally - the finish. This is where the whisky truly shines, in my opinion. It's not particularly complex or challenging, but there is an absolutely delightful wave of dry and woody smoke that concludes almost every sip. I have tried my fair share of peaty whiskies, but there is something special about the finish on this one that truly resonates with my rather quirky palate.
This isn't a complex five-star whisky, but, personally, I found its grittiness and vibrant youthfulness... for lack of a better word – endearing.
Also, even though my advice is to add a bit of water to this one, be careful not to add too much. I found that it was quite easy to throw this whisky off balance, and the results were really quite unpleasant.