By buying Inver House in 2001, Thailand matched the Japanese
investments in a single blow, doubling the East Asian involvement
in Scotch whisky. Through Inver House, there are now five more
distilleries that are being kept alive with funding from Asia; Balblair,
Balmenach, Knockdhu, Old Pulteney and Speyburn. Comparing the
two lists of acquisitions, I'd have to say that the Japanese seem
to have chosen more carefully. Most of these 'Thailand' distilleries
haven't produced many very memorable malts, as far as I know.

Inver House bought the Balblair distillery in 1996.
Inver House Distillers Ltd. were themselves bought in 2001
by 'Pacific Spirits', part of the so-called 'Great Oriole Group'.
This group is in turn controlled by a businessman from Thailand;
Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. During the 1990's, most of the Asian
investments came from Japan. The three major Japanese investors
in Scotland are Suntory (owning Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen
Garioch through Morrision Bowmore), Nikka (owning Ben Nevis) and
Takara Shuzo Okura (owning Tomatin). That means that by the
turn of the millennium, 5 out of the circa 85 remaining active
distilleries in Scotland were under Japanese control. Banzai!

Where to find Balblair

Water source:

Balblair location
Balblair single malt whisky

Balblair  (Pronounced: balBLAIR)
Northern Highlands
Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Teaninich
Ben Dearg
1,330,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Pacific Spirits > Inver House (since 1996)
Edderton, Tain, Ross-shire, IV19 1LB

Balblair Distillery Profile

Balblair NAS (70 Proof, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled 1970's)
Nose: Lots of sherry. Antiquity. Chocolate. Furniture polish. Lemon. Salt. Organics.
What a lovely rich profile! Based on the nose alone this would surely reach the upper 80's.
Taste: Old cold tea. Not much else I could pick up - or if I did I didn't make notes of it...
Nice enough, but just not very interesting. Still a very good dram, mind you!
Score: 81 points - the palate pulls the score down to the lower 80's.

Balblair NAS 'Elements' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2001, 70cl)
Nose: Light sweetness. Heather honey. Citrussy and malty. Raspberries! Toffee & Spices.
More 'coastal' and spicier after a few seconds, but the fruity/sweet undertone remains.
Hints of smoke, salt and peat. Chloride and dust. A little spirity with very soft sherry overtones.
Oily with a fair dash of peat. Some smoke, chloride and dust. 'Coastal'.Licorice root. Strawberries?
Taste: Ooh - that's a pity. Not as good as the nose. Clean with a hint of smoke. Sweetish, malty.
A tad too bitter in the finish; slightly metallic. Sweet and rough, with strong pear impressions.
A hint of peat; gritty with a tingle on the tongue. Smooth with apple overtones. Gingerbread?
Score: 74 points - I'm afraid the palate keeps it just below average.

Balblair 10yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled 1980's, 5cl)
Nose: Oily. Wet wood. Very faint hint of peat. Not very expressive but quite unique.
Taste: Sweet, malty and woody. I absolutely love the tannins in the (ultra dry) finish.
Score: 70 points - sorry, I couldn't get any more from my quarter of a 5cl miniature.

Balblair 10yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 1992, 70cl)
Nose: Furniture polish? Intruiging fruity notes. Lots of character, but it drops off quickly.
Taste: Soft, smooth and sweet. Toffeeish. Slightly bitter. Dark chocolate in the finish.
I didn't find a lot of individuality, but it's very nice for everyday dramming.
Score: 77 points - above average; a good sipping whisky.

Balblair 16yo (40%, OB, 70cl)
Nose: Amazing development - very distinctive. A little pepper. Clove. Nutmeg?
Furniture wax. Hint of soap. Spicy. Fresh and old fruit. Quite entertaining, actually.
Taste: Flat start - malty, then bitter. Sweeter and nuttier later on. Someting fishy.
Smoke. Pinch of salt. Tannine without the grapes. Ultra-dry wood.
Score: 76 points - but I guess I expect a little more from a Northern Highlander?

Balblair 21yo 1975/1997 (56,5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #7275, 655 Bottles)
Nose: Another light and 'bourbony' malt - but it has much more 'volume' than the Glenury Royal.
Soon spices and organics emerge; nice. Strike that - very nice! Whiff of peat after adding water.
Taste: Quite drinkable at cask strength, although it grows very hot and dry towards the finish.
Fruity in the centre with a faint hint of smoke or peat in the background. Loses point in the finish.
It seems even more fruity after adding some water. And once again I seemed to detect a little peat.
Score: 82 points - very interesting but in the end it's a little too hot, dry and bitter in the finish.
The surprising pinch of peat keeps it the eighties, though - and interesting experience.

Check out my Track Record for a complete and up-to-date overview of all 'siplings' I've tried.

Balblair distillery
Balblair 16 years old Scotch whisky

Balblair was founded in 1790 by one John Ross.
Some of the present buildings date from the 1870's.
Ownership was in the hands of Andrew Ross & Son by
the end of the 19th century and had been transferred
to Alex Cowan & Co in 1896. The Balblair distillery was
closed during World War I in 1915 and it wasn't revived
again until 1947, after the end of the second World War.

In 1949 Balblair was taken over by R.Cumming & Sons
(a subsidiary of Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts Ltd,
Canada) who expanded the number of stills from 2 to 3.

Balblair bottlings
Balblair single malt whiskyTrack Record - overview of all single malts and scores

The Japanese have a wider 'portfolio' as well, including Lowlands and Islay.
The Inver House distilleries are located in
Speyside (Balmenach, Knockdhu
and Speyburn) and in the
Northern Highlands (Balblair and Old Pulteney).
I don't know if the more nortnern location of Old Pulteney has something
to do with it, but most of the expressions I tried had a little more power
and character than bottlings from its relatively southern cousin, Balblair.
A generous glass of Balblair is nothing to be scoffed at either, mind you...
None of the expressions I've tried so far made my heart really flutter, but
then again I haven't tried a bad one either - all scored around average.
I should be able to tell more after some further research...

Trivia about Balblair: Balblair is one of the oldest Scottish distilleries still in operation.
Just a handful of other distilleries in Scotland were founded before 1790, including
Bowmore and Strathisla.

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