Balblair is one of Scotland's oldest distilleries with production starting in 1790 - only Glenturret, Bowmore and Strathisla have been operating longer. The distillery is located in the northern Highlands in the village of Ederton, which was found in a 2006 EU survey to have the cleanest air in Scotland! It lies close to the shores of the Dornoch Firth with the Highlands rising behind it and has the North Highland Railway track running next to it, making the distillery one of the most picturesque in Scotland. Balblair is currently owned by Inver House Distillers and is reasonably small, producing around 1.3 million litres per year.
The majority of the whisky produced at Balblair goes in to the popular blend Hankey Bannister, with only about 10% being released as Balblair single malt. However, this amount is rising as Balblair becomes more widely recognised and the latest range continues to add to the numerous worldwide awards that it has recently won. The core range is released as vintages, rather than the more common age statement in numbers of years - there is an evergrowing range including a 1965, 1975, 1978, 1978, 1979, this 1989, 1997, 1990 and a 2000. Independent bottlings are available but stocks vary from year to year.
The colour of this 1989 vintage is light gold and the nose is lovely and clean, enticing you with an interesting mix of aromas. There is some obvious vanilla and oaky wood, followed by something nutty (think of almonds). However, underneath these is a gorgeous fresh fruitiness - firstly something reminiscent of fresh green apples and then something tropical (this sounds strange I know but there was definitely hints of banana, pineapple and mango detected in there!). The palate is full of sweetness with vanilla, honey and toffee all present. These combine well with some dried fruit (imagine sultanas and candied lemon peel), something spicy (think of nutmeg) and the fresh fruit from the nose (those green apples and tropical fruits again). The sweetness is counteracted with a slightly sharp element (imagine lemon zest) and this gives good balance. The finish is reasonably long and enjoyable. The vanilla, toffee and both dried and fresh fruits make it complex and a slight peppery burn (think of peppercorns) comes through at the end, leaving your mouth watering and wanting another dram.
The Balblair 1989 is a smooth, enjoyable whisky that is very easy drinking. It would be a good choice to give as an introduction for someone to single malt whisky, as it offers loads of character and complexity without being too overpowering. This is a very good whisky from an under rated distillery. It will be found in specialist whisky retailers for the bargain price of £40-45, which only adds to its appeal!