This week's review focuses on an expression from a rather obscure distillery which was and still is an important contributor to the various blends within the Diageo portfolio. Interestingly enough, this distillery ISN'T owned by Diageo anymore, but has been contracted to provide a certain amount of spirit for the company on an ongoing basis.
Balmenach distillery was founded in 1824 when a distillery license was granted to James MacGregor, who operated a small farm distillery by the name of Balminoch in the Cromdale area of Moray in Speyside.
The distillery operated as Balminoch until 1897, when the Balmenach Glenlivet Distillery Company was founded and also brought about the change of the distillery name to its present incarnation, Balmenach.
James MacGregor's family ran the distillery until 1922, when it was sold to a consortium consisting of MacDonald Green, Peter Dawson and James Watson. The consortium themselves were then absorbed by Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1925 and the production was transferred to Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD) 5 years later.
Under DCL and SMD's ownership, the distillery became an integral part in several of the company's blends and production was ramped up after the number of stills were increased to six in 1962. The floor maltings were also replaced with a Saladin box in 1964, signalling another type of improvement made to the distillery processes.
The first official bottling from Balmenach, a 12 Years Old expression, was released in 1992, but the decline in consumption of Scotch whisky in the 1980s and 1990s caused DCL (and by extension, United Distillers) to begin a process of rationalisation and they chose to mothball or close several of their distilleries, including Balmenach.
Balmenach was mothballed in May 1993 and its future remained uncertain until 1997, when Inver House Distillers purchased the distillery from United Distillers and recommenced production the following year.
Inver House were themselves taken over in 2001 by Thai company Pacific Spirits (who were themselves also taken over by International Beverage Holdings in 2006) and the new owner released a 27 and 28 Years Old bottling to commemorate the occasion. The distillery also released a 25 Years Old expression in 2002 to commemorate the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
Balmenach moved into the production of gin in 2009 and began producing the premium gin Caorunn at the distillery in that year. Caorunn is now widely sold around the world and is the third most sold premium gin in the UK.
In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a stainless steel semi-lauter mash tun with a copper canopy which was from the original mash tun, 6 washbacks made from Douglas Fir and 3 pairs of stills connected to worm tubs, which contribute to the spirit's sulphurous and meaty character.
The distillery is capable of producing 2.8 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis and part of the production has been peated to 50ppm phenol since 2012. Part of the unpeated annual production is still sold to Diageo and presently accounts for approximately 400,000 litres.
There are no official bottlings of Balmenach apart from the aforementioned 12 Years Old expression which was released for the Flora & Fauna range owned by previous owners Diageo, but Aberko of Glasgow do bottle casks of Balmenach from time to time under their Deerstalker brand.
This week's review focuses on a 12 Years Old expression of Balmenach, which was distilled in 2003 and bottled at 50% abv by The Single Cask for their range of independent bottlings.
The Single Cask Balmenach 2003 12 Years Old (50% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents barley sugar coupled with sage, white grapes, hints of lavender and some gristy notes. The nose becomes progressively sweeter and some citrus hints (predominantly lemon and lime) emerge after some time. Cinnamon rounds off the nosing experience and adds a touch of spice to the proceedings.
Palate: Not as sweet as the nose suggests, with the white grapes taking on a white wine-esque character which is rather dominant. It brings with it the acidity that one would expect from a white wine along with some oak, cinnamon, black pepper and more of the grist from the nose. Lemon zest and of course white grapes are also in the mix, with just a hint of the floral lavender note from the nose transferring on to the palate.
Finish: Relatively long and warming on the finish, with the white wine, barley sugar and cinnamon quite prominent from the start to the very end.
Balance: A fairly well-balanced dram which showcases a good level of complexity. Quite drying towards the end, but the initial mouthfeel was somewhat oily. A rather enjoyable dram!
This expression of Balmenach can be purchased by the bottle or the dram for in-bar consumption or by the bottle for retail/takeaway purposes. Patrons can find out more information about this expression from our friendly staff who will be more than happy to assist them with their queries.
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