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December 25, 2010

Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve

While the goose is in the oven, working its magic, I thought I ought to get the Glencairn out and evaluate the new Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve – and they mean ‘Reserve’: this is a limited annual release – whilst under the influence of the festive spirit. Many thanks to Chris from Edinburgh Whisky Blog for my sample.

Ballantine’s Christmas Reserve 40% £27

Colour – Dark, rich amber – almost Sherry nut brown.

Nose – Dried fruit peel floats out of the glass initially, a sweet grainy quality following on. Oakiness is in evidence, too, and in keeping with the brief I get sweet buttered gingerbread as an associated aroma. Dark juicy fruits are heavily involved, too, with orange, rum and raisin ice cream, and toffee. Dark chocolate is also present.

     Water reveals Scottish tablet, in addition to the toffee. Red apples appear later on. It is less Christmas-y than when undiluted but a rich fragrant Speyside malt is plainly in there directing the aromas.

Palate – Light, sweet and grainy at first, building toffee, nut and wine notes.

    Water accentuates the dark malty qualities, in addition to a little rich earthy peat. Ginger wine.

Finish – Rather short, both with and without water, with toffee a mainstay and some dried fruits. Some sweet apple appears first time round, cinnamon and chocolate Swiss roll with a few drops of water.

So…?: A different, well put-together whisky, although I feel it loses some of its ‘Christmas’ credentials with water. The blended sector is expanding at a rate of knots, and it is one I would like to see more of in affordable miniatures. I wouldn’t buy a whole bottle of this, but it is a pleasant drink.

Tasting notes…? On the Scotch Odyssey Blog?! I know, not very long ago I was passing the buck as far as tasting notes were concerned to other bloggers kicking around. I still maintain that there is no reason why you should listen to my opinion any more than the teams of others reviewing single malts like they’re going out of fashion, but my Odyssey was a while ago now, and besides my photographs, drams are the only mediums through which I may experience again something of the atmosphere and spirit of my travels.

I won’t post tasting notes – or ‘sensings’, a distinction I shall explain shortly - regularly, but when I come across a malt (or blend) that transports me back to a distillery, a grass verge, B&B or restaurant, I’ll let you know. Chris, when we met last month, suggested I might like to experiment with posting my reviews out into the blog-sphere, and talking to newly-inducted Malt Maniac Keith Wood (Whisky Emporium) and hearing his approach to composing tasting notes obliged me to consider the proposition still further. So for all my travels shook my belief in terroir as in inviolable concept, rather than abandon it altogether I have modified this most subjective of sensory factors. Terroir, or ‘a sense of place’, just as it is unique to each distillery, it is also wholly unique to each of us and our own personal interpretation. It will not manifest itself to the same degree, in the same sense, for every person. All the same, I have six weeks’ worth of memories which the single malts of Scotland are primed to trigger, and when they do I hope you will be interested to learn the context and the nature of these echoes – hence ‘sensings’; I hoped it wouldn’t sound quite so pretentious once I explained it.

In the meanwhile, and though I won’t be scoring the malts which prompt a post, I would like to adopt the approach of Jeff Hershauer(Scotch Hobbyist - a truly excellent blog if you haven’t found it already) and state my preferences straight off the bat in order that you might get to know what I am about and how my tastes may differ from yours.

Flavour explorer - not expert.

Flavour explorer - not expert.

My favourite malts:

Anything from Caol Ila; Highland Park 12, 18 and 25YO; Bowmore 18YO; Talisker 18YO; anything from Balblair (the new releases); Ardbeg Uigeadail; Kilchoman; every Glenfarclas I have ever had (10; 15 and 30YO); Longmorn 15YO; Linkwood 12YO; Mortlach 16YO; The Glenlivet; The Dalmore 15YO (with just a smidgen of water).

There is a fair amount of variety there, I suppose, with both rich and fragrant malts on show. In the main, I will always respond to a malt that speaks up about its raw materials: I love a bit of oak in a whisky, and rich earthiness is always a welcome flavour. To step fairly boorishly on my original statement, however, as much as I may strive for consistency there is every likelihood that those malts which make it up here will, on account of my earlier criteria, possess wildly conflicting merits. We’ll see how it goes…

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