An evening with Stuart Harvey – Balblair 99, 00, 05 + Speyburn 15

It was an evening of sheer enjoyment, no serious masterclass, just good company, good whisky and an exceedingly good evening. It was in a most convivial South Mumbai home with the amusing and knowledgeable Stuart Harvey, Master  Blender for IBHL gracing the occasion…

Photo: Courtesy Niko Berg

And what did we have the good fortune of enjoying? Some mighty fine whiskies – with no dissecting the drams in depth, only a few fleeting impressions remained…

Balblair 05 (2015) 46% 1st Release

  • Light, fresh, green apples, had a classic oak matured quality, honey, citrus sweet
  • A cheerful, happy whisky

Balblair 00 (2014) 46%

  • For many this was the most delicious! Baked apple pie, yum!
  • Sweet and creamy, fruity with chocolate, balanced and nuanced
  • In short, an exceedingly tasty dram

Balblair 99 (2014) 46% 1st Release

  • Could clearly tell there was a marriage of ex sherry with ex bourbon – all the sherry sweetness and beautiful vanilla honey bourbon, light fruits, just enough spice to give it a little pizzazz, rich toffee, overall a class act
  • Lovely long finish – just what one wants in a beautiful whisky!

The Speyburn 15 year

  • A complete change in pace! And in its new packaging too…
  • Had all the usual Speyburn characteristics – shifted to bolder, direct dram… no pretence it is what it is…
  • Everything one enjoys in the 10 years, just enhanced even more

Special shout out to Kavir and Vidhu with our host for putting together such a super fab evening.

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“Single malt drinkers are promiscuous”

Now before you get all offended… there is a very specific context to this comment.

It came up at a Whisky masterclass with Master Distiller Stuart Harvey, where one of my whisky partners in crime whispered cheekily:

“Single Malt guys are promiscuous, whereas blended guys are very loyal.”

It echoed something mentioned earlier in the day by Stuart, when asked why Inver House decided to enter the Indian market in 2015.

Stuart shared how over the last decade he has seen a shift across the globe but particularly in India:

“Basically we’ve seen people trading up. Ten years ago it would have been the cheaper and mixed products that people were drinking. That was down to affordability, the price point.

Obviously now foreign travel is a lot more common. And they come back and bring back whisky – a nice status symbol.

Earlier they would bring back a nice blend. Then they moved up the ladder to a 12 year old blend. That’s the signal that it is time to introduce single malts. As going from 12 year old blend to a single malt is easy.”

So far, not terribly promiscuous…. however according to Stuart, 12 year old blends can be a tipping point to become a seeker of diversity over monogamy…

“They start getting more interested in the different flavour profiles, they want to try something different, they want to entertain their guests.

Single malt drinkers have more than one brand. As opposed to blended product where people tend to be very loyal to a particular brand.

They want to try something different. So when they are traveling, they try to pick up something different.”

From that point of picking up something different during travels eventually translates into two outcomes:

  • The single malt adventurer infects a loyal local blend drinker into the dangerous world of illicit relationships with an imported single malt!
  • And from such exposure, the desire to acquire extends to duty-free airports at ‘home’ or perhaps eventually from the local ‘wine’ shop.

So while blend drinkers are a loyal lot who for years, nay decades, stick to their Black Label, Teachers, Blenders Pride, those who have strayed down the path of single malts are always itching to explore, make that next remarkable whisky discovery!

I was again reminded of this when a fellow whisky explorer requested ideas for acquiring more miniatures… to add to his growing collection of different sets… already at 14, he added another 20 during his latest London jaunt.

So far we have explored the Tomintoul triofour more minis in August, another set in September… and yet another mini session planned next week!

J2M Miniatures

Before getting smug about such miniature mania, I then thought of our Mumbai based whisky club members creative approaches to sourcing something ‘untried’ from around the globe and my own sampling scores:

Canadian stash

Would you agree? Are single malt sippers incapable of fidelity and always seek the novelty of something ‘new’ in their quest for the next great whisky?

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Caorunn Gin… Beat the Mumbai heat!

Yes this is a whisky blog.

However I did warn that from time to time another tipple or two may make an appearance.

And I think we CAN make an exception for this gin – given that it is made at a malt distillery – Balmanech.

I’ve had the opportunity to sample it thrice in 2015:

  • Once at a BMC member’s home in a highly convivial social evening
  • Again as the ‘starter’ to sip before getting down to the serious business of a whisky master class with Stuart Harvey, Inver House Master Distiller
  • A wildly popular ‘appetiser‘ for a Whisky Ladies evening with Karen Walker

In all cases, it was served with an apple and an equal portion of tonic to gin. Perfection!

Bright, light, highly refreshing. Delicate notes.

As Karen shared, the five points of the red star bring together the Caorunn gin elements – bog myrtle, rowan berry, heather, coul blush apple, dandelion.

Yet since then… only a whiff in Winnipeg’s liquor mart.

Til today! Thanks to my partner’s recent trip to London, our liquor cabinet is graced by our very own bottle.

As Mumbai’s 2nd summer comes upon us, temperatures rise, a chilled G&T or other assorted beverages seem just right! Oh happy days!

Caorunn Gin (Courtesy International Beverage House)

Caorunn Gin (Courtesy International Beverage House)

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Speyburn 10 year 43%

I couldn’t help but be amused with the unveiling of the third whisky! After years of Speyburn not being on our radar, some from our merry malt group tried it :

However our host missed both these events and independently picked up the 10 year, drawn by descriptions of ‘classic Speyside’. We sampled it blind and then revealed the whisky.Speyburn 10

  • Nose – Sweet fruits – particularly banana, honey, light lemon citrus, sweet green lime as it opens, nutmeg and vanilla as it airs
  • Taste – Honey water, wondered if there was a little sweet tobacco? Overall fairly flat, maybe a hint of coffee? Bit of peat, hard to trace the different elements
  • Finish – Some spice however it doesn’t linger
  • Speculation – Clearly ex-bourcon cask
  • Overall – Very pleasant, easy to relax with… call it an eminently ‘drinkable dram’
It is easy to see why Stuart Harvey calls the Speyburn ‘under-rated’… it has a solid dependable quality that makes for a surprisingly good everyday dram.
So there you have it, an exploration of three lighter whiskies:

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The Surprising Speyburn 10 year 43%

Stuart Harvey calls Speyburn a “surprising” whisky that is “hugely under-rated.”

We sampled the Speyburn 10 year together with Stuart Harvey, master distiller with Inver House responsible for Balblair, Old Pulteney, AnCnoc and Speyburn whiskies – both at a sociable ‘home appreciation’ evening and then the next night at a masterclass.

Speaking about the Speyburn distillery, Stuart shared it is one of the 1st mechanical malting in the world, with an onion shaped still that produces heavy oils from its squat shape. The whisky is then matured in American oak bourbon casks, with some time in sherry butts for finishing.

Speyburn 10 (Courtesy International Beverage)

Speyburn 10 (Courtesy International Beverage)

And what did we find with the 10 year?

  • Colour – Bright yellow
  • Nose – Lots of sour honey, overripe bananas, fruity on the citrus side, light sherry notes
  • Taste – Bit chewy, buttery, toffee, coffee and caramel, bitter, slightly raw, yet full-bodied, a hint of salt. Spicy yet surprisingly light with a citrus twist
  • Finish – Quite peaty, a bit dry
  • Water – Smooths it out
  • Ice – Cranks up the sweetness on the nose, adds a freshness

Interestingly, it was the least expensive of the whiskies sampled with the Inver House folks, however it was also one which appealed to many at the ‘home appreciation’ evening… Partly as it works well with the desi style to drinking whisky… chill with ice and drown with water!

The next evening in the Masterclass it also held its own… It will be interesting to see whether Speyburn tickles the desi whisky palate and gains popularity. It certainly does well in the US, so why not India?

Here’s what the Speyburn folks have to say about the 10 year:

  • Nose – Fresh, clean with a hint of lemon
  • Taste – Medium bodied with hints of toffee & butterscotch and a long, sweet finish. A global favourite, Speyburn 10 year old is ever the crowd-pleaser.

We sampled the Speyburn 10 year together with:

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Old Pulteney 12 year 40%

Sometimes you feel like channeling your inner fisherman… a little swarthy, gruff but still seaworthy despite being a bit rough around the edges.

If you like your whisky a little like that, the Old Pulteney might just be one for you!

Old Pulteney 12 year (Inver House)

Old Pulteney 12 year (Inver House)

Some months ago, we sampled the Old Pulteney at a master class held in Mumbai with Inver House master distiller Stuart Harvey.

Stuart shared that the Old Pulteney new make spirit is quite ‘meaty’ with vegetal and noted that much of the sea salt comes from the casks absorbing the ambient air during the maturation process. It does indeed have a distinctly briney character very much in keeping with its maritime spirit!

Here’s what I found during the tasting…

Old Pulteney 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Green apples, fruit, sea air with a bit of brine, warm, sweet vanilla
  • Taste – A bit more of that brine upfront then in bursts some citrus, chewy tobacco, leather, woody, salty, honey and again that curl of vanilla, perhaps a hint of cinnamon bark?
  • Finish – A little spicy tingle yet sweet too, bit oily
  • Water – Really… if you must!

For the Old Pulteney, Stuart encouraged a drop or two of water. However suggested to never have more than 50% whisky and 50% water as the Old Pulteney is already 40%.

I must admit my inner single malt snob sniffed! How could one drown a dram?! However looking around the room, realised a few were still being weaned off shocking fabulous whisky aromas with copious chunks of ice! So perhaps a little drowning with water is the lesser of two evils…

Before bringing out a special treat of an older Old Pulteney, Stuart shared that originally the distillery only produced the 12 year… it was one of the first projects he had as Master Distiller to go beyond the 12 year alone to introduce the 17 year and 21 year.

I quite enjoyed the slightly rougher edge and maritime feel of the Old Pulteney 12 year – it has an unmistakable ‘stamp’ that distinguishes it as a distinctly ‘sea-worthy’ Highland whisky.

Here are the official tasting notes just to compare:

  • Nose – Medium to high intensity with a briny hint of sea air
  • Taste – Dry, medium bodied and smooth, redolent of honey and cream, faintly salty with a slight spicy note and a sweet long-lasting finish
  • Profile – Vanilla, citrus, briny, sweet
We sampled the Old Pulteney 12 year at a masterclass together with:
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Balblair 03 46% 1st bottling

In July 2015, our whisky tasting group was invited by International Beverage Holdings to join a ‘Master Class’ with master distiller Stuart Harvey for a mini tour of their Inver House Scottish whiskies – Balblair, Old Puteney and Speyburn.

Who could resist?

We began our whisky sampling with a Balblair – a Highland distillery in EddertonRoss-shireScotland which was founded in 1790 and boasts having one of the oldest archives in distilling – with a ledger entry from 1800.

One of the hallmark approaches with Balblair is to focus ONLY on vintages rather than producing consistency to a particular flavour profile for say a 10 year, 15 year, 18 year, etc.

Stuart shared that 1989 “was an amazing vintage!” where the 1st note was unmistakably banana yet was very delicate. Even with this vintage, now into their 2nd bottling, he noted there is some variation.

Which is half the fun of taking a vintage approach – where the distiller manager John MacDonald can wait until he believes it is ready for bottling – and then have additional releases as and when desired with variation entirely acceptable.

Lucky us – we had an opportunity to sample the 1st release of the Balblair 2003!

Balblair 03 (InterBev)

Balblair 03 (InterBev)

Here’s what I found with the Balblair 03 46% (bottled in 2015) that evening:

  • Nose – Honey, toffee, green apple, citrus, fruity fragrant
  • Taste – Warm creamy with a spicy vanilla from the bourbon, hint of sweet ginger, has a kind of brightness
  • Finish – Soft sweet spice reminiscent of white peppercorn

Stuart shared they typically use 2nd fill bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace. He noted this Balblair 2003 was filled at 67% and matured at an even temperature between 12 – 14’c for 12 years. While whisky typically looses about 2% to the angels each year, this is offset by absorbing moisture from the atmosphere so was still 61% when it was ready to dilute and bottle 12 years later.

For many of us, the Balblair 03 was the whisky of the evening – we enjoyed its nuanced Highland balance of fragrances, fruit and creamy spice.

Here’s what the Balblair folks have to say about the Balbair 03:

The American oak, ex-bourbon barrels used in maturation impart toffee, butterscotch and vanilla notes.

  • Appearance – Balblair 2003 is golden amber in appearance.
  • Nose – On the nose there are the signature Balblair aromas: floral and fragrant punctuated with citrus fruits, apricots and honey.
  • Palate – On the palate it is full bodied, with notes of oranges, lemon, honey and spice.
  • Finish – The long lasting finish is sweet yet spicy; a superbly well-balanced dram.

Confession time… I revisited the Balblair 03 in September with the delightful Karen Walker, Marketing Director of Scottish Brands for International Beverage, and our newly formed Mumbai Whisky Ladies group. The notes from that evening are most amusing and deserve a separate post!

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