Taste Review #68 – Balmenach 15 Master Of Malt
Balmenach. A distillery that I would wager many of the readers of this blog would not have heard of, and probably even fewer have tasted. All of this despite it being amongst the first to open legally after the 1823 Excise Act. This is a distillery I have never seen, as it is not visible while driving on the A95 road between Aberlour and Grantown On Spey; even the road sign to Balmenach doesn’t betray the fact there is a distillery nearby and only the clued up whisky geek would be any the wiser.
Situated to the south of the Speyside village of Cromdale, the distillery sits in an area known as the Haughs Of Cromdale, in the shadow of the Cromdale Hills. The battle of Cromdale took place here in 1690 when Jacobite forces were defeated by Government troops lead by Sit Thomas Livingston, commander of the Inverness Garrison. Some of the Jacobite forces took shelter in Lethendry castle, the ruin of which still exists close to the distillery.
Balmenach distillery was founded in 1824 by James Macgregor, although illicit distilling in farm buildings was probably already taking place. The Macgregor family owned the distillery until 1922 when it was sold to DCL which went on to become UDV, a forerunner of Diageo. UDV closed the distillery in 1993, and it wasn’t until 1998 when current owners Inver House Distillers bought it.
Inver House own brands you will have heard of – Knockdhu (anCnoc), Old Pulteney, Balblair and Speyburn, all four of which I have reviewed in the past but why have I not reviewed a Balmenach yet? That’s because it is not easily available as a single malt. It is seen on occasion as an independent bottle, and some old original bottlings are available, most notably the Flora & Fauna bottling, but since Inver House took over the distillery I am only aware of 2 bottlings under the Highland Selection brand – a 27 and 28 year old distilled in 1973 and 1972 respectively.
So why is it so uncommon? Balmenach is a ‘meaty’ malt, similar to whisky of a previous era. The fermentation is long, the stills are relatively small and the distillation is faster than would be normal for other similar distilleries. Coupled to the use of worm tubs to cool the still vapours, this gives a superb weighty, meaty spirit that is sought after for blending or independent casks.
Region – Speyside Age – 15 years old Strength – 43% Colour Pale Straw
Malty, citrusy like lemon and lime. Dried grass / Hay. Slight sour note there too. Floral note there in the background.
quite a light mouthfeel, thin. Not sure how much of this is down to the evaporation. Very zesty. Lime, Kiwi fruit, Heather, light wood spice but again, suspecting that the evaporation has had a part in this as there is a very light wood spice.
Long. Despite the evaporation, it gave a peppery, gingery taste, without the burn associated with a whisky of 40%.
Quite pleasant though but thin mouth feel means I am not going to be adding water.
So what do I think? Well, sadly as this dram had evaporated despite being properly stored and / or sealed, I know that I have not had the full experience this distillery has to offer. This is gutting as it was truly a lovely dram as it was and I can’t but help believe it would be a fantastic dram if drunk in the same condition as it was bottled. I guess I am going to have to keep an eye out for a good condition full sized bottle.
And that is the big problem. There isn’t a lot of Balmenach going around. The last mass produced official bottling was made by UDV when it was released as part of the Flora and Fauna range. This was only produced for around 2 years before the distillery was mothballed then sold. The Balmenach Flora and Fauna is slowly creeping up in price, often breaching the £200 per bottle level. I’ve got 2 of the first editions in storage but am often tempted to buy a drinking bottle, such as I have done with the Pittyvaich which was also closed in 1993.
Best keep your eyes and ears open if you want to purchase a bottle. Keep an eye on releases from Cadenhead or That Boutiquey Whisky Company as a good tip, or search on the internet to see what comes up.
I can’t tell you how much this bottle cost, as it was part of an auction lot. I’d expect to pay around £10 – £15 at auction for it, though this will depend on whether or not you have somebody bidding against you. What I can tell you is that I recommend trying a whisky from this distillery; you will not be disappointed.
If all else fails and you want to try an alcoholic drink from Cromdale, then consider Carounn Gin. It’s made at the distillery and this does have a visitor centre, but does not allow access to the whisky production areas.
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All Photos – Authors Own