*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Having not yet had the pleasure of visiting, I had no idea that Cairngorms National Park was the largest national park in the entire United Kingdom. By all accounts it’s a fairly rugged region containing five of the UK’s tallest mountains, the River Spey, the occasional lake…I mean loch, and deep forests including remnants of the ancient, pine-heavy Caledonian Forest. All that ruggedness, it seems, has not blinded people from knowing a good tourist destination when they sees one. Within the park as there are several villages, ski areas, resorts, shopping destinations, and possibly an optometrist or two. Basically (aside from the optometrists), it doesn’t take much research (and I didn’t do much) to figure out that Cairngorms would be a place well worth visiting. It would take a while to visit, however, as the park covers more than 1700 square miles, which, for reference, is quite a bit larger than the State of Rhode Island.
I mention Cairngorms because this review’s whisky comes from Balmenach Distillery which is actually located within Cairngorms National Park. If it surprises you that a distillery can be found in a national park, then hold onto your hat because Cairngorms is actually home to six distilleries: Balmenach, Dalwhinnie, Glenlivet, Royal Lochnagar, Speyside, and Tomintoul. Again, not that it matters, but just for sake of comparison (and continued headgear grasping), there are two distilleries within the smaller-than-Cairngorms state of Rhode Island. So, from deep within the UK’s largest park comes this young, fully port-pipe matured single cask bottling of Balmenach from the Creative Whisky Company’s Exclusive Malts range. Inver House’s Balmenach has a reputation for being a very good malt, robust and complex, it has a savory edge to it along the lines of Mortlach. Unfortunately, it’s been used pretty much exclusively in blends for as long as anyone can remember.
The Nose: Looks like a Rosé, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end with this young head-scratcher. Initially, apple cider (alcoholic) and honey hold down the sweet end of things. There’s also some plastic-y band-aid notes, iodine, relatively smokeless peat, and wet, charred, beach bonfire wood. Very little wood spice, some cinnamon stick and pickled ginger stand out the most. Subtle, rather general red wine (or maybe Rosé, what the hell) notes with hints of candied bacon loiter in the background. The addition of water doesn’t do this many favors, playing up the hot youth and the band-aid/peat/wet wood thing.
The Palate: The palate edges towards a more expected flavor profile, but continues to get yanked around a little. Quite juicy, cherry juice and more spiced apple cider (non-alcoholic this time), along with orgeat syrup and a few of those odd-ish hospital notes from the nose. More wood influence is felt here, wine-y tannins, sharp green oak, clove, and ginger, with a bit of peat smoke creeping in. Unlike the nose, adding water seems to bring the palate together a bit more, calming the rougher, youthful edges without losing its interesting complexity.
The Finish: Sweetly tannic and lingering with raw-ish oak, clove, and pepper giving way to the swell of smoke being hinted at on the nose and palate.
Thoughts: A bit of an oddball. It seems to me that there’s a lot of distillate character here, and some Port influence, but, at only 8 years old, not a lot of deeper wood influence…and it could use some deeper wood influence. Without it, the Port and spirit make for strange bedfellows, especially on the somewhat jumbled nose. The palate and finish work better, especially with water, with some appealing more-ish, savory-sweetness. A hard one to judge, I wasn’t too impressed by its oddness at first, but did end up enjoying some aspects of it as it relaxed in the glass. If you like Port maturation and enjoy young, funky whiskies, then perhaps there’s something to explore here.
The Exclusive Malts 2007 Balmenach 8 Year Old, Port Pipe Matured, Speyside, IB +/-2015