I’d like to think I don’t buy into whisky hype as a rule. I buy and enjoy certain whiskies because I try them and like them… not because fashion dictates I do.
However, I succumbed this year. Jim Murray’s 2011 world dram of the year and 2012 blend of the year is the Ballantine’s 17 Year old and I had to give it a try.
This was not all about blindly following the guide, though. I am trying to expand my whisky repertoire and the Ballantine’s seemed like a good direction to travel. It promised to be a more subtle Scotch: complex, yet balanced.
In the glass, the Balantine’s has a very pleasing rich golden colour. Give it a swirl and it is noticeably ‘oily’, a characteristic which always reassures.
On the nose, there is almost an alcohol burn but this is quickly replaced by a sharp, citrusy tang and honey, spice and deep down some traces of peat an Islay. The latter takes some digging though.
The oiliness is present in the mouth with a truck load of sweetness, some fresh and zingy, some duller, almost butterscotch. Added to that is a creamy sensation which mellows any of the livelier characteristics.
So far so good, then. However, for me, here the fun stops. I find it hard to trace any other depth after all that sweetness. There’s vanilla after the cream, perhaps, but the initial promise seems to just vaporise. The finish, for me, was a let down.
I’ve tried it in numerous situations, with and without water, and I keep on feeling a bit short-changed.
The Ballantine’s 17 year old is a very civilised whisky that would prompt many a non-Scotch drinker to explore further. However, I would liken it to those grand hotels you find north of the border: manicured lawns, tartan carpets, a round of golf, afternoon tea and dressing for dinner.
After the initial pleasantries, the novelty soon wears off.