If you’ve never heard of Ballechin, you are far from alone. After all, the Ballechin distillery closed in 1927. Its casks are long since lost and its flavours forgotten. Its name, however, lives on thanks to Edradour, revived for their range of heavily peated single malts. Given these make up only a fraction of Edradour’s already miniscule annual outrun, it’s no surprise that a Ballechin is rarely encountered in the wild.
I encountered this particular Ballechin when I last stopped in at Luvians bottle shop in St Andrews, an exceptional establishment worthy of a Destinations article all to itself. I have yet to be disappointed by the selection of spirits Luvians offers, nor by the advice I have been given there. On this occasion, I asked if they had anything “a bit different” in stock. The answer: “How about something heavily peated that’s spent 18 years in a port cask?”
A quick look at the Edradour website shows what the Ballechin name is all about. The range is anchored by a 10- and 15-year-old, but most other releases take their new make spirit, peated to 50ppm for the occasion, and put it in a single, exceptional cask until it’s ready. In this case, that was 18 years later, explaining why Luvians were so eager to snap up the whole yield for an exclusive bottling.
Ballechin Aged 18 Years – Port Cask Matured
Highland Single Malt Whisky, distilled at Edradour distillery.
49.7% ABV; matured in a single first-fill port hogshead. Outrun of 257 bottles.
Uncoloured. No clear statement on chill filtration.
£150 (Luvians.com). This bottling is exclusive for Luvians, with extremely limited stock remaining at the time of writing.
Nose: Extremely complex from the off. Fruit comes through as black grapes, plums, and dates, hinting at something much lighter: tangerine and gooseberry. There are more earthy notes too, with leather and tobacco giving way to treacle and gingerbread. A light smoke, both wood and peat, builds with each visit.
Palate: Initially sweet, with dates, prunes, grape, and golden syrup. Heat – and peat – quickly rises, bringing cigar smoke and a little salt. This really balances out the port flavours – neither peat nor port dominates the palate. Adding a little water pares down this heat, allowing an exploration of some of the hidden spice notes: ginger, cinnamon, bitter orange peel, and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper.
Finish: Long and luscious. Earthy tobacco, golden syrup, and cinnamon mingle in a slowly fading warmth.
Opinion: Packing quite a punch, this is not a whisky for everyone. I was surprised at the strength of flavour from a spirit bottled at “only” 49.7% ABV. However, once I got past that initial hit, I discovered a whisky with an excellent level of complexity.
Despite spending 18 years in a first-fill port hogshead, this is not an overly rich and plummy dram. I had expected the cask’s influence to be centre stage, with peat relegated to the supporting actor role. However, Edradour’s heavily peated spirit is equal to the challenge of matching the wood’s influence. The result is a rather unexpected balance. The influence of the wood and the peated spirit is readily apparent, seemingly locked together, almost in competition. The result is stunningly complex, with something new revealed on each visit.
The Ballechin Aged 18 Years – Port Cask Matured is not a straightforward dram. On my first taste, I was shocked and unsure how to process what I had tried. Those looking for something accessible and easy should probably look elsewhere. However, if you enjoy a peated whisky that isn’t just a one-trick pony, this will be right up your street.