(Tomintoul’s) Old Ballantruan 10-Year-Old versus Old Ballantruan (No Age Statement)




 





(Tomintoul’s) Old Ballantruan 10 Year Old and Non Age Statement bottling

A few weeks ago I reviewed the excellent and slightly peated BenRiach 16-Year-Old which I mentioned was very unusual for a Speyside. (If a Speyside distillery is going to produce a peaty malt they will almost always make it really peaty!).


The malted barley used to make almost all standard editions of Speyside whiskies (and indeed East Highlands whiskies as well), is entirely unpeated or almost completely unpeated. This has been the case since the turn of the 19th century when the railway broke through the borders of the Lowlands and reached the Highlands of Scotland, bringing with it cheap coal fuel.





Here is a link for great railway journeys through the Highlands

 


Before this, all Highland whisky, like Island whisky today, was heavily peated as peat was the only readily available fuel source which could be used to dry the barley as well as heat the pot stills. The Islands and Northern Highlands distilleries, where the railway could not reach, continued to use peat to dry their malt and this is why coastal peaty whisky became the classic style of these periphery regions.
In the Highlands of Scotland which includes Speyside, where the majority of the Scotch whisky is produced, their classic style became light, floral and fruity. Indeed, many Highland distilleries such as Glencadam, established in 1825, (after the railway arrived in the Eastern Highlands), have always been completely unpeated.
Today though, we have seen an increasing trend amongst Speyside distilleries to produce special bottlings of heavily peated versions of their whisky. There are a number of reasons for this. Peated single malts, once thought to be a niche market have become hugely popular in recent years with Islay and other Island distilleries such as Tobermory, Talisker, Scapa and Highland Park, all struggling to meet demand. To try and cash in on this trend, Highland distilleries are now producing peated versions of whisky as marketing it as "old-Style" Speyside, as it would have been.
There is also an increased demand for peated malt whisky by companies producing blended Scotch whisky as peated whiskies, blended with their grain spirit, can contribute a substantial percentage of the flavour even at a relatively young age. Consequently, Speyside and other mainland distilleries, at the behest of their parent companies, have started to produce special runs of peated whisky to go into blends in order to keep up with this demand. Some of this whisky, (if we are lucky), ends up being bottled as special edition single malts. These bottlings have become so popular that many Highlands and Speyside distilleries such as BenRiach, Tomintoul, Balvenie, Glenrothes, Edradour etc…now produce a certain percentage of their total annual output every year to bottling peated versions of their whisky.
Curiously though, many of these distilleries bottle their peated versions under other names. Tobermory’s peated expression is Ladaig, (pronounced “Lechaig”), Edradour’s peated expression is called "Ballechin" and Tomintoul’s is “Old Ballantruan”. No doubt they have their reasons.
When they do produce peated whisky the distilleries go whole hog, with big heavily peated spirit of a minimum of 30 PPM or more, so (as mentioned earlier), it is rare to find a slightly peated Highlander like BenRiach. The only other distilleries south of Inverness who I know of, that produce a lightly peated expression are Ardmore, (who lightly peat all their whisky to around 15 PPM), and Tomintoul's Peaty Tang.
Tomintoul also produce two heavily peated whiskies and as just mentioned, not under the name of Tomintoul but under the brand name “Old Ballantruan”. They simply mention on the back label that the whisky comes from a distillery in Tomintoul. (Hmmm, there is only one!)

I bought a bottle of Tomintoul Peaty Tang to try as I am a fan of all Angus Dundee products, but unfortunately was not impressed. Unlike the other lightly peated range of BenRiachs or the old Ardmore "Traditional Cask", (unfortunately now discontinued),  which I think really compliment and improve on the Highland/Speyside floral style, this Tomintoul doesn’t work for me. I would guess it is peated to around 15-20 PPM. It has a significant and enticing smoky peaty nose yet it fails to transfer particularly well to the flavour tasting, translating into a typical Tomintoul floral fruity taste but with a slight burnt almost plastic note in the background. I love Tomintoul but I’d give the Peaty Tang a miss.
 
Tomintoul distillery





Tomintoul distillery is not actually in the little mountain village of Tomintoul but lies some 12 miles north on the B9136 via the A939. Tomintoul village basically consists of a single main road called Main Street which you have to drive through to reach the northern Speyside region.




However, it is still worth a stop there as they have an excellent specialist whisky shop and tourist store, found on the main road (obviously!) called “The Whisky Castle”. Here you will find special bottlings of the local distilleries such as Tomintoul and Tamnavulin as well as many single cask editions from independent bottlers. Prices vary from good to expensive with the occasional bargain so always check before purchasing. It is an excellent place for “Shalom Bayis” reasons. You can go browse the whisky shelves whilst your dear wife is in the other side of the shop looking at Scottish porcelain, crystal glass and other Scottish touristy gifts. A win-win situation.

Tomintoul Distillery
Tamnavulin Distillery nearby
 

Tomintoul distillery itself does not have a visitor’s centre although it is possible to get a private tour by appointment. We have driven past both Tomintoul and Tamnavulin distillery (very nearby) a few times. Built in the 1960s, the buildings don’t exactly look particularly appealingly aestheticly. They look more like some industrial chemical factory which in affect, they actually are when you strip all the marketing romance away...


Tomintoul distillery is owned by Angus Dundee who also own Glencadam in the East Highlands.  Someone at Angus Dundee obviously loves Israel because you can readily obtain their entire whisky range here in Israel, including all the limited editions and for excellent prices.


All the Tomintouls have OU Kosher certifications (except the Sherry/port finish expressions of course).










Their basic Tomintoul 10-Year-Old is found almost everywhere and as low as NIS 150 is some places. It is cheap enough to persuade blended whisky drinkers to give it a try. The 10-Year-Old is actually an excellent beginner’s whisky being fruity, floral with a mild silky honey alcohol combination that slips down the throat very easily. Not much of an aftertaste but a simply wonderful introduction to the world of Single Malts. I have heard some Americans criticise it though by describing it as too light and even "watery". What they mean of course is that it's not sickly sweet like the blends they usually drink. At Angus Dundee they prefer to describe it as “Tomintoul - the gentle dram”. I prefer to describe it as a graceful, subtle and great sipping whisky. (I don’t tend to add water to this, it doesn’t need it).
If I was at a simcha (wedding, Bar Mitzva…), and had a choice of Glenfiddich Rich Oak, Deanston Virgin, The Glenlivet NAS, Glenmorangie 10 and the Tomintoul 10-YO available, I’d reach for the "Gentle Dram" every time!
The next expressions in the range are the Peaty Tang (already mentioned above) and the 14 and 16 Year old. These two are roughly the same price but could not be more different. The 16-Year-Old is heavily coloured and chill-filtered with an Irn Bru/Orange Tizer fake colour and bottled at the legal minimum of 40% abv. It is fruity and floral but heavier and very very caramel sweet as if you can really taste that heavy Caramel E150a colouring. Those with a sweet tooth and little patience or imagination to go out of their "Glenlivet/Glenfiddich" comfort zone, should go for this. They will like it.
The 14-Year-Old however is 100% natural colour, (a beautiful pale straw yellow just as it came out the Ex-Bourbon cask), non-chilled filtered for maximum flavour and bottled at a higher strength of 46% abv. It is Tomintoul as it was meant to be. Simply delicious. It is light yet barley oily, rose petal floral, lemony, lemon grass, heather honey, tropical fruits, a touch of glazed coconut…..simply yummy. This is not the place to start talking about Tomintoul's special editions and indeed that's enough talk of the standard Tomintoul range as we are here to review their heavily peated sisters – The Old Ballantruans….
Well, I am fortunate enough to own both Old Ballantruan expressions at the moment, so let’s compare them.

 
 



There is nothing subtle, kinda’ peaty or kinda’ tangy about these Speyside bruisers from Tomintoul. Be under no illusion. They are well within the league of the heavy weight Peat monsters like Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin and in some ways exceed them in peaty flavour. Old Ballantruan, although not stated on the box, are rumoured to be peated to around 55 PPM and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more than that.
The back of these canisters is almost identical. Above the 10YO. Below the NAS.

Notice the OU on teh bottom right.

Recently, some good friend of ours suffered a terrible house fire. (Baruch Hashem, everyone was OK). I was helping them go through their things and I have to say that without any exaggeration, everything smelled of Old Ballantruan smoke!
Island Versus Mainland Peat
Even the most seasoned whisky drinker would probably think that peat smoke in whisky smells the same. Not true! You can definitely tell the difference between Islay peat and mainland Highland peat.


Islay peat is salty sea air, briny and coastal like a bonfire and BBQ on the beach. This comes from the seaweed and other sea plants and coastal vegetation in the island’s earth.


Mainland peat has no such briny elements but instead is more like burnt wood and scorched leaves and earth like a fire in the middle of a mossy forest. Each has their own unique character.


Old Ballantruan 10-Year-Old bottled at 50% abv. OU Kosher Certification. (NIS 350)


Packaging Design:
I like the canister picture of farmers collecting barley in the field but I found the rest of he canister rather unaspiring. There is too much brown and black. The whisky simply doesn't stand out on the shelf. The writing is too clattered and I don't appreciate all that marketing waffle at the back. The bottle is no better with an almost totally black coloured bottle with plastic wrap thermal heat style label printed on the glass. (Tacky!) This printing process doesn't seem to have been very successful in any case as can be seen by the almost unintelligible text on the back.

No, I don't like the packaging design of the 10-Year-Old. The design of the non-peated Tomintouls are far better. I don't understand why they don't use a similar design? Why do they insist on these peated expressions being so completely different?

ABV level:
Both these expressions are bottled at a very high 50% abv and Tomintoul are to be commended for this. The higher the alcohol level, the more potential to preserve all those wonderful flavours.
Colour: a lovely pale rusty bronze to yellow.


Both whiskies proudly state NON-CHILLED-FILTERED on the front label but alas, nothing about colour. It could well be natural colour but without a statement it is difficult to tell. I suspect there is some E150a added. It is slightly “bronzy” but more natural looking than the Tomintoul 16.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Whiskies like these are not your run of the meal standard bottlings. They are for those who want that little bit more from their dram. Why don’t the marketing guys understand that NOT adding E150a in order to give it a Blended Whisky style fake tan and even if they haven't added, not bothering to state natural colour on the label, has a detrimental effect on their sales! It actually puts off the very demographic they are trying to attract.



This is what we want to see on all Tomintoul expressions!!!!

They just don’t seem to get it! Stating “NON-CHILLED-FILTERED and NATURAL COLOUR” on the label and canister gets you to stage II in the purchasing decision without any effort and it means less work in the production process. Seeing these magic words prompts us whisky punters to immediately reach out to grab this bottle from the shelf and examine further.



Swirling the whisky around in the glass shows medium viscosity with oily alcohol tears walling back into the glass slowly.

Smelling Notes:

Initial reaction: Lots and lots of hot smoky wood ash.
I was actually reviewing these whiskies with my youngest son. He put the glass to his nose and immediately exclaimed “It reminds me of a staying up all night, sitting in front of a Lag BeOmer medura (bonfire)”. He wasn’t wrong!
After a few minutes your nose acclimatises somewhat to the smoke and you start to notice subtler notes like sweet smoky barley, scorched earth with farmyard wet hay and burnt wet leaves. The smell of fresh wood smoke is ever present though. There is a definite barley character like burnt porridge with milk and honey.
There is a slight alcohol heat and iodine character smelling straight from the bottle. Adding a small drops of water however has a huge effect and removes this nail polish remover smell completely. I would say that for this whisky, water is an absolute must. With water the aromas explode. There is the smell of lovely sweet new leather. Like brand new retzuah straps and black paint on a pair of Tefillin.




Tasting Notes:

This whisky is very consistent with every smelling note readily identifiable in the taste. Unlike the BenRiach 16 however, it is not tasting notes on a background of peat. Oh No! This is an in-your-face peat smoke and other flavours behind this.

That big heavy phenolic punch never recedes but you notice a lovely slightly oily sweet barley cream texture and this starts to dominate. In actual fact, get beyond the smoke and this whisky is quite fruity actually. Steamed apple, pears apricots with white honey, black treacle and cinnamon. In the background there is a lovely sweet aroma of fresh smoked leathery juicy beef steak in a white wine marinade. This porridge transforms after a well into melt-in-the-mouth shortcake butter biscuits, vanilla cream cakes with thick white honey.
To say that the finish is long is an understatement. It is almost permanent like a stain that won’t go away on your taste buds. Some people might just find this slightly disconcerting. There is baked apple with soggy charred leaves and damp scorched sweet wood sap and lots of spices covered in forest ash, treacle and wood sap.



Old Ballantruan Non Age Statement, 50% abv. Non-Chilled-Filtered. OU Kosher Certification. (NIS 390)

 


Packaging Design:
Despite being a similer almost entirely brown colour all over, the Non-Age-Statement (NAS) expression's canister and especially the bottle I think is somehow more attractive. I just love that oldy-worldy Victorian style front label. The rest of the design seems rushed and poorly thought out. Everything looks too squashed.
The label is the traditional paper stick on design which is far better than the 10-Year-Old's frankly weird plastic wrap thing. Maybe it seemed a good idea in the pub at the time? At least with the traditional printed label of the NAS you can actually read the back label!

Interestingly I noticed that the NAS back label show the OU symbol whereas the the 10-Year-Old doesn't. (The OU is printed at the back of both canisters though so "no worries"!)
Colour:


My comments above about colour applies equally to this expression as well. Putting these two whiskies side-by-side I certainly cannot tell the difference. Is this a sign of E150a colouring making sure that both expressions are a consistant colour, or just the fact that at Tomintoul, they are using the same type Ex-Bourbon casks?


If anything this NAS expression is slightly more oily than the 10-Year-Old showing slower alcohol tears falling down the sides after a gentle swirl in the glass.


Nosing:
If anything, the smoke is even more intense with the Non-Age-Statement expression. Despite being the same Peat PPM levels, this peat smoke is harsher, harder and fresher. It makes the 10-Year-Old actually seem quite soft in comparison. This smoke is less like a forest after a fire and much closer to what it actually is, that is, peat dried malted barley! It is just like sticking your head in a vat of warm heavily peated malted barley straight off of the malting floor. Yes, I have smelled this at a distillery. In fact, the whole smell of this whisky reminds me so much of the smells around a working distillery with peated barley, peated grist and flour with watery porridge mixed with WD40 machine oil.
Tasting:

Interestingly, the overall effect is a crunchier barley experience and less fruity than the 10-Year-Old. There is a taste of dry unpolished wood like an old Scottish farmhouse. No leather flavours but rather slightly charred veal sausages with barbeque brown honey sauce and covered in charcoal wood embers left over from a meat barbeque the night before. A drier white heather honey is there with a touch of bee’s wax. Again, the taste of apple is very distinct but it’s dried chewy apple slices and delicious roasted almonds mixed together with chewy treacle. It reminds me very much of those breakfast cereal bars so popular in my son’s yeshiva. You see them scattered around the tables in the Beis Midrash. When they are deeply involved in a sugya and do not wish to leave the Beis Midrash to go and eat, these bars keep them going.

Finish is long and satisfying. More roasted barley, roasted almonds, apple, cinnamon and treacle, all wrapped up in sweet smoky ash.



Conclusions
The 10-Year-Old has the aroma of a furniture store with sofas, arm chairs and dressers with the smell of new leather and polished wood all around.
The NAS is more like a Spice shop I know in Geula, Meir Sha’arim, with fresh spices, dry fruits and freshly roasted nuts, oh and somehow I have to fit in the smell of charred wood in this analogy. OK, OK, you visit Geula the morning after Lag BaOmer with sweet smoke still thick in the air. (That will do it!)

The 10-Year-Old seems fruitier or at least there are more wet stewed fruity flavours as opposed to dry fruits of the NAS expression. The 10-Year-Old is gentler, softer and more laid back. The NAS is spicier which is surprising when you must assume that the 10-Year-Old has spent longer in wood.
The NAS shows flavours of charcoaled sausages and roasted barley and nuts in a honey brown Barbeque sauce whereas the 10-Year-Old is more charred soft barbequed juicy steak a white wine and fruit juice marinade.
So which one do I prefer? Well for ideological reasons I really wanted to say the Aged Statement 10-Year-Old but in all honesty I can’t. The NAS has more going on and is overall a more interesting and ultimately a more enjoyable whisky. The 10Y has a lot going for it but compared to the NAS, it is slightly flatter somehow with less complexity.
It is important to realise that these are subtle differences and I heartily recommend both expressions. Despite having a £10 price difference in the UK, the NAS at £35 to the 10-Year-Old at £45, here in Israel, I’ve seen the 10-Year-Old going for slightly cheaper!
Peat monsters they are but very different to Islay monsters and although lacking any coastal element, they show other flavour notes that almost make up for it. As enjoyable as they are and I certainly will try and make sure I have at least one of these in my whisky collection, I’m a sucker for those sea weedy briny flavours of Islay and would therefore rate the best of Islay higher. That’s my own personal preference. Tomintoul have produced two great full flavoured whiskies here, more than enough to satisfy the hardest of hardcore Peathead whisky lover. Kol HaKavod!

 

Comments

Popular Posts