Bladnoch 10yo (46.7%, OB, Limited Release, Bourbon Expression, Bourbon Barrels, 2018)

Wow, this is just the second review of Bladnoch on these pages. Bladnoch is one of those distilleries that look charming, but for the knowledgeable consumer, it has (or had) a bit of a wonky reputation for being buttery and somewhat unbalanced. I understand why some people might dislike Bladnoch, having tasted quite a few Bladnochs over the past twenty odd years. In the mean time, the only other Bladnoch I reviewed until now, is this 8yo, and this one was most definitely a learning experience. However it was a Whisky that grew on me, which also prompted an updated review, which I rarely do. Maybe it didn’t score as high as many other Whiskies reviewed here, but I still do remember it fondly.
In 1993 the distillery was bought by Raymond and Colin Armstrong and they sold it again in 2015. Raymond and Colin probably spent most of their money on purchasing the place, because it showed, there wasn’t a lot of money around. Simple bottles, not a lot of different labels, no boxes and no big refurbishments to boot. But the feeling was great. Raymond is an outspoken and accessible figure, who “did” the distillery, opened Bladnoch forum on-line, (again very a rudimentary looking affair), where aficionado’s could talk about many Whisky topics, with Raymond often participating, and last but not least, the famous Bladnoch Forum, independent bottlings of casks from other distilleries. All simple looking, home printed labels, and very nicely priced. This was a great time, and I’m sorry this didn’t last a lifetime, although Raymond’s son Martin continued the concept with Whiskybroker.co.uk.

2013 was the last year, many officially released bottling were released, but in 2014 & 2015 not so much. Finally, in 2015 Bladnoch was bought by Australian David Prior. With new management came an extensive two year refurbishment and a different and way more sophisticated look. The money was now certainly coming to Bladnoch. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. Distilling commenced in 2017. In 2016 with the releases of Talia, Samsara and Adela, the first new bottlings saw the light of day. Yes these are whiskies and not David’s daughters, at least I don’t think so. Just like the new Glenallachies, I tasted the new Bladnochs at the Whisky Show in London, and again the younger more “simple” expressions seemed best, or most promising. Of everything that was available to taste, I liked the 10yo best, it seemed to be the most interesting, and there even was this 25yo Talia to be had, just sayin’. So this 10yo is much less expensive and easily matches the others in quality. So no strange thing than, that the 10yo was the first one I bought, which has recently been replaced by an 11yo, which I recently bought as well. I guess the future of Bladnoch looks rosy again.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Extremely malty, biscuity and slightly dusty. Warm summer air with the smell of oak planks (in the sun). Sweet malts with some distant citrus notes (the flesh, not the skins), mixed with cinnamon, green apple skins and dry banana. Warm slightly toasted bread with molten butter, cereals and dust. Grassy and dry, with some soft hay and cardboard. Perfumy (chic) and highly aromatic. Sugared yellow fruits. Friendly and appetizing. Well balanced. White latex wall paint. This is not only sweet, but also has a rough edge to it. At times, sweaty, dead leaves and organic. There is a lot here, and it’s quite big as well. There is nothing like it, and it seems almost like a style on its own. Who said a lighter style of whisky can’t be big? Remember St. Magdalene? Meaty, cold gravy, but also some milk chocolate and some more cinnamon. Soft ice cream melting in the sun. The combinations may seem strange, and to be honest, Bladnoch can be a strange Whisky at times, different from others, but in this lies also its charm. I can say that, because for me, for a long time, Bladnoch has been some sort of a guilty pleasure. I liked it a lot even when I shouldn’t. I liked it better than my scores showed. (Thinking of intrinsic quality here). Funny how this works. It’s strangeness is quite appealing (to me). I do like extremes. Sherry bombs and Peat monsters as well, and a big buttery Lowlander is an extreme as well, these three are the points of a triangle.

Taste: Sweet and fruity, definitely some sweet apple in here as well. Malty check, cinnamon check, it goes great with the sweet apple aroma. Quite quickly the woody notes, complete with some bitterness, exert themselves. Still lots of butter and vanilla and this creamy texture. Fatty and waxy. And this wax is the carrier for the bitterness of the oak. Less of the cardboard kind, which is more like paper here. Lots of aroma’s in the nose, because these must have been some pretty active casks giving off a (smoky) bitterness. Citrus fruits and some more sweet sugary yellow fruits aroma’s form on top of the body. These notes are sharper and more acidic and go together well with the more fatty base or body of this Whisky. Passion fruit and maracuja maybe, hard to tell right now which fruits make up the fruity bit.

Even though this is clearly a Lowland style Whisky, it differs from all the others Lowlanders that still operate. I remember I needed some time to get used to this, and some of that shows in the review of Bladnoch 8yo (look towards the end). To be honest the 8yo and this 10yo do have a lot in common. Even though I found it an odd one out, I really developed a liking for the strange style of Bladnoch. Here we have this new and initial, fairly standard bottling @ 10 years old, with a price to match and I really do like it. I like it for what it is and also for its style. Distilled by Raymond, and now the new owners are reaping the benefits. It seems to me the new owner is also doing the best he can to put Bladnoch out there again and putting out several expressions at reasonable prices. It is possible this style of Whisky isn’t for everyone, and if you bought it because of me and don’t like it (too extreme), I apologize, but for me this is a very nice gig fatty Lowlander, and I can’t wait to try some more expressions of Bladnoch in the near future.

Points: 86

Bladnoch 8yo (55%, OB, Beltie Label)

This should turn out to be a very interesting review. If not for you, than certainly for me. Mr Bladnoch, Raymond Armstrong has a lot of fans, just have a look at the forum Bladnoch has. When looking around, this 8yo is considered to be very nice. Also, when you have a look at the average score for this bottle on Whiskybase it turns out to be 86.5 points (8 ratings).

I mention all this, because my bottle of 8yo was officially opened at a gathering of my whisky club last saturday and this Bladnoch was considered to be the worst of the day/evening! Auch! So I gave it a few days and will taste it again now in all tranquility (only some Flower Kings on the stereo). What is wrong, is the whisky bad, or were we doing something else than a proper tasting saturday? We’ll soon find out…

Color: Gold

Nose: Malty and definitively nothing wrong at first nosing. Hint of smoke and butter. Grassy. It smells like it has a more than a light body (for a Lowlander), clean and honest. The butter evolves over time. Mr. Brilleman of the Dutch Whisky Information Centre (WICN), thought us that this is a distillation error, (which sometimes can smell nice). It’s not overpowering so no problem here for me.  Hints of sour wood and powdery. Also slightly fruity. It smells like it will be very sweet and buttery.

Taste: Starts very strangely, like new make, and some woody spice. A little bit soapy and fatty. Sure there are some grassy notes, but not as I’d come to expect from a Lowlander. It’s like the grass turns a bit bitter. I find the taste to be unbalanced to boot, and seems to me as if some feints that found their way into the cask aren’t completely transformed by ageing. I guess this should have been in the cask for a longer while. I also don’t detect any citrussy notes which would make the whisky more refreshing.

After giving the whisky some time to breathe it gets somewhat more balanced and friendlier, some nice spices shine through, with just the right amount of wood. It just doesn’t shed its new-make-and-wood finish.

Adding water added even more balance to the nose, and that’s definitively all right. The palate however got even more simple. Fatty wood and slightly bitter. I’m glad most people like this, because Raymond deserves his success with this own distillation of Bladnoch since the take over. This unfortunately just wasn’t for me. But I’ll find me another one…

Points: 77

By the way the Beltie label should mean this was from Bourbon Barrels. (The Sheep label was used for Hogsheads). Sometimes, both labels were used for Sherry Butts though.

May 25, 2015 [UPDATE]. Now that the bottle is almost empty I feel I have to add something to my additional review. Reading back my notes, the nose is pretty much the same, but I feel the taste has changed, or maybe I have changed. The taste is more balanced, still buttery, but sweet and better integrated. The new make is no longer there. Fresh oak, giving spice and grass. Quite a transformation when it got a long time to breathe. Hurray! First time around it wasn’t for me, and I tried to sell it, but nobody wanted it. I’m happy I still have it. It came ’round nicely. With water the grass and spice got even better and a honeyed note enters the fold, Nice!

New score: 83