Bladnoch is a troubled whisky, from a troubled distillery. If memory serves it was bound for demolishment when it was sold by Diageo to Raymond Armstrong, who then tried to revive it but had to go through lots of legal hoops with the previous owner. Then it closed down some 15 years later because of personal reasons in the Armstrong family, only to be bought by an Australian investor who planned to use the whisky for blending. Eventually single malts reappeared at eyebrow-raising-prices.
Then the spirit itself. It’s not without its problems. In many ways it’s inconsistent with buttery off-notes, ranging from a strange creaminess to sometimes plain old baby vomit. Other times, the stuff was simply insanely interesting and even very good.
I wanted to do this bottle-share to see where things stand now. I hadn’t had any Bladnoch since the club-bottling-selection for the Usquebaugh Society’s 25th anniversary, over five years ago.
What also triggered me is to find out where it stands in times of ‘technically’ supreme spirit, with no technical flaws, but also no interesting outliers (both positive and negative). Bladnoch is something unique in the world of whisky, and something that should be celebrated. Or at least, that’s what I’m trying to find out.
The four whiskies I got for this bottle share are the following:
- Bladnoch 10, Bourbon Cask Edition, Celebrating 200 Years, 46.7%
- Bladnoch 12, Sherry Matured, Sheep Label (bottled around 2008?), 55%
- Bladnoch 15, 2005-2020, Manzanilla Cask, 51.5%
- Bladncoh 27, 1990-2017, Bourbon cask, ALOS, 49.4%
I picked these for because I found the sherry and bourbon casks interesting, and they were available at shops which I consider ‘friendly local bottle shops’, although local means ‘not a big international seller’. Also, the range of ages, the spread between old OB, new OB and an indie added to me liking this share. It’s a nice spread, so to say.
Tasting notes then!
Bladnoch 10, Bourbon Expression, 46.7%
Slightly funky in a creamy, milky way, with notes of puff pastry. Apples, pears, a hint of vanilla. A slightly meaty note as well.
Quite intense with hints of pepper and oak. Slightly coconutty. Notes of orchard fruits, apples, pears, star fruit. Even though there’s that milky notes, it’s quite crisp, with some leafy herbs.
The finish is very similar to the palate, with less creamy notes, replaced with hessian and straw. Still a bit pastry like.
It’s quite a decent dram, and while it has that slightly strange creaminess that makes Bladnoch stand-out, it doesn’t overdo it. The drawback is that this clocks in at at least € 50, and that’s just too much for what it is.
Bladnoch 12, Sherry Matured (previous owners), Sheep Label, 55%
Light with a slightly earthy background. There’s straw and grass, with some dried fruit added by the sherry cask. Dates, apricots, almonds. There’s a whiff of puff pastry and pastry cream. Slightly buttery, which is an interesting, and typical off-note for Bladnoch.
Very dry and, even though it’s 55%, the arrival isn’t too brutal. It gets a bit hot with the alcohol, but nothing exorbitant. The dryness brings some bitterness too, with almonds and date stones. Fruity, and pastry like, but also slightly buttery and a whiff of weirdness like old books and leather. Strangely, it gets rather blackcurrant like after a while.
The finish is less dry, and more fruity. A bit more clean, so to say. The sherry casks make themselves known with lots of fruit, both forest fruits and dried fruit. Some bitterness remains.
Honestly, I remembered this as being far less interesting, but it’s quite lovely. I might have it mixed up with an eight year old released around the same time (which was atrocious). This one is rather complex and a very enjoyable dram. Quite fierce, but with a nice pay-off in fruits, buts and slightly creamy notes.
It’s currently available for € 100 at some places, and it’s worth that. Especially since it’s pretty old stuff.
Bladnoch 15, 2005-2020, Manzanilla Cask, 51.5%
Lots of barley and oak, with sherry behind it. Creamy with apricots, clove and cinnamon. A slight whiff of coastal salinity.
Quite dry on arrival, with some chili heat. Surprisingly fruity, with apricots, peaches and baking spices. Cinnamon, clove, black pepper.
The finish lives up with, again, a great combination of fruit and spices. A hint of salinity goes well with the apricots and peaches, and the black pepper. Not a very long finish though.
A very recent bottling that only showed up in The Netherlands last week, so distilled by the previous owner, but bottled by the current guys in charge. Again, a nice and fruity dram backed up with some creamy notes, with barley and a hint of oak. The finish was fairly short, which is a bummer.
What is also a bummer is that this stuff sets you back € 170, and as with the 10 years old, that’s just too much. A 15 year old whisky, from a distillery that has yet to make name shouldn’t be this expensive.
Bladnoch 27, 1990-2017, Bourbon cask, Antique Lions of Spirits, 49.4%
Very gentle on the nose with all timids notes. Oak, barley, lemon balm, corky apples, pastry cream. Very light, floral and grassy. Very Lowlands-y.
Again, very timid and typical Lowlands flavors. Straw, dried meadow flowers, dandelion, buttercups, poppies. Also black pepper, barley ears, dryness.
The finish continues on this timid road. Lots of barley and oak, lots of straw, some dried flowers.
A bit too old and therefore the cask seems to have taken over. What’s interesting is that I don’t find too many of the buttery notes in here.
In a way this whisky covers a lot of Bladnoch, distilled by Owner A, largely matured by Owner B, and then bottled fairly recently, when Owner C was running the place. Of course, it’s bottled by an independent bottler, so that’s not entirely accurate, but still. Never let technicalitiies stand in the way of fun trivia like this.
ALOS is an expensive bottlers, with an insanely high reputation, but as with last week’s Springbank, I’m not convinced yet. Keep in mind that this stuff sets you back some € 225… Solid whisky, don’t get me wrong, but I think there are more enjoyable drinks to be had for significantly less money.
So that’s that. Four rather different Bladnochs, all getting to comparable levels of enjoyment. I didn’t find any that were as shit as some were back in the day. Luckily.
The biggest drawback is the price point at which they come in. I think the changes of ownership haven’t helped in many ways. These kind of shenanigans often push up the price since the seller wants money in the bank and the buyer wants to earn their money back.
Also, even though it might lead to inconsistent results, I would prefer Bladnoch to be more unique and diverse, and unpredictable. There are almost no distilleries left that vary so wildly, and in my book, variations like this indicate an old fashioned distillery, that’s not swayed by modern genericness.
Having said all this, I’ll gladly finish all of these whiskies and thoroughly enjoy them. But after that it might just be another five years before revisiting Bladnoch again. Although, I could always plan a trip to that part of Scotland!