Ballentine’s 17 Year old


Score: 88/100
ABV: 43%
Region: Scotland
Body: Medium  
Best served:
Theme(s): Citrus, zest, pepper, honey, cocoa, oak
Likes: Sharp citrus and cocoa with a spice attack 

Dislikes: Taste skewed to bitter side 
Price: $85

Do I sit here in the midst of greatness? According to whisky writer Jim Murray, I am pouring into my glass the best blended Scotch whisky in the world. In his Whisky Bible 2011 he declared this to be the finest whisky in the world, in Whisky Bible 2012 it is listed as the finest scotch blend in the world while in the 2013 Whisky Bible it is described as Scotch Whisky of the Year! This whisky is excellent. It was one of the first whiskies I reviewed on my blog, but as the number of whiskies I have reviewed swelled to the hundreds, I have decided to re-review this whisky with this context. I can now say that this whisky is excellent, becuase it has subtle layers of complexity and a thoroughly enjoyable theme of sharp citrus and cocoa slicing through oak as spice and pepper explode in bursts. It is not, in my opinion, out of this world… 
Ballentine’s is the second highest selling Scotch in the world. It is a massive producer of blended whisky, with 50 or so single malts being used to develop the Ballentine’s flavour; a flavour that is crafted by master blenders. In my review of Johnnie Walker Blue, I made the point that blends offer something that single malts (and in particular, single cask whiskies) cannot: engineering. Sure, a distillery can blend its casks to produce a desired flavour but this does not compare to the massive resources available to the blenders at Ballentine’s which likely include a massive selection of casks from distilleries of varying character and blended by some of the best talent in the business (it would be sensible to assume that Ballentine’s would employ some of the best talent). This is like letting a master chef loose in a supermarket. Expect magical results! The problem, though, is that sometimes a recipe does not work out. Is Ballentine’s the magical blend I have been waiting for? No, but it is very good!  
Ballentine’s 17 Year Old – Tasting Notes 

This blended whisky is excellent. I had initially tried a sample which did not gel with me, but on tasting the contents over a bottle it is easy to see what Jim Murray sees in this whisky. It is subtly complex with many different layers; though these layers are difficult to peel away and can be overlooked by most people who are not searching carefully. It may also be that some layers are simply not significant enough to be noticed, and, in reality, this means that a whisky with layers that cannot be easily noticed is frustratingly stubborn and poor company to keep! 

Each time I nose this whisky, it is absolutely stunning. It is subtle and soft, releasing the sweetness of honey and the freshness of citrus fruits – first orange, then lemon, then zest and finally the tang of lime. 
A big burst cocoa and oak bring bitterness to the citrus fruits identified on the nose, as bursts of spice spark in a foundation of orange cake smothered with marmalade. The character then lingers on the tongue as a gentle buzz of licorice tickles the tongue. The nose might be out of this world, but the taste of this whisky brings it down to earth. I found it was far too bitter and sharp, and this flooded the sweetness that I was expecting after nosing this whisky.  
The finish on this whisky is decent, but it retreats quite quickly after the burst of bitterness evapourates from the base of the tongue; leaving some sparks of pepper and zest. 

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