The whisky world went atwitter over Jim Murray’s choice of Ballentine’s 17-years-old as his No. 1. whisky in the world, in the 2011 Whisky Bible. Of all the fine brown spirits on the market, Murray selected a 17-year blend from a distiller better known for it’s workmanlike, daily-drink blends.
Michigan has a robust liquor control commission. On my last visit to my favorite reseller of fine spirits, the proprietor noted that he snagged three of the fewer than 50 bottles that were admitted into the state in the last reporting period. Telling me it compared favorably to the Macallan 30-year — and leaving me with an upturned eyebrow, given that Macallan’s retails at more than $1,100 per bottle compared to Ballentine’s $84 — I nevertheless took a chance and picked up a bottle.
Initial impression: I’m very glad that I bought the Ballentine’s. And I’m also sad, knowing that the bar for fine Scotch has now been set very high and anything that comes after will always be tinged with mild disappointment.
Put differently: I agree with Murray.
The Ballentine’s 17-years-old is a blend from all the major regions of Scotland. It has an inviting nose — robust but slightly sweet, with a hint of smoke. The blend is exceptionally smooth and goes down like butter, but it displays a rich flavor with a good mix of peat and malty freshness, with a strong hint of honey. The magic of this Scotch is that it combines a smooth initial taste with a rich body without diminishing either. The finish is complex — it lingers, but ends with a sweet note reminiscent of vanilla or nutmeg.
If you have the chance to sample this fine Scotch — do so. Without reservation.