My Dewars vs. Johnnie Walker Red post was so popular, I reprised with the Irish titans, Bushmills vs. Jameson. Today, it’s Ballantine’s 12 vs. the venerable (and titanic) Johnnie Walker Black, another 12-year old blend.
The Ballantine’s story
So, who are behind Ballantine’s? George, the namesake, started his distillery in 1827, and gained some recognition in 1895 with a royal warrant. Ballantine’s Finest was developed in 1910. Their main expression, it sells 200,000 bottles a day according to their site. Assuming a 700 ml bottle, that’s 51 million liters a year! Prodigious. In 1959, they came up with the 12-year expression which is the subject of this review.
I first encountered Edradour whisky at The Ship Inn, located on the water in a little town called Stonehaven. Stonehaven is just north of Dunnottar Castle on the east coast of Scotland. The Ship Inn had a hefty book full of single malts to try and I liked their description of the Edradour 10-year. You can read the description in the photo below. It was a good dram, and I was pleased to find when I returned to the US I could find a 10-year ‘Distillery Edition’ in my state. I do not know if it is the same expression as I had at the Ship inn, as that might have been their cask-strength version, which is also 10-year aged (and non-chill-filtered).
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Today we battle it out with two titans of Irish whisky: Bushmills white label and Jameson Irish. Both being blends they are made from grain whisky (made from any cereal grain, often maize, in a column still) and pot still whisky. To be called ‘pot still’ whisky, the formal rule states (quoted from an excellent article here from Pernod Ricard):
The Irish Whiskey Technical File lists that Irish Pot Still Whiskey must be made from a mash which contains a minimum of 30% malted barley and a minimum of 30% unmalted barley, with up to 5% of other cereals such as oats and rye added if required.
Note the use of unmalted barley, which differentiates Irish from Scotch whisky. Other rules state that the aging must be at least 3 years in oak. Like most Irish whiskies, the pot still component of both are triple distilled. The law states for a blend it must be “a mixture of any two or more of the styles of malt, pot still, and grain whiskey” (source whiskyadvocate).
It’s been a long time since I reviewed my old fave Bunna 12, and since then they have revamped the packaging, making it a good choice for the 50th review. The new packaging introduces a new style, new palette and a new Bunna captain as well.
Of the whisky inside, the features remain the same: 46.3% ABV, natural color, non-chill-filtered, “Double Matured in Ex Bourbon and Ex Sherry Casks.” What does that mean? The folks at Distell tell me Bunnahabhain “is made using 70% sherry casks with 30% bourbon casks, these casks are married (mixed) together in a vatting.” In this case, both sherry and bourbon casks will have been aged for at least 12 years. This is contrast to other part-bourbon, part-sherry offerings, like Glenmorangie’s Lasanta, where they start in bourbon casks and move to sherry for a final (shorter) maturation. So, Bunna is not actually ‘double matured,’ but the Bunnahabhain approach should result in a richer, more sherry-influenced profile.