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Old Ballantruan is a heavily peated single malt produced at Tomintoul distillery in the famous Speyside-Glenlivet area. Post-war Britain was a country deep in debt and the Government saw whisky as an exportable product that would bring in much needed income so the rationing of barley supplies was promptly terminated and distillers were encouraged to produce as much spirit as they possibly could. Old distilleries re-opened and by the 1960’s new ones were being commissioned, among them Tomintoul, born of a partnership between whisky broker Hay & Macleod and W. & S. Strong.
For 12 months the two firms searched the Speyside region looking for a good quality water source before finally discovering a spring that flowed from Cairn Ballantruan, a 1496 foot summit in the Ladder Hills. A site was chosen within the Glenlivet Estate, near the village of Tomintoul, and the new distillery was up and running by 1965.
The founder’s chose their location well. The Livet Glen had a rich history of whisky production dating back hundreds of years with as many as 200 stills said to be operating in the area in the 1700’s. In 1797 the local minister of Tomintoul wrote “Tomintoul is inhabited by 37 families, without any industry. All of them sell whisky and all of them drink it.” Sounds like my kind of place.
The Tomintoul village is said to be the highest in the Highlands, and the countryside around the distillery is both beautiful and abundant with wildlife, housing Golden Eagles, Mountain Hares, Wild Cats, Pine Martens, Red Squirrels, Water Voles and Otters to name but a few. When the barley truck arrives, the distillery is invaded by Pheasants, hoping to help themselves to any discarded grains.
As so many distilleries do, Tomintoul changed hands over the years, becoming part of Whyte & Mackay in 1973 only for them to sell it on in 2000 to the Hillman-family owned Angus Dundee Distillers. The new owners wanted to diversify the distillery’s output and began to produce a limited quantity of heavily peated spirit, unheard of in the region at that time.
In 2005 this peated whisky was bottled as Old Ballantruan, a name borrowed from the same water source the founder’s tried so hard to find almost 40 years earlier. 2012 saw the release of a ten year old version, followed by a 15 year old, six years later. The original no-age-statement version however remains good value, bottled at 50% alcohol by volume and retailing for just £35.
Smell: Vanilla fudge. Lemon & lime. Creamy malt. Oatcakes. Charcoal, tar and ashy smoke.
Taste: Honey. Apple. Barley extract. Liquorice. Oatcakes again. Charred oak and peppery smoke.
Thoughts: £35 is an excellent price for a single malt bottled at 50%, especially when the spirit carries as much character as this. A great alternative for fans of peated whisky.
The standard Tomintoul range veers towards the light and delicate end of the whisky spectrum with even their Peaty Tang bottlings offering only the gentlest kiss of wispy smoke. Peated to an impressive malt specification of 55ppm however, Old Ballantruan is in a different league and the fact it is un-chill-filtered only adds to the fullness of its flavour. Despite the depth of smoke however, peated Speyside whisky offers a very different profile to the famously smoky whisky of Islay for example. There’s no medicinal, maritime character here, instead the smoke is earthy and woody. This is a great dram for the money and it deserves to be appreciated on a larger scale than it currently is. A hidden gem.
*You can buy the whisky reviewed in this article from Master of Malt by clicking here.
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Other excellent retailers are available.
Visit the Old Ballantruan website here.
Visit the Tomintoul website here.