The road up the east coast of Scotland from Inverness is slow but delightful, and it takes you past some of Scotland's finest distilleries, including Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Clynelish and Pulteney, as well as Balblair, which has become one of the region's best. It's situated on the edge of the Dornoch Firth in a section of Scotland noted for its pure air—a timeless and remote area that has changed little over the years. The whisky this distillery previously produced was light, sweet and, in its younger guises, not particularly exciting.
But Balblair is a whisky on the move, and it has been relaunched to impressive effect. The traditional versions have been replaced by three vintages—one from 1979, one from 1989 and one from 1997. Each of these releases intrigues, but the Balblair 1989 is arguably the best. This whisky roars where it once purred, snaps where it once nuzzled. Perhaps the distillery is using better casks, because there is now a rich orange-and-malt heart to it and just enough spice and smoke to achieve a gravitas that the previous versions lacked.
Balblair is a distillery to watch—its latest whiskies have every right to be treated with the same respect as those from Glenmorangie, its neighbor to the south. It's a joy to witness a malt coming into its own.