It’s not often I get the chance to review two (!) WhiskySponge release while they’re still available. The Jura 27 Years, which is a vatting of a 1991 refill barrel and a 1994 refill hogshead. And then also a Balmenach 1988 33 Years from a refill hogshead as well.
Neither distillery is likely to make any whisky enthusiast’s heart skip a beat. Balmenach simply because it is so obscure, it doesn’t really have a reputation. And Jura isn’t obscure at all, but is rather lacking in the reputation department. Although people are starting to come around somewhat, mostly because of a few independent releases from the early 1990s, much like this WhiskySponge release.
But first, Balmenach, a distillery that produces a traditional, weighty new make with the help of small stills, quick distillation and worm tubs. Popular with blenders, so unlikely to show up as a single malt often.
Balmenach 1988 33 Years (50%, WhiskySponge, 211 bts.)
Nose: Yellow and green fruits, like quinces, pear skin and overripe apples. Even some lime. But it’s the subtle notes of hay, porridge, honey, beeswax and wet pebbles that really stand out. Just a whiff of plaster too. Taste: The waxiness and oily profile totally translate to the palate, but with just the tiniest pinch of pepper. Notes of ripe bananas, golden syrup and chalk too. A touch of sage, followed by a bitter leafiness. Finish: Slightly drying with herbacious and medicinal notes.
I used to associate a waxy profile like this with the 1960s or maybe 1970s (and Clynelish). But it might just be an age thing as well. More and more these 30+ year old releases from the 1980s seem to fit the bill as well.
Jura 1991 + 1994 27 Years (52.1%, WhiskySponge, 334 bts.)
Nose: Similar waxy and old school style as the Balmenach, but with some notes of aniseed, minerals and walnut skin as well. A whisper of rapeseed oil, tinned peaches and some lemon zest too, but otherwise I find this one hard to pin down. Lovely traditional profile though. Taste: Warming and fatty, the mouthfeel is top notch. A whisper of resin, but also bandaids, mint, cumin and orris root, as well as more walnuts and a mild spiciness. Then some chalk, straw and a whisper of beeswax too. Totally awesome and singular. Finish: Wool, a few drops of cough syrup and a touch of citrus, dry oak and cocoa powder.
Peculiar yet so impressive. It's quite a deviation from the norm, so I'm sure this won't appeal to all Scotch whisky drinkers, but anyone with an adventurous streak will appreciate this for sure.
What the Jura 27 Years and Balmenach 1988 33 Years by WhiskySponge have in common is that they both represent an almost lost style of whisky. Not because they’re three decades old, but because their flavour profiles are so traditional and almost uncommon nowadays.
However, these whiskies aren’t similar. Far from it. The Jura 27 Years is more medicinal and coastal, while the Balmenach is certainly more of a traditional old-style Speysider, albeit with some interesting minerality and herbal notes. Both are still available here.