Ballantine's 17 Years Review

Country: Scotland
Brand: Ballantine’s
Type: Blended Whisky
Age: 17 Years
ABV: 43%

Colour: Bright Gold

Nose: First of all I must advise you to let the whisky open up in the glass for at least half an hour in order to get rid of most of the wafts of alcohol. If you don’t do that it will be difficult to nose anything besides alcohol, wood and grain. By the way, the alcohol comes mainly from the grain whiskies that form 60 to 70 percent of any blend. But let’s move on. Here’s what I found after letting the blend rest for almost 40 minutes: Wood, Light Peat, Light Smoke and a bit of Leather are the introduction to the nose. This suggests that the blend contains one or more Single Malts from Islay. After a while, the Grain and Malt (think of cold Pancakes) and dried fruits (Raisins) arrive.

In the back I detect a bit of Vanilla and Lemon and some other fruit. Could be green Apples or green Grapes. Almost 1 hour after having opened the bottle, I nosed again and this time I found Raisins soaked in some sweet fortified wine like Madeira or Banyuls from the South of France near the Spanish border. From the above you can see that there is enough variety to be found but it comes in waves rather than forming a well-balanced nosing profile. It’s also difficult to get rid of the raw alcohol that keeps popping up from time to time even after 30 minutes or so of nosing.

Taste: The delivery is smooth with Wood, Spices (White Pepper and Cinnamon), some Milk Chocolate and a touch of Smoke and Leather.

Finish: Middle Long and Medium Sweet. Bit of Honey, Spices and Chocolate.

Rating: 85

Nose: 22 – Taste: 21 – Finish: 21 – Overall: 21

General Remarks: This blend was created for the first time in 1930. Today it’s the oldest blended whisky still in the market and it is said to contain over 50 different malt - and grain whiskies. Key components of the blend are the Single Malts Glenburgie and Miltonduff. But Ballantine’s owner, the French Pernod-Ricard Group, also possesses Aberlour, The Glenlivet, Glendronach, Strathisla, Longmorn, Scapa and Tormore. So we might suspect at least some of them to be part of this blend.

The bottling at 43% allows you to experiment with a bit of water. I added half a teaspoon of still water and found that it accentuates the sweetness of the grain on the nose. It’s not very hard to think of a plate full of cold Pancakes with some Honey. It also reveals additional delicate tones of Smoke and Lemon. On the palate the blend becomes even smoother with some Ginger appearing next to the Milk Chocolate.
I do advise you to try this blend both with and without water. 

Drinking Experience Neat: Good

Conclusion: This Blend was elected best whisky in the world by leading whisky writer Jim Murray in his 2011 edition of his Whisky Bible. I simply can’t agree with that. The Ballantine’s 17 Years is a very decent but expensive blend. There are better and less expensive alternatives available in the market, both  blends and Single Malts. Still, the 17 Years is a big step up from both the 12 Years and The Finest!

There are a lot of things happening in this blend and I do identify quite a few interesting components. But I also feel the blenders may have overplayed their hand a bit here. You can use a lot of excellent material to build a road. But in the end it’s important that the road goes somewhere. Somehow I felt a bit lost sometimes when tasting this whisky.

As an alternative try out Single Malts like The Balvenie Double Wood 12 Y or the BenRiach 16 Y. Less complicated but better balanced.

Jan van den Ende                                                             December 1, 2011

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