While on a joint-family vacation in the Okanagan for a week, my buddy Richard and I both had the unsurprising yet brilliant idea to bring a whisky to share. Surprisingly, however, neither of us selected a scotch or a Canadian whisky. I chose to bring Booker’s Bourbon, while my friend brought a bottle of Kirin Japanese whisky. Japanese whiskies are quite rare in the bottle shops where I live, and I’ve never seen Kirin before, but Richard had just recently returned from spending a year in his wife’s homeland of South Korea and had visited some of her relatives in Japan. Smart guy that he is, of course he grabbed something I wouldn’t have had a chance to try before. The information on the bottle was written almost entirely in Japanese characters, except for “Non-chill Filtered”, so we couldn’t figure out much except that this whisky is bottled at 50% abv.
My poor photography skills don’t show the true pale-straw colour of this dram. The nose was somehow vaguely familiar and I immediately identified it as a blended whisky by the distinct grainy-floral aroma that also offered a little vanilla and some orchard fruits. A bourbon-like character arrives after the dram breaths a bit. On the palate, Kirin whisky once again seemed familiar, reminding me a bit of a Johnny Walker Green Label… maybe… but perhaps just the Red Label. It’s pleasant enough, and quite easy-drinking, but not at all complex – some green apples, a hint of caramel and maybe a little oaky vanillins on the back end. Once again, slightly bourbony, so I expect American oak is involved in casking. The finish was short but fairly smooth, with a bit more oak and a slight twist of orange zest. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to give Kirin a try, even though it was somewhat uninspiring.
I’ve had a few of the Ballentine’s whiskies in my day, including the 18 and 21 year old blends, but none of them ever really grabbed my attention. Ballentine’s Finest is the flagship expression and one that I remember my father-in-law often having around before I helped him on his way toward single malt snobbery. I don’t think I have ever bought this whisky for myself but this particular bottle was a Christmas-time gesture from the family of one of the hockey players I coach. I’m certainly not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and I was impressed that they had gone out of their way to find out my preference for the uisge beatha. This dram is bottled at 40% abv.
To the Eye
Pale gold with flashes of brighter yellow. Skinny legs rapidly drop down the sides of my glass.
In the Nose
Surprisingly… almost non-existent. For a second I thought that perhaps an Ardbeg I’d enjoyed a couple nights earlier might have fried my olfactory senses! Ballentines has very very little offer on the nose. It smells whisky-ish but everything is so faint and subtle that I really can’t pick out any individual aromas. The empty glass was always full of caramel and vanilla but shouldn’t a full glass possess the superior nose?
On the Tongue
Quite smooth but a rather single-note profile. During each tasting session, I chewed and chewed on this one but wasn’t able to tease much out for my tasting notes… Slightly sweet, a little vanilla, a little oak, maybe a hint of charcoal. The finish is medium short, a bit longer than I expected, actually, with a slow smoulder of alcohol and a few lingering baking spices.
Ballentine’s Finest is not an undrinkable whisky but it is the least scotch-like scotch I have ever had – it actually reminds me more of a mass-produced, run of the mill rye mixer. This whisky tastes more like the ones I was drinking 15-20 years ago and I can see it working better with a splash of soda or ginger ale in a rocks glass than it does neat from a Glencairn. But that’s not why I buy scotch, so the only way another bottle of this dram ends up in my cabinet is if I get another one as a gift.