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Balmenach (pronounced: bal-MEN-ak) is a distillery that is hopefully set to make a return to the whisky scene in an official form of some sort. It was bought by Inver House (who have done great work with Balblair, Old Pulteney and An Cnoc) from Diageo in 1997 and production has been continuous since 1998, so hopefully they will soon do an official bottling. Having said that it may not resemble the old Balmenach that closely if they have made many changes in the production process. Balmenach has been something of an unloved malt through the years, quietly chugging away to fill the blenders needs, but there are many fine bottlings of it to be found and it is well worth investigating.
Stills: 3 Wash 3 Spirit
Water Source: Balmenach Burn
Capacity: 2 Million Litres
Owners: Inver House (Pacific Spirits)
1960-Present: Quiet but Dirty.
Balmenach was expanded in 1962 and went from four to six stills, all of which were simultaneously converted to mechanical stoking. They would be further converted to internal steam heating in 1970. All condensing was done by worm tubs, which remain in use at the distillery to this day thankfully. In 1964 there was also a device called a Saladin Box installed. This was a method of processing and drying malted barley in a kind of continuous heat-treated trough, it would remain in use until the mid eighties. Balmenach was also filled into a high proportion of top quality sherry casks, which is why many people associate this as a predominantly sherried malt.
All these factors combined to make Balmenach quite an oily, meaty and robust whisky, often with slightly dirty and earthy characteristics to its make. Certainly worm tubs combined with sherry wood still have that effect on whisky today. Many independent bottlings of Balmenach are available and show this quite bold and chewy profile very well. The intensity and the richness of the distillate diminished throughout the seventies after the steam heating was installed and production levels rose but its basic character remains today thanks to a continued dependence on worm tubs.
Bourbon and refill wood matured examples reveal a more oily and fruity spirit with often quite thick sweet notes, a robust spiciness and some mashy, cereal characteristics as well. While not all bottlings of Balmenach have been of high quality through the years and it has struggled with consistency on occasions, there are still many fine examples of this more old style meaty speysider to be found. Lets hope that Inver House have done a good job with the production since 1998 and that the new Balmenachs of the future will be as good as they have been so often in the past.