The 1983 tasting continues! Thanks to everyone who came for the first installment. I’ll be trying to publish these on Fridays or Saturdays, depending on scheduling.
This week we’re looking at Banff. If I’ve discussed whisky with you and we’ve drifted to the subject of closed distilleries, I have inevitably discussed this one with a little more intensity. Banff was my first “drink your age” whisky a couple years back, and I was blown away at the time by the really gentle buttercream vanilla notes on that particular bottle, as well as the wonderful, relaxed nose. Perhaps that bottle would pale with my malt experience since then, but that’s a discussion for a different time.
Over the last couple years in the wake of that tasting, I semi-quietly went on a Banff buying spree – up until recently they were an incredible mix of availability and value for a 1983 distillery. Banff didn’t have the lofty reputation of Port Ellen or Brora (and it can be an unusual if not polarizing whisky), but I liked the ones I’d had, so I thought I would capitalize on the opportunity.
Fast-forward a few years and now Banff is starting to command loftier prices and is a little less common. It’s still one of the most reasonably priced of the ’83s, though I suspect in the next two years, that will cease to be the case.
Banff marks the first regional shift in this tasting. We started with St. Magdalene, the sole Lowland representative; Banff is first of a set of Highland distilleries. Banff has a relatively colorful history, and almost feels like the Swamp Castle in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, plagued through its history by fires and rebuilding. The first was in 1877 when a fire damaged a large portion of the distillery requiring an extensive rebuild, which took several months.
The most notable incident happened in 1941, a warehouse was bombed by a German aircraft. This article (page 9 of the linked PDF) has a really amazing eyewitness account -
The fires (two 100kg. bombs had been dropped) spread rapidly and a rivulet of burning whisky flowed through the fallen walls and into the stream. Being lighter than water, the flaming spirit spread across the width and was carried by the flow downstream. The burning river continued out of sight behind the peat store where a steeper gradient caused turbulence which extinguished the flames.
… they had saved twelve barrels out of three hundred.
Next day the Regimental Sergeant Major, the scourge of the troops, supervised an equipment inspection including water bottles. This resulted in several non-commissioned officers being reduced to the ranks and many squaddies being confined to barracks for fourteen days.
Jock Crystal reported that his ducks were drunk, and that some of the Old Manse cows were [unable to stand up].
That alone would be a colorful enough past, but in 1959 during maintenance on one of the stills, a spark caused an explosion that damaged the distillery and required repairs. Fortunately no one was killed in that accident.
Banff was closed in 1983 (as all of these were) and the still house has been demolished; as almost a tragicomic grace note to its history, in 1991 one of the warehouses was destroyed in a fire. Banff is certainly in the category of “lost distilleries” – any new distillery to bear the name would be built from the ground up with no usable equipment from the original.
Interestingly (and somewhat in response to the question around St. Magdalene), Banff did practice triple distillation for a while, though the process ended in the 1920s.
Enough history for now: what about the whisky?
This bottle of Banff is from K&L’s 2011 bumper crop of exclusive bottles and was one of the stars of that productive trip (though eclipsed by the Ladyburn which sold out way before it arrived, as well as the Chieftain’s exclusive Brora from the same trip). This bottle is part of the Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare series, which I’ve had multiple bottles from and can’t think of a single one that I haven’t enjoyed. Alongside Signatory’s cask strength decanters, I’m usually willing to give the Rarest of the Rare a chance if I haven’t seen reviews for a bottle.
This was distilled in November 1975 and bottled in May 2011; cask 3353, at 45.2%. Interestingly a sister cask was released in the summer of 2001 – 3352 – as a UK release.
The nose on this Banff is initially sweet, with some malty notes and a touch of honey. There’s an overall dusting of white pepper and some wood in the background.
It’s got a nice mouthfeel, that bigger, slightly oily kind of whisky. It leads with a fair dose of wood, and has some flintiness to it that’s not unlike older whiskies I’ve had (in terms of distillation date, not time in wood). It’s slightly mineral which just adds a nice dimension. Some of the sweetness of the nose comes through; faint dried oranges and apples. It’s big and bold overall, and the wood creeps up with time.
The finish is warm and with plenty of white pepper; the minerality and a little malt comes along.
It’s a big, bold whisky that hits the spot for me. It’s really enjoyable, and the minerality harkens back to an earlier style of whisky.
This will not be the last time Banff is covered in depth here. As I mentioned, I acquired several bottles. At some point in the future (timing still to be determined), I will go through those as part of a project to do a deeper dive on Banff’s output.
At a glance:
Banff 1975 – Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare, K&L Exclusive Cask #3353
Distilled 11-1975, Bottled 5-2001 45.2% ABV
Nose: Sweet initially with some malty notes and a touch of honey; white pepper all over, a little wood.
Palate: Nice mouthfeel, leads with a fair dose of wood. Some old-style flintiness to this one, mineral. A little sweet – a faint hint of dried orange and apple. Big and bold. Leans a touch bitter with time.
Finish: Warm with white pepper, again a slight hint of minerality.
Comment: Quite big and bold. Really enjoyable. The mineral notes remind me of older (distillation date, not age) malts.