Review: Ballantine’s Hard Fired Blended Scotch Whisky

let’s begin

Ballantine’s is a brand with a long and impressive history.

They have been around since way back in 1827 when George Ballantine set up a grocery store in Edinburgh and would supply Whisky to his customers.

It was later past through the Ballantine line and the Hindu Royal Family even became one of their favourite consumers.

The Ballantine’s continued to thrive in the Whisky business until 1919 when they decided to move on, and the brand was sold to Barclay and McKinley.

It was past through a few more companies until it came to rest in the very capable hands of Pernod Ricard.

Throughout all this time the brand remained popular and in 1986 was named Europe’s No. 1 Scotch blend.  It remains under that title and has even gone on to claim the title of No. 2 Scotch Blend in the world, second only to the unmovable Johnnie Walker.

“Set to appeal to whisky drinkers who seek that bit of authenticity and craft from scotch”

People want new experiences but with a Scotch whisky provenance. We are the biggest scotch whisky on Europe so we felt it was right to try here, not Asia, then may go to Latin America.

Produced using a bespoke hard fired process for a totally new process – second charring hard firing casks to release vanilla notes with hints of smoke and spices.

“Transformative power of fire”

Unlocks flavours and dimensions they haven’t had before. Sees it as craft and artisanal product, not an industrious process.

Not peaty, this has a smoke about it. Like a bonfire the next morning as the embers were fading. Found problems when charring so took freshly dumped casks, emptied within 48 hours then taken to the cooperage to char in the cooperage to instill more smoke that before. The quickness of the charring post-dump was crucial, that and sampling them every two weeks to ensure they were spot on.

This is a finish, effectively, applied to a new bespoke blend, not Finest. All pilot blends have been different. Interesting journey to get the right character and vanilla, smooth notes we were looking for. The spirit have been in the cask for less than nine months.

Ballantine’s have released their new expression called Hard Fired in a nod towards the use of fire to bring out the natural flavours of the oak and to enrich the Whisky with a smoky depth.

Most barrels used to infuse smoke into Whisky are charred once and scaled according to just how charred they are.

The barrels used for this expression are charred twice, or technically, “hard fired”, unleashing the hounds of flavour into the liquid and giving a boost to the already smoky nature of the dram.

When a barrel is charred once, a caramelised layer of oak forms and charring it a second time only increases the effect.

The results are wonderful, with an intense sweet and smoky flavour that is full of rich oak notes.

Take a whiff of this stuff and you are met with juicy fruits and summer berries.  Pears and tangy clementines make their way to the fore with the underlying wisps of smoke peaking through and mixing with the sweetness.

There is also a creamy caramel flavour that surely has its roots deep in the oak barrel.  It is thick and smothers the fruits to create the perfect blend of tangy sweetness.

This is only intensified on the palate, with a dose more fruits that are bursting with flavour.

Apples and pear become more pronounced, with a slight floral and honeyed note to their sweetness.  The oak becomes sumptuous vanilla pods that have a slight cinnamon warmth.

The mouth feel is smooth and crisp, with a real depth and luxuriousness to it.

Underneath it all is of course the dense smoke of the hard fired barrels.  This smoke curls round the fruit and caramel, not overwhelming it, but giving it a subtle backdrop to bounce off.

The taste is fantastic and it is no wonder Ballantine’s is Europe’s No.1.

The finish is long and has a good kick of sweetness at the end.  Again, the vanilla oak is present and it wonderfully offset by the tang of the smoke.

Hard Fired is a fantastic dram and brings excitement to Ballantine’s already impressive range.  Has been available in Poland and France since November 2015, the rest of the world only has to wait until March 2016 to get their hands on a bottle.

Tags: Ballantine'sBarrelsDrinkWireFeaturedHard Firedindu Royal Familyoaksweet and smoky flavour


My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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