Ballantine's 12 Year Old Very Old Scotch Whisky

Tuesday, February 07, 2017


We’re stepping back in time with this Ballantine’s 12-year-old Scotch whisky that is from a bygone decade.

Immediately I guess some will be asking which decade? That’s part of the mystery folks as this is an Italian export bottling that you can see from the tax seal across the bottle stopper. You can use these to date bottles to a certain extent as its quite surprising how little documentation exists in the public domain about bottles, labels and batches. As an important destination, Italy is now a major resource for all sorts of old bottlings and has its fair share of determined and enthusiastic collectors.

Those glorious White Horse releases are ideal as generally they tend to say the date of bottling on the label. Unfortunately, they are a rare exception so you’re left to use what clues a bottle offers to pin things down more thoroughly. We know from history the original Italian tax seals involved wire and a small metallic label, almost a medal of sorts to signify tax acceptance. These were phased out in (I’ll admit I’ve forgotten but I’ll reconfirm) the tail end of the 1950’s? We then moved onto the paper tax seal which is what we have here. Simple isn’t it?

Perhaps not, as you’ll note the label also confirms the size of the bottling. The older style would say something like ‘da litri ¾’ which is what we have here. Later seals will actually tend to say ‘litri 0.750’ and this follows the modern day CL measurement. These litri examples started to come onto the market mostly in the early 1980’s. As with most things in life it’s not that straightforward as tax inspectors have been known to apply whatever tax seal they had to hand and some of these older seals were wrongly applied.

It pays therefore to double check other clues and this is where the bottle labels come into play. At first glance the Ballantine’s 12-year-old bottlings from the 1970’s and 1980’s are identical. Yes, they are the same shape but look more closely and subtle changes have been made. For instance, on the reverse the glass is embossed with Ballantine’s above the rear label. This level of detail was dispensed with in later releases. This points towards our bottling being from the 1970’s.

There are additional clues on the front of the bottle with the neck label often being the most changed of all labels across the industry. Ballantine’s in the 1980’s used this label to confirm the By Appointment to the Late Queen Victoria and King Edward VII placing great importance on the royal connection. The 1970’s release actually has this statement on the main front label, instead preferring to state on the neck that it is a Very Fine Aged Scotch Whisky Bottled in Scotland. Again this points to the 1970’s for our example.


Arguably the most visible indicator on closer inspection is the crest shown on the front of the bottle. You can see the 2 different flags utilised on the bottle photographed, whilst for the 1980’s Ballantine’s decided the Scottish saltire would appear as both flags. Why isn’t for us to question here, but it again leads us to confirm the decade of this bottling. An actual more precise date would be difficult without access to the company archives and this would still be dependent on what level of information they contained.

The motto of the story is to look closely and do your research and small little details can prove to be the difference. In these times of fakes and many refusing to acknowledge their existence you as the buyer should always be aware.

The ultimate test could be to open two bottlings and compare however we don’t have that luxury here. Instead we’ll just crack open this 1970’s Ballantine’s and see what the decade offered. From experience older blends from not too long ago offered more malt content compared to today’s examples which rely more heavily on grain and younger whiskies in general.

Colour: a light sand
Nose: very light and fragrant, bringing back memories of the Balblair 5-year-old, candy floss, a gentle caramel and pencil shavings. Tablet and a hint of smoke and gently roasted coffee beans.
Taste: that hint of smoke comes through along with more sugary sweetness with golden syrup and resin. A little pepper and a touch of clove with a butterscotch finish.

Overall: a very enjoyable blended Scotch with plenty of characteristics and lasting flavours to enjoy.

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