Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 7.6 | Palate: 7.0 | Finish: 5.9 | Overall Score: 6.8
This is the part where I write about how Balvenie is a super solid distillery and how David Stewart is arguably one of the best whisky makers the industry has ever seen. And that I have yet to meet a Balvenie that I didn’t like. I mean, I may like some less than others but never truly disliked one, per se.
OK, maybe dislike is a strong word. How about meh? Yup, I like meh.
But wait! What if the whisky costs upwards of US$500? Is it then justified to convert the meh into boo? Yup, I think it is. Definitely is.
So boo, you 25 year old lacklustre whisky. Hiding behind dollar signs and that smooth talking salesman at the Duty Free. Shame on you for making a fool of my friend who thought he was going to surprise all of us at his tasting but instead had to graciously agree with us snobs that he had been well and truly hoodwinked.
*exhales slowly* OK I’m done now.
The Triple Cask is the latest of the Balvenies to hit travel retail with an entry level 12 followed by the 16 and this 25 year old. Neither one is cheap for it’s relative age, mind you. Three casks in play here as the name suggests. Sherry, first-fill bourbon and something called traditional whisky cask (which I can only assume means second-fill bourbon). If that is really the case then why they wouldn’t just say that? If it’s something else then please enlighten me.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% – WAIT! 40%? Are you kidding me? Who drinks whisky at 40% anymore? Maybe Glaswegian middle-schoolers but certainly not me. This whisky is getting on my nerves now.
Nose: Soft. Weak or understated I can’t tell. Honey-comb. Wild flowers. Heather. I feel the sherry is the more dominant of the three casks. Possibly has a higher percentage in the vatting. That brings out more raisins. OK after all that it’s not so bad. It’s not wooing me like a sultry older woman like it should but it’s certainly trying to flirt. 7.6
Palate: Is this the 12 year old? If I hadn’t slit open the seal my self I would have been convinced that my friend was trying to pull a fast one. But he’s an honest chap and I did, after all, open the bottle my self. Which makes it a rather sad state of affairs don’t you think? Pay five times as much for something which tastes the same if not a tad worse. Oh, well. Oranges. Lindt chocolate. Not dark. Milk. You can feel the sherry again. The 40% is being really tested to it’s limits here because I’m struggling with the mouth. It’s a decent start but peters out mid-palate. I don’t hate it. I’m just irritated.7.0
Finish: You piece of shit. 5.9
Overall Comments: I hate it when this happens. Buy something expensive only for it to taste exactly like something half it’s age and a quarter of it’s price. Like buying a Business Class ticket only to find out you’re in row 54 stuck between a colic baby and a fat sweaty man who has no respect for other peoples’ personal space. Just get me off already.
Overall Score: 6.8
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 50.4% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93
Another one off the bucket list. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get hold of this when it first came out? I mean by the time I managed to locate two stragglers sitting on a shelf somewhere in Eastern Europe the price on this had literally tripled.
Luckily for me news doesn’t travel as fast to that part of the globe and I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of these bottles at a fairly decent price. Now when I look at various auctions I’m thankful I picked them when I had the chance.
I’m pretty sure by now you know what the Tun is. It’s actually a massive holding vat in Warehouse 24 that Master Blender David Stewart employed to mix and marry a variety of vintage Balvenies for up to three months to create this special series.
Batch No 4 consists of seven bourbon aged Balvenies and three sherry with spirit rumoured to be distilled as far back as 1966 and as early as 1988 making this quite a special little expression.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 50.4% ABV
Nose: If there’s anything David Stewart does is craft an ingenious nose. Every time. Burnt toast. Sherry. Lots of clove. Touch of sweetness. But with a sea saltiness too. Tobacco leaf. Toasted oak. Let it sit and a mild floral fragrance starts coming through. Green melon. Wild red berries. This is a solid nose. Reminded me of the Balvenie 30. 23/25
Palate: So strong. Robust. Coats the entire mouth. Quite dry yet chewy at the same time. Black peppercorns. Cinnamon. Blood oranges. Bitter chocolate. Wait… Lindt Intense Orange. With the orange not so intense. That toasted oak again. Get’s salty mid-palate. And now comes with a spicy betel nut leaf. Not as sweet as the nose suggested. Quite crisp with the poised oakiness a testament to it’s age and quality. 23/25
Finish: What the hell? This one stayed in my mouth long after I had washed the glasses and kept away the bottle. Clove. Betel nut. Again quite savory. Almost masala like. Good masala, mind you. Touch of oils. Bitter chocolate. 24/25
Overall Comments: This is a superb example of vintage whisky done right. You can smell the elegance a mile off. The mouthfeel is arresting. But it’s the finish that did it for me. Stayed for eons on the lips. There was a lot of unashamed smacking going on after I was done. Find it. Drink it.
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.3% | Colour: Dark Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93
I’ve been on a bit of a whisky sabbatical of late choosing to concentrate on my day job for a change. One that affords me the luxury of buying all my whisky in the first place! And I had decided I’d keep November light and easy in anticipation of December and all it’s festivities.
I had to, however, make an exception when my local distributor called and asked if I wanted to interview Dr Sam Simmons, Global Brand Ambassador for Balvenie and share some drams with him.
For those of you who know me know that I’m a sucker for meeting important people from the whisky industry just to see what makes them and their distillery tick. What I didn’t know was how likeable and approachable Sam (or Dr Whisky as he is affectionately called) would be.
After conducting a very honest and entertaining interview (which can be found HERE) it was time to move on to the whiskies.
After going through the 12 Double Wood, 15 Single Barrel & 21 Portwood it was time to taste the star of the evening: the 30 year old.
Constantly distracted by Sam’s cheerful banter I tried to focus and get my senses working for this one. The thirty year old is a mix of ex-Bourbon and European Sherry married together by David Stewart. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 47.3%
Nose: Warm honey. Orange peel. Dry fruits. Spices. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. There’s prunes. Walnuts. Leather. Green tobacco. Caramel. Black peppercorns. Oak. Figs. Toffee. Wonderful sherry. Chocolate. David Stewart really knows how to craft a nose, I’ll tell you that. It’s the best part of every Balvenie, in my opinion. This is close to being perfect. 24/25
Palate: Big. Oak. Drying. But in a nice way. Dried fruits. Dark honey. Cinnamon. Apples. Caramel. Burnt sugar. Toffee. Candied orange peel. Roasted almonds. I like the palate. It’s got layers and feels mature thanks to the oak. The oak is on the verge of being a bit much but is then subdued as time goes by. Quite beautiful 23/25
Finish: Nice and long. Tobacco. Leather. Oak. 23/25
Overall Comments: This is a really good premium whisky. While priced quite high I think it’s one of the few that are close to being worth the extra cash. I really liked it. I think I liked it a bit more given my recent meeting with the lovely Sam Simmons, who is a whisky geek first and then a brand ambassador. At least, that’s what he said and I have no reason to doubt him.
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.1% | Colour: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 87
Balvenie is my go to expression when I’m not sure what I want to be drinking. I’ll normally pour myself one as I sit down and ponder. I find that their dependable and comfortingly familiar flavors help me get in the mood for a drink.
The Balvenie 17 Sherry Oak and the 21 Portwood were one of my first ever single malt purchases and what excellent purchases they turned out to be. A solid core range with classic Speyside flavors Balvenie doesn’t give itself a chance to go wrong very often.
The Tun series is quite a nice little concept where David Stewart (Master Blender of Balvenie) picks out a bunch of Sherry butts and Bourbon barrels and marries them in a much larger vessel (the Tun) for a few months before bottling them.
The first in this line was the Tun 1401 which was the name of the 2000 litre vessel in which Mr Stewarts selection was left to marry. So insanely popular was this series that Balvenie was compelled to knock out no less than nine different batches. Each one causing a minor uproar every time it appeared on auction sites.
The next was the Tun 1509 which is an 8000 litre vessel. For Batch 1 Mr Stewart went with a total of 42 different spirits; 35 from ex-bourbon barrels and seven from large European sherry butts. Each cask number written on the label – much to my appreciation. The whisky was left to swim around and get accustomed to each other for a few months before seeing the light of day.
The much larger output may have successfully killed the second-hand / auction market for the Tun series and for that I’m quite glad because the 1401 had reached prices of stupidly epic proportions. But that may not be the only reason for it’s relative lack of demand. For while the 1401 batches were by and large quite tasty this particular expression is not quite in that league.
My sample is from a brand new bottle with a strength of 47.1%
Nose: Intense sherry. Warming. Clove. Endearing honey. Peanut butter. Jam. Bread pudding. Soaked in rum. Stewed apples. Vanilla. Creme brûlée. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Roasted almonds. Dried figs. Raisins. Hint of coal smoke. When I first nosed this I literally swooned. Such a beautifully harmonious balance of aromas. This is what whisky should smell like. (24/25)
Palate: Such a creamy mouthfeel when it starts off. But then an unwanted bitterness creeps in and layers all the flavors. Coffee. Cinnamon. All spice. Oak. Quite savory unlike the nose. Blood oranges. Unsweetened plums. Maybe the nose set it up way too high and the palate just could not compete. What ever the case I felt a little let down at the lack of complexity here. (21/25)
Finish: Medium. Savory. Oak. Cinnamon. Oily. Not the best. (21/15)
Overall Comments: I wish this whisky was sweeter. The nose promises a different ride to the one you actually get. Which is a little sad. It’s not terrible, mind you, but I was so looking forward to this blowing me out of the water. And at around 250GBP per bottle it had better.
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 48.7% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 87
Balvenie by and large do it for me. Good solid expressions. They wave the flag of classic Speyside flavors high and proud for all to see. Dave Stewart, the Balvenie Malt Master, likes to work with different flavors to add that extra depth to his spirit.
Maturations like the 14 year old Rum Cask, the sublime 21 year old Portwood, Single Barrel 12, 15 and 25 years old and this 17 year old with the peated cask influence all cement his reputation as one of the more creative Malt Masters of the Scotch Whisky Industry.
And I’m not even going to mention the cult he’s managed to create with the Tun series. I know many a whisky fan simply jonesing for the 1408, 1509 and now the 1858.
However, the one in my hand at the moment is slightly easier to come by and at decent prices. It’s maturation is quite possibly one of the more interesting ones that I have come across.
In 2001 a heavily peated batch of barley was distilled and left to mature for some time. Once Stewart decided it was time to move the spirit out else where he was left with casks that had taken on quite a bit of the peated distillate flavors.
So in went some 17 year old Balvenie for a few months to take on the flavors. It was then married with another 17 year old matured in new American Oak to produce this Peated Cask expression.
My expression is from a brand new bottle and served at 48.7%
Nose: Warm sherry. Apricot. Vanilla. Hint of oak. Milk chocolate. Woody caramel. Spices. Hint of smoke. Green tobacco leaf. Jam. Lavender. Gets drier over time. More crisp. Gets greener too. More herbaceous. More savory.
Palate: Quite smooth. Tiny touch of smoke. Chocolate. Woody. Spices. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Custard. Greens. Gets slightly bitter mid-palate. Not entirely bad.
Finish: Dry. Medium-long. Mild spices. Hint of smoke.
I think this is quite a fun experiment. The resulting whisky is quite nice. Could it have been better? Sure, why not? Everything can.
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 43% | Color: Copper
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93
This particular expression has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. It was my first serious purchase of a single malt. I remember looking at it sitting on the shelf at my duty free and thinking what is that insanely captivating bottle with that deep dark liquid inside of it?
I picked it off the shelf and, unlike what I do nowadays, I literally uncorked it the moment I got home. This was a number of years ago and I had no idea about sherry maturation or generally anything to do with single malts. All I knew was if something tasted this good then I was on the right path.
I’ve tasted a number of Balvenies down the road and they are one of the few extremely reliable distilleries when it comes to releasing top stuff. I like the different experimentations they have been up to also with different casks.
First launched in 2007 this 17 year old expression has been matured exclusively in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. There is always the danger of the sherry overpowering the spirit when you do that, however, when you have master craftsmen at work that seldom happens.
My sample is from a brand new bottle (2012) and served at 43%
Nose: Vanilla. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Fruit cake. Christmas cake. Raisins – the big dark kind. Clove. Dark plums. Berries. Sugarcane. Ginger. Oak. Cola. The nose is thick and quite syrupy. But not in a sickly way. It just makes you feel warm inside.
Palate: Chocolate. Oak. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Fruit cake. Maple syrup. Rose water. Tobacco leaf. Vanilla. Classic Oloroso flavors. Brilliantly put together.
Finish: Sweet. Vanilla. Maple syrup. Rose water.
One of the truly good whiskies of our time.
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.8% | Color: Full Gold
Nose: 20 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 84
Early on in my career as a whisky enthusiast I made the wise decision of picking up a bottle of the Balvenie 21 year old Portwood and the 17 year old Sherry Oak.
What an amazing stroke of luck on both bottles because back then I didn’t know my peat from my tun. Luckily for me I ran into a well informed sales person who decided to hit me with these two. I have been a fan ever since.
I think they have a solid range which covers a nice spectrum of flavors. The 12 Double Wood and the 12 Triple Cask are nice for easy drinking. As are the 14 Golden Cask and the Caribbean Rum Cask. The 17 has both a Sherry Oak and Peated Cask version which I find very interesting. Then there’s the gorgeous 21 year old Portwood.
This is without mentioning the cult classic Tun 1401 and the new Tun 1509. And also a smattering of travel retail exclusives that keep popping up frequently.
One of the newer releases from this Speyside standard is the single cask 15 year old matured exclusively in European Sherry. I notice they don’t say cask but choose to use barrel instead. Don’t know why.
My sample is from bottle #84 from cask 610 and served at an alcohol strength of 47.8%
Nose: Sour tamarind. Really sour. Rum. Bananas. Tobacco. Sweet cigar leaf. Toffee. Butterscotch. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Chocolate. Dry fruits. Nuts. Dried raisins. Prunes. Cold cuts. Stale oak. I don’t the like the nose. It’s far too sour for me. The oak seems stale too. A case of Oloroso overpower.
Palate: Surprisingly better than the nose. Chocolate. Black pepper. Oloroso sherry. Dry fruits. Cinnamon. Fudge cake. Tobacco leaf. Dark toffee. The palate works better for me. Not so sour as I was expecting. Quite thick and syrupy.
Finish: Licorice. Oak. Chocolate. Brownies. Lingers.
This is, in my opinion, not up to Balvenie’s usual high standards. There might be other casks that have fared better but this one doesn’t really cut it for me. Especially the nose.
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Color: Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88
There’s something about entry level Speysiders that has started to piss me off a bit. Seems like there’s a formula everyone’s using to create literally the same whisky.
I mean I understand this is the flavor profile that most people like (and buy) but must they all feel and taste exactly the same?
Let’s put it in some refill bourbon barrels for a bit and then finish it off in some sherry to get that altogether familiar flavor.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s no reason to fix something if it aint broke but it’s become a blur for me of late. They’re all starting to look and feel the same.
And the frustrating bit for me is that they’re all pretty decent. There’s really very little wrong with any of them. It’s just that I have a hard time telling them apart. Maybe a lot of you can but my palate’s not that good.
Anyway, enough rant.
This 12 year old is part of The Balvenie Travel Retail Triple Cask range. Which basically means they’ve used three different maturations. First some refill bourbon, then some first fill bourbon and finally some sherry.
Nose: Lots of honey vanilla on a floral note. Soft peaches with a hint of oaky spices. There’s something green in there as well. Quite fresh. Quite nice.
Palate: There’s the honey again but now with mild peppercorns and cinnamon. Touch of nuts. Dried fruits with a mild citrus overtone.
Finish: Medium with an unexpected late arrival of spices.
Remember the Stepford Wives? Reminds me of them. All manufactured to look and feel the same. But still pretty good looking.