Berry Brothers & Rudd Tasting

The following is an honest account of my experience at a recent Berry Brothers & Rudd tasting.

We were greeted with a sweet cherry cocktail as we walked into the clubhouse of the Jumeirah Golf Estates, one of the many developments that have sprung up around the outskirts of Dubai. They call it secluded but the phrase that came to my mind was more along the lines of out in the boonies.

Since I was early I perched at the bar and kept my self busy watching, you guessed it, golf on the many HD screens hanging from the walls. Once there were sufficient numbers crowding the waiting area we were ushered into the restaurant and shown to our numbered tables.

The head-chef came out first and explained the menu to us in great detail. Food wise things were looking promising. The chocolate mousse and pistachio dessert was what I was really waiting for. As it turned out the entire meal was absolutely fantastic.

The fresh salmon ceviche was followed by a baked sea bass. Braised beef in a whisky reduction was next and a lovely chocolate mousse with pistachio ice cream was pretty much spot on. Really happy with what I ate that night.

Unfortunately I wish I could say the same for the whiskies that we encountered.

Having been in the business since 1698 Berry Brothers & Rudd are one of the oldest wine and spirits merchants in the UK. They also bottle a hefty number of whiskies which they sell under their BBR label. Counting the four that I had that evening it would bring the total number of BBR whiskies I had tasted up to a whopping 11.

I think that’s enough whiskies to form a general opinion on the overall quality and style of a particular independent. Sure there are some hits and some misses. But when the misses are overwhelming then one has no choice but to cast judgement.

And so I have cast. You, sir, are not to my liking.

Berrys SpeysideReserve

The first whisky of the evening was the blended Speyside Reserve. I’d love to know what reserve really means. So many distilleries use it to denote spirit kept aside for a special purpose. What I think it really means is I have no idea what this whisky stands for. Let’s put Reserve in the name and hope for the best.

The young whisky was quite bland and boring as was the speech by Doug McIvor, their Spirits Manager, who read off the cue cards at the beginning of the evening. After which he settled down for his meal and that was the last we heard of him.

Left to our own devices we decided to take the evening seriously and settled down to making some notes.

Note: All whiskies reviewed under were bottled at 46%

Nose: Hello rotting wet wood. Looks like a sulphured cask in here somewhere. Can’t be anything else. Quite overpowering if you ask me. Processed honey. Sugarcane juice. Sweet heather. Love hearts. They all try but the sulphur is a bit much.

Palate: Very light. Uninteresting. Bitter. That sulphur again. Quite spirity and raw. Tries to be sweet. Can’t. What a waste of time.

Finish: Let’s just leave this field blank.

Overall Score: 5.0


Berrys Girvan

The second whisky to be brought out was an 8 year old single grain Girvan. One of the comments left on my Twitter feed after I posted this picture was @WhiskyCliff saying the only reason Girvan existed was to remind us how good single malt really is.

I must admit I laughed a little at that.

Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 (see I told you it was 8 years old) it’s not as bad as the comment that was made but let’s just say I’m not rushing out to get t-shirts with I [heart] Girvan printed on them.

Nose: ex-Bourbon barrels have given this a sweet vanilla essence. Faint nectarines. Neutral greens. Jolly Green Giant peas. Mild fennel. It’s not as bad as the previous one. Still no sparks, though.

Palate: Right then. Back into previous territory. Bitter. Quite savoury. Coconut. Vanilla. Hint of oak. Nope. No thank you.

Finish: Still bitter. Still not good.

Overall Score: 5.5


Berrys Caperdonich

Ah, what do we have here? A closed distillery. And my first Caperdonich.

Striking color on this one. The sherry seems to have done it’s job. And twenty years old on top of that. Here’s hoping.

Nose: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Nice. Very nice. Ripe bananas. Stewed red fruits. Stewed cherries that you ladle on a cheesecake. Cherry Cola. Dry arm chair leather. Pomegranate peel. Mint leaves. Seems like an Oloroso butt here. I really like this.

Palate: Nice oak. Maybe a tad tired but this is not the time to start being cynical. Lindt 70%. Cinnamon. Burnt caramel on creme brûlée. Not as good as the nose (thanks to the oak) but quite drinkable. Let’s order another dram.

Finish: Medium. Nice. Lindt with red chilis.

Overall Score: 7.5

Berrys Arran

I’m a fan of Arran. Not it’s number #1 fan, mind you. More a there’s nothing wrong with this whisky fan. So I was quite happy to finish off the evening with something that I kind of trusted.

But as Mufasa will tell you trust is a dangerous thing.

A seventeen year old bottled in 2014, matured in ex-Marsala casks and paired with my chocolate pistachio dessert. Bad idea.

Nose: Burnt caramel. Cabernet Sauvignon. Black grapes. Wait, what’s that? Is it sulphur? Maybe. There’s certainly something dodgy going on here. Black salt. Dry all spice.

Palate: Something is definitely off here. Not Defcon 4 off but off. I don’t like it. Caramel. Black peppercorns. Slightly spent oak. Not working for me.

Finish: Medium to long. Oaky.

Overall Score: 6.2

Bit of a disastrous evening if you ask me. The food made up for it, though.

My favourite part of the evening was when one of the serving staff insisted that Caperdonich was an Islay whisky. I merely nodded and smiled. Because, like most of the whiskies tasted that evening, what was the point?

Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 4

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 50.4% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
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.

Rating: 93

BenRiach 15 Year old PX Sherry Wood Finish

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Distillery/Brand: BenRiach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 46% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
I always start a BenRiach review by mentioning a horrendous 20 year old I had some years ago which put me off the distillery for a really long time. But this time around I won’t.

Even though it was really bad.

OK, enough about that.

I made up for my BenRiach hiatus by binge buying as many expressions as I could get my hands on. I like that they’re easy to get hold of and within an acceptable price range. More importantly there is a maturation twist with most expressions, which I like. Plus they have these goofy names like Importanticus Fumosus, which is Latin for You will never be able to pronounce or remember this no matter how hard you try.

Good variety of flavors, easy on the wallet and a chance to practise a dead language?. That’s a win win, if you ask me.

I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for a while for no reason other than I just didn’t get around to giving it a go. But a couple of days ago I felt it was time. And I’m glad.

This 15 year has been matured in traditional bourbon barrels before being finished off in casks from the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia, Southern Spain, previously used to mature Pedro Ximenez sherry. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Dark chocolate. Barley. Red apples. Green tea. Oak. It’s a little salty. Wild red berries. Sweet rich sherry. Licorice. Maraschino cherries. Christmas cake. If you ask me I prefer PX Sherry over Oloroso maturations. I think it’s sweeter, a little more complex. This is a great nose. Hardly any flaws. 23/25

Palate: Medium body. Oak. Black peppers. Dark dates. Chocolate. Cinnamon. It’s quite dry. Not as sweet as the nose. Quite savory. Under-ripe banana. Coconut. This is quite enjoyable. 22/25

Finish: Quite long. Dry. Touch of oak. Cinnamon. 22/25

Overall Comments: This is a very enjoyable whisky from a solid distillery. If you let it breathe, as you should all whiskies, it gets even more sweeter over time. Good stuff!

Rating: 89

Glenfiddich 21 Year old Caribbean Rum Finish

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Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Colour: Bronze
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
There’s nothing I can tell you about Glenfiddich that you already don’t know. It is unquestionably the most popular single malt whisky in the world. They are by and large one of the most consistently above average whiskies produced given their staggering levels of output.

What I can tell you that you might not necessarily know is that I met their Global Brand Ambassador Mr Ian Millar a few months ago who is quite a proponent of whiskies with age statements. Barring a couple of new releases from them it seems that this is quite true for the distillery as well.

In fact I recently read they’re scaling up production to meet demand and more Glenfiddich in the world is, in my opinion, a good thing!

I was invited by our local distributor for an evening of tasting the classic Glenfiddich range which was quite nice. It’s quite common to give these expressions a pass just because they’re the most drunk whisky in the world. And you kind of forget why they’re No1. It’s because they are pretty damn good.

We started the evening with the 12 (average), moved on to the 15 (so good!), then the 18 (lovely) and finally the 21 year old finished off in Caribbean Rum Casks. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% ABV

Nose : Bananas. Toasted oak. Almonds. Walnuts. Cinnamon. Ginger spice. Now some vanilla. Chocolate. Coffee beans. Gets fruitier over time. Red apples. Berries. There’s something a touch sour. Don’t know what that is. And some mint leaf. I like it. It has the classic Speyside / Glenfiddich nose with a little sweet and fruity twist. 22/25

Palate : Quite oaky. I don’t like the delivery – it’s a bit thin. Black pepper. Cinnamon. Ginger. Wild berries. Mocha. Coffee beans. Chocolate. Ripe oranges and orange zest. This seems to me like a manufactured taste. Don’t know how to explain it but it just felt that the spirit was too restrained. Not the best part. 21/25

Finish : Medium. Oak. Cinnamon. Quite drying. 21/25

Overall Comments : This is half decent though I feel that the palate was a touch over-oaked and a bit thin. The general consensus among the group was that it felt like it was made to order. And by that I probably mean that all the flavors that are supposed to please me were there but for some reason didn’t work so well together. It’s not a bad whisky. It’s not awesome either.

Rating: 85

PS : I just noticed that I have another review of the 21 year old which I did almost two years ago and it seems like I really liked it then. I can only assume there to be enough batch variance for me to have a much different opinion this time around. Unfortunately I can’t tell you the bottling dates for each. For all I know they are exactly the same spirit and I’m a complete idiot…

Balvenie 30 Years

Balvenie 30
Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.3% | Colour: Dark Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
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.

Rating: 93

Tamdhu Batch Strength 001

Tamdhu Batch Strength
Distillery/Brand: Tamdhu | Region: Speyside | ABV: 58.8% | Colour: Copper
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
I’ll be honest. I think this is my first or second Tamdhu that I’ve tasted. If it’s my second then the first one failed to impress me completely (even though I have a fantastic memory when it comes to remembering what I’ve tasted).

Mothballed a number of times since it was founded in 1896 it has, once again, re-opened it’s doors in May 2013. Situated on River Spey in Speyside this once ultra modern facility boasts 6 stills and an annual production of more than 2 million liters most of which finds it’s way into the Edrington blends.

There’s not a lot of single malt bottlings to come out of the distillery (though there’s a fair number of independents floating around) and so finding OB age statements is fairly hard.

This expression that I’m tasting is the first one to come out of the distillery since they opened a couple of years ago – which means it comprises mainly of older stocks lying around. How old I have no idea and they’ve not been very forthcoming with the literature. But given it’s rather inexpensive price tag I doubt very old.

My sample is from a hip flask which belonged to a guest who came to my house for a whisky tasting and felt it would be a good idea to smuggle some of his own. It has been bottled at a fairly high cask strength of 58.8%. It is a mix of American and European sherry oak (most of which is first-fill).

Nose: Quite oaky. Lots of sherry. Quite crisp. Nice and spicy. Raisins. Cinnamon. Almonds. Cocoa. Very bitter chocolate. A little malty. Hops. Settles down to a milk chocolate. Rose petal. Hint of sourness. Tamarind. Gets sweeter over time. I like it. No major flaws. 22/25

Palate: That strong oak again. Cinnamon rub. Quite spicy. Bitter chocolate. Coffee beans. Typically sherried. Oloroso. I feel the American sherry oak lends a new variety of flavors. Almonds. Orange peel. Quite strong. But the young-ish age comes through a little. Maybe just a touch raw. Still not bad. 21/25

Finish: Very warm. Very long. Cinnamon. Oak. Chocolate. 22/25

Overall Comments: This pretty good. I’m sure people will try and find faults and blow them out of proportion. That’s fine. I’m less inclined to do that. Decent whisky with a really nice finish even if it’s slightly over-oaked.

Rating: 87

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix

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Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.6% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 91

Review
If you’re a whisky drinker chances are you’ve heard of the legend behind the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix. If you haven’t I suggest you nerd up real quick.

In 2010 Scotland experienced some insanely heavy snowfall. In fact there was twice as much snow to fall than previously ever recorded. Now living here in Dubai that might sound like a dream vacation but for the Glenfiddich warehouses it was a disaster (or opportunity – depends how you see it).

For so much snow fell on those tin roofs that five of them collapsed in a massive heap on top of more than 250,000 casks maturing below. How they managed to save all but three casks from instantly getting ‘chill-filtered’ is beyond me. But they did. And when summer rolled around they set about repairing the damage.

Now there’s no point in experiencing a disaster and not being able to commemorate it, right? Well, that’s exactly what the marketing department felt and thought it would be a good idea to release a one-off special bottling to mark the occasion Mother Nature decided to give you a snowy hiding.

The presentation tin box is adorned with the image of the aftermath and, hence, the name. For within the fallen beams and the bright Scotland winter sky is the silhouette of a phoenix rising up to the heavens. I must admit I would never have been able to see it my self but you’ll be surprised what a marketing degree and a tab of LSD can do.

You might be forgiven for thinking I’m being sarcastic but that’s how I show gratitude. Marketing gimmicks aside this is one fine whisky. Because to commemorate the event 12000 bottles of the exposed spirit was released in a beautiful black bottle and presentation case.

Whiskies between 13 and 30 years of age in the bottle represent 50% first-fill bourbon barrels, 30% second-fill bourbon barrels, and 20% sherry barrels. The result is a beautifully delicate spirit served at a cask strength of 47.6%

Nose: Sharp vanilla. Creamy. Custard. Quite nutty. Very floral. Heather. White flowers. Sponge cake. Danish biscuits. Hardboiled sweets. Butterscotch. Very pleasant to bring to your nose. Might be the product of a winter time disaster but screams summer time. 23/25

Palate: Super sweet. Honey. Vanilla. Very mild spices. White roses. Wild flowers. Heather. Shortbread. Touch of ginger. Such a floral palate. It’s literally like a eating a honey drizzled bouquet. I like it! 23/25

Finish: Extremely long. Creamy. Vanilla. And, of course, floral. 23/25

Overall Comments: I had this at a tasting with a close friend who insisted it didn’t taste as good as when he had it at his place and insisted I try it at his place before forming an opinion. I’m still waiting for my invite. In the mean time I will go ahead and post this. If you stay tuned you might see me post a modified review soon!

Rating: 91

GlenDronach 2002 Single Cask 10yrs

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Distillery/Brand: GlenDronach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 55.6% | Colour: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
I’m not a huge fan of the Glendronach’s standard bottles. I’ve had the opportunity to taste the 12, 15 Revival, the 18 Allardice and the 21 Parliament. I feel that the sherry is far too big in them. All four of these have seen a lot of Oloroso along their way with the 12 and 21 seeing some PX too.

For those who read my reviews know that I’m not a huge fan of sherry overkill, especially Oloroso.

Though, I must admit, one fine evening at Baxters, in Sydney, I had the great fortune of tasting the 31 Year old Grandeur Batch 001 which is truly a masterclass of a whisky. When sherry is done right it is the most gorgeous thing in the world. Else, a nagging annoyance.

Which brings me to the Glendronachs where sherry has been done right. Their Cask Strength series, up to Batch 4 now, is quite a revelation. And, I now realize, so might be there Single Cask (Cask Strength) offerings.

The one in my glass is 10 years old and matured exclusively in a PX Puncheon (though, I couldn’t find any information on whether the cask was first-fill or second). If I was to hazard a guess I would go with second.

My sample is from a brand new bottle, distilled on July 3, 2002 and bottled in May 2013 from Cask #1988 and served at a cask strength of 55.6% (by the way if they had waited a couple of months they could have bottled it as an eleven year old but I guess they didn’t feel like making the extra 20 quid).

Nose: Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. Quite dry. Fresh leather. Pine combs. Raisins. Figs. Liquorice. Digestives. Dark jam. Vanilla. Add a touch of water and it opens to a more fortified wine. Demerara sugar. Daiquiri. I really like the nose. Big. Bold. Beautiful. No relation to the American soap of the same name. 23/25

Palate: Super creamy. Dry spice rub. Ground red chili chocolate. Dates. Cinnamon. Oak. Cigar smoke. Figs. Raisins. Hint of chalk. Adding water makes it sweeter. Less oaky. Now more purple fruits than before. Now with clove. Cumin. I find this one equally good with or without water. 23/25

Finish: Long. Leather. Oak. Cinnamon. Quite dry. A touch rough perhaps. Not much change with the addition of water. 23/25

Overall Comments: I’ve realized why I prefer some sherry bombs compared to others. It’s the alcohol strength. Anything less than 52% shifts the balance in favor of the sherry whereas the higher strength brings the original spirit and the sherry influence closer to a more harmonious offering.

Rating: 92

BenRiach 1994 Virgin Oak Single Cask

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Distillery/Brand: BenRiach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 55.3% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
It takes a while to get over a bad initial meeting that can, literally, leave a bad taste in your mouth. For those of you read my reviews you probably know that my first encounter with a BenRiach was with a terrible 20 year old.

I can still recall the acrid taste in my mouth as I sipped it for the first time. I vowed never to try another BenRiach again. Of course, my forgiving nature (and reading countless good reviews of other BenRiachs) got the best of me and I gave in eventually.

In fact, trying to make up for lost time, I ended up on a BenRiach binge buying pretty much anything I could get my hands on. What I discovered was a solid Speyside distillery with a beautiful variety of spirits to choose from with almost all of them hitting an above average score in my books.

Like most seasoned whisky drinkers there’s something about single cask whiskies that holds a certain allure. Especially if they’re served at cask strength. I believe this version of whisky is the truest way of consuming the good stuff.

This particular BenRiach in my hands has been distilled in 1994 and put in 344 bottles in October 2013 at a cask strength of 55.3%.

Now this is what I don’t understand. The label on the bottle claims that it is a single cask whisky. But it also states that it is finished in Virgin American Oak (hogshead). Now to the best of my understanding a finish is when you take the whisky out of one cask and put it in another cask for a short period of time towards the end of it’s maturation phase.

So if that’s true this is technically not a single cask is it?

Oh, well. Who cares what the label says when the liquid inside is this good.

Nose: Dark honey. French beans. Caramel. Chocolate. Leather. Tobacco. Roasted cigar leaf. Maple syrup. Banana. Breakfast jam. Vanilla. Coconut. Almonds. Red berries. Gorgeous nose bursting with flavor. Love it! (24/25)

Palate: So creamy smooth. Banana. Chocolate. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Touch of oak. Quite sweet. That dark honey again. Plums. Raisins. Fig. Burnt toast. An honest reflection of the nose. (23/25)

Finish: Long. Jambolin. Salty. Spicy. (23/25)

Such a gorgeous whisky this. The complete package in my opinion. Lovely to nose and taste with the just the right balance of sweet and spicy. So glad I decided to forgive them.

Rating: 93

Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.1% | Colour: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 87

Review
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.

Rating: 87