Balvenie 15-year-old Sherry Cask 11309

Regular visitors to this whisky outpost of insanity will recall my pledge to cover more whiskies from certain distilleries in 2017. The two candidates I plucked out from the pile for this dubious honour were Tomatin and Balvenie. The former I’ve never gotten around to until this year, when already we now have a trio of whiskies reviews from the distillery in the bag. For Balvenie it’s a different kettle of fish as I’m just not a huge fan of the distillery.

Yes, I quite enjoyed the Tun releases but the price is now beyond earth’s atmosphere and continuing to sky rocket. Sadly, in my eyes the distillery has also begun to actively pursue the collector/investor market by releasing a ridiculous assortment of whiskies at car prices. All of this from a distillery that until recent times did not have a great reputation. Of course this rise from the ashes or obscurity, has been to the sterling efforts of David Stewart who took residency at Balvenie in 2009.

The distillery itself has been in existence since 1892 when none other than William Grant establishes another site with equipment taken from names such as Glen Albyn and Lagavulin. The distillery goes about its business in a low key manner providing for blends until its first single malt is released in 1973. However, it wasn’t until the turn of the century that Balvenie started to show some belief and confidence with a range of aged expressions and various cask finishes being released.

Today Balvenie has a varied portfolio of whiskies and numerous brand ambassadors across the globe spreading its message. Many whisky enthusiasts I converse with in North America will talk about a trio of whiskies in the form of The Macallan, Glenfiddich and Balvenie. That’s the effectiveness of having representatives out on the road spreading the gospel, or message of the distillery. Balvenie also paints this picture of being a traditional affair and its core values including a focus on craftsmanship. That’s ultimately what you are supposedly paying for when considering which Balvenie release to acquire.

Most of the Balvenie’s I have experienced are simply put nice. They are very inoffensive, subtle and represent in my opinion a slight onward step from the light starter whiskies such as Glenkinchie or Dalwhinnie. That’s not a criticism rather a classic Speyside character. It’s just where I find the whisky itself tends to generally call home. The Doublewood is very popular as is the Caribbean Cask, but I find the promise of the noses literally wash away on the palate. Unfortunately, I’m unable to afford and also unwilling to fork out some of the prices being asked for other Balvenie bottlings.

Returning to the beginning of this piece I did make a commitment for 2017 and I always follow through with my intensions. One of the limitations of Balvenie is the practice of teaspooning of its malt to protect the brand name. I’ve discussed this in greater detail during my Glenmorangie1979 review. In essence you have a cask of Balvenie with a drop of Glenfiddich added to make it Burnside. Independent bottlings of Balvenie nowadays are nil and this protects the brand name. Let’s be honest here as it’s not just about brand reputation, as to own and experience a bottle of Balvenie you have to purchase an official release. The valuable and reliable independent sector has been cut down as a potential avenue by the use of teaspooning. Independent bottlers often charge a fair price and bottle at cask strength without any additional tampering.

To experience a true Balvenie then we have no option but to turn to an official release. This will give us the benchmark of the whisky without the myriad of finishes or tampering that some releases can receive. Thankfully a bottle such as this was recently released by Balvenie in the form of this 15-year-old sherry cask. Coming from cask number 11309, it was bottled at 47.8% strength and will have set you back around £80 if you can track down a bottle. There is slight premium involved here as I’d expect if Cadenheads had bottled this it would have cost around £55. I’ve split the bottle with fellow enthusiasts limiting the cost and thereby allowing me to start my Balvenie post mortem. 

Colour: honeycomb
Nose: a rather gentle sherry arrival with worn leather, some sweet cinnamon, orange pips and mustard seed. Beeswax and a hint of varnish. Returning there's all-spice, salted butter and ginger root.
Taste: a very sweet gentle arrival, drinkable without water most certainly. More orange but more marmalade; a slight rustiness and walnuts. Caramel, milk chocolate, strawberries, red grapes and a faint black tea finish, Scottish breakfast blend of course.    

Overall: there's nothing to grumble about here unless you're looking for a sherry monster or some filthy rubber mouth action. This Balvenie 15-year-old is well presented and offers a touch of subtle refinement on the palate. I'd still say you're paying a slight premium for the single cask at £80, but in these times of rampant whisky inflation its probably not too far off the mark.     

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