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
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
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
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.
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.
Labels: 15 year old, balvenie, cask 11309, featured, sherry cask