Balvenie has always been a brand which I have been sceptical of. With there high prices, low ABV and premium branding over substance I have always thought Balvenie was not for me.
Like all brands though some of the bottles are more focused and niche which peek my interest a little more than the others. The single barrel series is exactly the kind of thing that I think. Micro Provenance (sorry I hope Bruichladdich haven’t trademarked that), natural colour, thick texture and good alcoholic strength are all major ticks in my book. The 15 year old sherry cask is the older one with a 12 year old bourbon cask available for around £55 I intend to pick one up at some point soon. However, for now lets get on with looking at this sherry cask.
The Balvenie site is located across the road from Glenfiddich. It was opened in 1893 by William Grant to cope with the demand placed on Glenfiddich by its success. The site is over 12 acres and was originally a country estate. Being a country estate they actual use some fields to grow barley for distilling. The site also includes 9 short fat stills which were replicated in the new Aisla Bay distillery and they even malt 15% of their barley on their own floor maltings.
Output from Balvenie was used exclusively for blends until 1972 when the first single malt was released on to the market. The number of bottles of single malt Balvenie has until recently been in short supply. This was mostly because of the demands placed on its stock from blends. The pressure was lifted when firstly Kininvie was opened in 1990 and then Aisla Bay in 2008. Those distilleries are now looked after by Brian Kinsman and Balvenie is still looked after by Sir David Stuart which he has worked in for over 50 years. However, very recently William Grant announced a new apprentice malt master has been appointed to learn the trade from David himself in anticipation for the day when David decides to have a quiet and happy retirement. 25 year old Kelsey McKechnie will work closely with David and be involved in cask selections for ongoing releases and cask blending for new upcoming releases.
Since 2014 the 15 year old single barrel has been exclusively ex-sherry. Previously, there was a bourbon release but this is only available now as a 12 year old. Each bottle has a hand written cask number and bottle number in some very nice premium packaging. Each bottle has the same strength of 47.8% which is obviously not cask strength. They are however naturally bottled which is more than is normally the case for Balvenie so you get a more natural product as a result.
The packaging is very good actually and a lot better than most bottles in the sector. It includes the written numbers like I said above.
However, the actual cardboard contains loads of information about what is meant by a single barrel release and indeed what is a barrel. Lots of information on the kinds of flavours you might find in the bottle and its all done in a tasteful classic font in a soft sherry-ish colour.
Colour – copper
Nose – raisins, dark alcohol soaked fruits and iced fruit cake. There is strong brewed tea bringing dark notes and then floral notes comes out if you wait for it. Slightly sulphur’d notes in the background. The overall profile though is all about raisins and sultana’s for sure.
Palate – The palate follows the nose. The water levels can be difficult to get right though with too little leaving you missing a lot of the flavour but just a touch too much and things become water-y and something of the intensity is lost. There is lots of drying notes from tea bags and oak tannins.
Finish – The sweet notes come back with cinnamon buns, icing sugar and orange peel. There is more citric peel before the staple raisins and dried fruits.
This is a lovely whisky and the cool thing is if you buy a few different bottles now and again then each will be completely different. If you ever look at auction sites you will normally see a good selection for sale every month. The first thing you will notice is the colour range is huge between bottles with, of course, the price being exponentially linked to the colour of the whisky. So lots of variety for sherry bomb lovers as really only sherry lovers need apply on this one or you just won’t get the value from the fairly high entry price.