This is the sixth edition of Balvenie’s Tun 1401 series and the second to be released in the US (batches 3, 6 and 9 have been US exclusives). The Tun 1401s, as all the geeks know, are Balvenie’s premium NAS vattings of fairly old whiskies, from different combinations of sherry and bourbon casks. As I recall, more information has been available on the general age range of the component casks of only the early releases–with Batch 2 said to have only one cask filled later than the 1970s and one filled in 1967. I’ve no idea if this means that the more recent releases have more (relatively) younger whisky in them–please chime in if you know more one way or the other. I’ve also read that the series allows Balvenie to salvage some high quality older casks that have slipped below 40% abv (the minimum allowed for Scotch whisky); if so, that seems like a very clever/good solution–certainly preferable from their point of view to dumping it into vattings of younger and cheaper age stated whisky as might have been the case in earlier times.
What I do know for sure is that the series has been very reasonably priced in the US compared to similar prestige malts from other distilleries (or even Balvenie’s own 30 yo, for that matter). Batch 3 was released for a little over $200 in Minnesota and both Batch 6 and 9 were available at or near that price as well (we may have had the best prices in the country for these).
Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 6 (49.8%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Dark honey with dried tangerine peel and some roasted malt. The fruit gets richer with some deep apricot notes along with apricot jam and marmalade. There’s also quite a lot of polished wood (sandalwood) and some mango as well. After a bit the wood gets a little dusty. With even more time there’s some clove and maybe a hint of cinnamon too; definitely more creamy. A drop or two of water brings out the malt and some very mild notes of (powdered) ginger; there’s also more lime now but it’s still all wonderfully integrated.
Palate: Not quite as rich on the palate–or at least it’s much brighter here: the fruit and the wood. Speaking of the wood, there’s a slight tannic bite on the palate but it works well with the fruit. With the second sip there’s more of the mango and it’s integrated very nicely with the wood. Some mocha/dark chocolate notes emerge too with time. On subsequent sips the citrus intensifies and there’s more sweetness now too. Water plays up the lime on the palate too, along with the sweetness, but also brings out some more bitter wood as a fine counterpoint.
Finish: Long. The fruit gets darker and richer again and the malt emerges late. The wood hangs around. Very well integrated finish. Water keeps the lime going on the finish as well but also makes the wood dustier and a little off balance.
Comments: This is really quite lovely: very elegant and balanced and testament to the master blender’s art. Who needs single casks when whisky of such quality is available and (relatively) affordable? The one (minor) knock I would give it is that it isn’t terribly complex. And oddly, it’s quite reminiscent of the Amrut Intermediate Sherry in some ways–which, I guess, means that I am totally walking back what I once said about not buying the notion that Amrut’s quicker maturation in a hotter climate leads to its spirit tasting like much older Scotch whisky. It also has some overlap with brighter, fruitier bourbon from Four Roses.
Rating: 89 points.