The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 used to be entirely a single bourbon cask series and as such was rather beloved of whisky geeks (give us the opportunity to explore the vagaries of cask variation and we will run with it). I have not tasted as many of the bourbon cask releases as some but all of the ones I’ve tasted ranged from good to very, very good. They were also easily available and quite reasonably priced: in Minnesota it was not difficult to find them for less than $60. As such, I gnashed my teeth with the rest when word came down that the series was going to be scrapped in favour of a new 12 yo single barrel series. But just as I was considering stocking up a rumour also emerged that the 15 yo single barrel was not in fact going away. I wish I hadn’t listened to this rumour because first the prices of existing stock of the 15 yo bourbon casks went up and then the series did indeed get discontinued. Or rather it got reconfigured as a single sherry cask series—of course at a fairly higher price.
This new Single Barrel 15 series, all drawn from single oloroso casks, maintains the old series’ tradition of every release being at 47.8%; I’m not sure, however, if the quirky tendency to sometimes release far older barrels as 15 year olds continues (I rather expect it does not). Well, I’ve been looking forward to trying it and I hope it will be good. Even if it is, however, I will still mourn the passing of the bourbon cask series: along with Glenlivet’s Nadurra it provided the quintessential pleasures of high quality bourbon cask malt (with the Nadurra at the fruitier end of the spectrum and the Balvenie at the toasted wood end of the spectrum) and class “naked” malt of that kind is harder to come by these days. Anyway, let’s get to it.
Balvenie 15, Single Barrel (47.8%; sherry cask 4453; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Rich sherry with raisins, dried orange peel, leather, pencil lead and just a bit of beef stock. Some oak too behind it all. Not a whole lot of development past that at first—the orange maybe gets a little brighter. With more time there’s more fruit (apricot, marmalade) and the wood gets more polished. With water the apricot expands and the wood gets a little dusty and spicy.
Palate: A lot more wood to start than on the nose. The fruit’s here too but the wood is a little too loud and it’s less oak than pencil shavings. With time the citrus begins to peep through (orange) but the wood’s still dominant. Water pushes the raw wood back a fair bit and brings out more of the fruit (apricot here too) and spice.
Finish: Medium. Not much development. Longer with water and spicier, but not very much better.
Comments: I really liked the nose but there was a bit too much raw wood on the palate for my taste, though it did get much better with time and water; the finish was uninteresting throughout. Look forward to trying some other barrels in this series.
Rating: 84 points. (Pulled up by the nose.)
Thanks to Nick for the sample!