Having recently posted a review of a whisky released in 2019—Wednesday’s Allt-a-Bhainne—let me annoy you with a review of a whisky released in 2009. This is one of the first whiskies I fell in love with and bought multiples of. I am referring not just to Balvenie’s 15 yo Single Barrels of days of yore—the original ex-bourbon series—but to cask 1708 in particular. Seemingly endless quantities of it were available in 2010 from Chicago-Lake Liquors, a Minneapolis store that meant a lot to us middle-class Minnesotan whisky drinkers. They had a very good selection of distillery release whiskies in those days and were known for their low markups. It was thanks to their low prices that I got to try so many whiskies, including this Balvenie 15 SB, which—as per my spreadsheet—cost me all of $49 before tax in 2010. Those days are long gone—as are the days when Scottish distilleries of any kind, leave alone name distilleries, released whiskies older than 15 years old in their 15 yo series. Yes. the ex-bourbon Balvenie 15 yo SB series saw 16-18 yo casks bottled under its label—and if I’m not mistaken there were even reports of the occasional 20 yo (but perhaps that’s lunatic nostalgia talking). Speaking of 20 yo Balvenies, Chicago-Lake used to carry the Balvenie 21 Port cask for $99. And no, I never got around to purchasing a bottle because that seemed like a lot to pay for whisky in 2010. Don’t you love these reminiscences? Now, join me as I turn back time and see if my very last bottle of barrel 1708 of the Balvenie 15 Single Barrel will be as good as I remember it being. Continue reading
Okay, after a run of three low-utility reviews of whiskies from Kilchoman, Glenlivet and Glen Scotia released between 5 and 13 years ago, let’s get all timely with a review of a whisky that is not at all hard to find in the US: the recently arrived Balvenie “Peat Week”. I’ve previously reviewed a 17 yo Balvenie matured in a cask that had previously held peated whisky distilled at Balvnie. (I was not impressed). This one, as I’m sure you know, is an actual peated whisky made at Balvenie. Apparently, since 2002 (or even earlier) Balvenie has been making peated malt one week in the year and this is the first regular release from those runs, apparently limited to 3000 bottles worldwide—how many of those are in the US, I don’t know.
In a time when distilleries replace information on labels with silly names and marketing stories, Balvenie are to be congratulated for putting an age statement and a vintage on this release. Nonetheless, I am tempted to say that they’ve gone a bit too far in the direction of full transparency: my eyes glazed over as I tried to make sense of the small-print chart on the tube (I gave up quickly). Continue reading
This release (from 2010, I believe) was presumably the result of a bunch of people at Balvenie getting drunk. This was not made, in the usual way, from peated malt but by finishing 17 yo Balvenie briefly in casks that had previously held heavily peated whisky. Balvenie had done this before with their Islay Cask release (which I have not had). But this Peated Cask is different: unlike with the Islay Cask, the peated whisky that gave these casks their peated flavour had itself apparently been distilled as an experiment at Balvenie some years prior—as to what became of that experiment I don’t know, but maybe someone will be along to inform us. But it gets more complicated still: the Whisky Exchange blog informs us (shout out to Tim F!) that not all of the whisky that went into this release was itself finished in the casks that had previously held peated whisky; some of it had apparently been finished in new oak casks.
At this point you might be forgiven for wondering if this was all a way to dump some dodgy malt as a “limited release” by giving it a complicated origin. But let’s see what it’s like anyway. Continue reading
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.
The venerable Balvenie Double Wood has been the gateway whisky for legions of single malt drinkers. Along with the Macallan 12 it was mine and I still recommend it to people looking to get into single malt whisky. It’s been a long time, however, since I’ve last had it. Partly this is probably on account of my subconsciously wanting to separate myself from “beginner” status; and partly it’s because when you get locked into the geek path of trying newer and more esoteric whiskies (and are trying to restrict the number of drinks you have in a day—no more than 1-2 in my case) you find yourself not coming back to the ones you already know quite well. And then it ends up being years since you’ve had it.
The Double Wood, of course, is matured in bourbon and sherry casks—but I’m not entirely sure if it is (or ever was) the case that the spirit is all double matured or if it’s a vatting of some bourbon cask whisky with some sherry cask whisky. And as I don’t have the bottle at hand (this was split) I can’t check to see what the label says. If you know please write in below. Continue reading
Hot on the heels of my review of the Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 6, here is my review of Batch 3. This has one more cask in the vatting than Batch 6 does, and one more sherry cask. This was the first of the Tun 1401s to be released in the US (it was a US exclusive) and a number of people think it is among the best, if not the best of the series so far. Even people who don’t usually get carried away love it. As a result, I’m expecting it to be very good. Will reality match the expectation and talk? Let’s see.
Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 3 (50.3%; from a sample from a friend)
The full bottle in the picture is my own–but thanks to Patrick, who shared a sample from his bottle, I’m able to keep that bottle closed for a special occasion. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Balvenie is a distillery I’ve always liked, even though, on account of the proprietors’ covetous attitude to their casks, there are very few opportunities to try it except in official bottling form and not all of those official bottlings are great. (Balvenie is owned by the same folks who own Glenfiddich and they do not allow independent bottling of their whiskies.) The iconic Double Wood, which was another of my (and many whisky geeks’) gateway malts back in the day seems to have slipped in recent years and I was not overly impressed by either the 10 yo Founder’s Reserve or the 14 yo Caribbean Cask (pleasant whiskies though both were). Reports of their affordable older whiskies, the 21 yo Portwood, in particular, meanwhile are all over the map and nor are the reports of the more experimental Peated Cask very encouraging. Still, I am a big fan of the Single Barrel 15 series and am yet to have a bad one. (Michael Kravitz, however, recently had a bad experience.) There’s something about that ex-bourbon profile–the series is all from single bourbon barrels at least 15 years old–that really suits Balvenie’s spirit and I always have a bottle or two on hand. I’m not sure what the fate of that line is now that Balvenie is releasing a Single Barrel 12, but I do hope it’s not going away or becoming prohibitively expensive. Continue reading