I meant to post this quite a while ago, however, I’ve been as sick as a dog, tired, honestly mentally and soul exhausted at being on the internet after the last couple weeks, oh and currently working on reviewing a 400-page book. Not to mention life being life, as usual.
Alright, let’s get my bias out of the way. I like Balvenie. I enjoy honey flavours, Balvenie 30 is still one of my desert island drams, I like a lot of the 17-year casks. So when I was asked to come to a special tasting with three of the brand ambassadors, I jumped at the chance. There you go.
So I got to try these for free. I am friendly with one of the brand ambassadors. These are all things you should consider. I’ll keep my bias away throwing off my reviews, but I state them because I’m human and I make mistakes.
So let’s get to the lineup, shall we?
Many people reading this (ha, many people reading it, that’s funny) will be fans of Balvenie 12 DoubleWood. 25 years ago this mixture of ex-bourbon cask and ex-sherry cask whisky came onto the market when using different casks for the same whisky wasn’t the staple we’re used to.
To celebrate this, Balvenie released Balvenie 25 DoubleWood. It was aged in American oak and then finished in Spanish oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks for three months.
Now I’ll be the first to say it: A three-month finish on an old whisky is a red flag. And while I enjoy the 17 DoubleWood, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the 12 DoubleWood (though I will admit it’s a nice whisky, just not one I go ga-ga over).
So I’m going into this with a few concerns. But how did it taste?
Price: N/A at the LCBO
Cask Types: American oak and then finished in Sherry oak casks
Number of bottles: 3,600
Colour: It was too dark to see properly.
Nose: Leather, cloves, cocoa, orange zest, manure, raisin
Leather. Look, I know there’s more than just the leather here, but… I mean, leather. It’s just so nice to smell. That smell is great to me. Yes, there’s a mixture of sherry notes that are quite strong, but… leather. You usually get that only from older, properly seasoned sherry casks, and boom. First note.
Taste: Dry raisin, leather, cocoa, plum sauce, peach
More sherry forward notes, some interesting acidity, some balance, and blah blah leather. Seriously more leather. It takes centre stage and I’m focused on it and that’s why I keep drinking and I want more of it.
Finish: Dry apple, grain, orange rind, birch, honey, brown sugar
Finish is light, somewhat bitter, somewhat orange, and lacking the main note I enjoyed. If you like an older sherried dram and were looking for the classic Balvenie note of honey, it’s here.
But you were looking for leather like a diseased minded crazy person hunting late at night, weren’t you? And sadly it wasn’t there.
Conclusion: You drink this for the leather note. I’m quite torn on this whisky, and it’s easy to see why. It drinks like a Balvenie at the end, and drinks like a very sherry forward dram otherwise. If not for that note I really, really, really love and focus on, I’d say meh.
But that insane part of my head keeps reminding me of all of those amazing sherried drams of yesterday that I’ve had that tasted of this leather. Not to mention how many times I’ve written about the depth of those old sherry drams, screaming at me that I’d be the biggest two-faced bugger ever if I didn’t acknowledge it here.
So I’m torn. Listen you’re going to try this and either be wowed by some aspect of its depth or not have anything to latch onto. I fell for the leather, but I felt that it could have done more.
Ignore my score, just for a second. Try this Scotch if you get a chance. Really try it. Because if you latch onto it, then that’s all that matters. Otherwise, I’d say the 17 is easily the better dram, or the 12 is cheaper and easier to get and easier to make disappear.
Balvenie Home/Home is not a typo or some new release. It’s not even out. Reading all of this is useless! RUN FOR THE HILLS!
That may have been an overreaction. Let’s bring it down a bit.
Balvenie Home/Home is taken from casks that are currently laying out at Balvenie. It’s peated, aged 7 years so far, All of the barley is malted on site.
There’s no idea what they’ll use this far, save for blends. Maybe. No real idea.
But enough speculation, how is the malt coming along?
Price: Not on the market
Age: 7 years
Colour: Too dark in the room, my vision is bad
Nose: Chocolate, malt, spicy tobacco, smoke, earth
Peated, that’s for certain. Earth and sweet. Some spice there, some rough elements. This is quite young still, but there are some good combinations.
Taste: Spicy tobacco, hot, anise, caramel, royal icing
More spice. Hotter. Yeah, this needs some time/blending. Turns out that Balvenie usually benefits from vatting, balancing, and whatnot.
That said, this isn’t something I’m pouring it. Water makes it closer to a very sweet/earth combination.
Finish: Cinnamon sugar doughnut, grain, dry oak, low-quality bacon
Long. Really long, which is a surprise? And it tastes of having a 7/11 breakfast. Nothing something that will help you live longer or have lots of flavours you’ll brag about, but it’s there. That roadside doughnut, that watery bacon, and that cereal note.
Can’t say I hate it though. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had enough 7/11 to say that if this had a taquito flavour to it, I’d be coming back on the regular.
Conclusion: Spice bomb, needs work, very excited to see what they do with this. It’s showing some very nice aspects at this point. I’m glad that, so far, it’s still in the cask. It’s growing on spice and earth. There are rough parts, but if there’s a single cask release or even a partially peated release.
I’d watch this like a hawk. I’d watch many of them like many hawks watching things. It could add new dimensions to future Balvenie.
Balvenie DCS 1999 Chapter 4 is up next. The DCS collection is a series celebrating David Charles Stewart. As the master distiller for decades, they wanted to start selecting casks that exemplify part of his style.
I’ve jumped ahead, as… well, this is my first chance to try one of these. The whole collections are quite expensive. Chapter 4 “Expecting the Unexpected”, thus, is my first one.
Thus we start with the 1999 one, an 18-year old that was aged in a refill ex-bourbon cask.
Price: N/A at the LCBO
PT No. 244637
Stated Age: 18-years-old
Cask Type: Refill American Oak Hogshead
Cask number: 9304
Number of bottles: 132
Colour: Can’t see, I am sad
Nose: Grapefruit, dark amber honey, orange zest, papaya, lemongrass
Alright, completely different. Tart, some brown sugar/molasses/rich notes.
No hint, other than some honey, that this is Balvenie. The tropical fruit is the main thing. And it just keeps coming.
Taste: Papaya, brown sugar, mint, coconut, peach juice, cinnamon
More fruit, more brown sugar. Adds a bit of spice and dry aspects to balance. Again, this doesn’t taste like a Balvenie at all.
Finish: Chocolate, nectarine, brine, dry banana, butter, cloves
Left turn. Tons of chocolate., closer to a stone fruit aspect with some Speyside banana added in, and a big cloves finish.
So, you know, nothing I’d guess was actually a Balvenie.
Conclusion: Kitchen sink/tropical dram. It just keeps adding dimensions. Nothing overtly complex, just overall complex in all the odd elements.
This makes me want more cask strength Balvenie. Joking aside, it really shows that some casks can be super odd and different. The fact there’s no sherry cask involvement, nothing odd with peating or manipulation of the malt, or anything like that makes this quite unique.
That all said: Can you find others who have done something similar? Yes. So if you’re choosing between the DCS and not trying to try them all, this may not hold up (see next review).
Balvenie DCS 1982 Chapter 4 is the 6th birth year dram that I’ve had in a 2 month period. I’m privileged and just bragging now.
Also it’s a 36-year-old single cask Balvenie that was originally laid down in 1982.
But I’ve had many a birth year dram lately. Perhaps I won’t be sold on it. Let’s see, shall we?
Price: N/A at the LCBO
PT No. 24463
Stated Age: 36-years-old
Cask number: 635
Number of bottles: 177
Colour: No see colour
Nose: Strawberry tart, peach cobbler, leather, allspice, pure vanilla extract, the moss after a rainfall, white chocolate
Well holy shit. Strawberry and butter, cooked, leather to compete with the other dram, mossiness, white chocolate, and even a strong vanilla extract.
All of this slowly eecks out as you think you’ve figured it out.
Taste: Red licorice, anise, medium amber honey, papaya, bright cereal, ginger
Starts with spice, and then tropical and cereal. Take a standard Balvenie, but then add in more and more spice and some bright acidity.
It’s a bit less complex on the taste, but wonderful mouthfeel and well balanced, especially for a single cask.
Finish: Apple pie, malted chocolate, charcoal, leather, dark 80% cocoa chocolate
Bam! Big ole chocolate finish. Tons and tons of bitter chocolate that you try and are blown away when they are good.
Oh, and do I need to go into leather again? I didn’t think so.
Conclusion: Chocolate sweet leathery heaven dram. The finish wraps it up in heaven, there’s a beautiful amount of acidity, yet it’s still Balvenie. Where as the 1999 made me surprised that a Balvenie ever became that, this took the standard profile then adds in leather.
If adding in leather doesn’t get your motor going, I think you’re clinically dead. This is the culmination of perfect aging, pulled at the right time, with a lovely finish.
The only downside, if I can call it that, is the taste doesn’t meet the amazing nose and finish. Which is like saying the gold plated Bentley came in as a manual. I was still happy to have it, but… man I can’t drive stick.
Scotch reviews #1090-1093, Speyside review #305-308, Whisky reviews #1696-1699