This expression was matured in a European oak oloroso sherry butt. Overtly sherried, with figs, sultanas, cinnamon, and old warm leather on the nose. Finally, fragrant, with milk chocolate-coated Turkish delight. The Turkish delight carries over to the palate, before the chocolate darkens to plain, with raisins, smoked ham, and cloves in the long finish. Remarkably, almost no tannic oak. Textbook stuff.
This veteran was matured in a European oak oloroso sherry butt. The nose is fragrant, with malt, raisins, and tangy orange in time, settling to stewed fruits; a pleasing harmony of aromas. The palate is chewy and spicy, with a lovely bitter-sweet interplay between orchard fruits and dark oak, sprinkled with icing sugar. Licorice, tannic oak, and bitter chocolate in the very long finish. A classic survivor. £21,000
Very spicy and complex, with incredible depth. Once again, this 30-plus year old whisky proves the aging ability of Balvenie. Still quite vibrant and invigorating for such maturity. The classic Balvenie honey note is there, but more reserved, along with graham cracker, vanilla wafer, citrus peel, raspberry (red and black), nectarine, and polished oak. Long, spicy finish. Another outstanding Balvenie Vintage Cask. Although, I look at the price and remember how shocked I was when the Balvenie vintages were selling for $400.
A combination of three sherry butts and seven bourbon casks. This is a complex, dynamic whisky, loaded with lush, layered ripe fruit (red berries, tropical fruit, honeyed apricot, raisin), toffee, oak resin, polished leather, and well-defined spice notes (cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove). Long, warming finish. (Exclusive to the U.S.)
This bottling from 1992 was distilled partly from dark-roasted chocolate malt. Classic Balvenie honey and fruit spices on the nose, with light oiliness, ginger, and orange blossom. Rich flavors of canned pears and pineapple in syrup on the palate, with hot chocolate and wood spices. Marzipan, dark chocolate, and black pepper in the long finish. A delightfully different Balvenie. (150 bottles)
The newest offering from the impressive Balvenie vintage cask line. Honey, caramel custard, and Seville orange notes, with evolving -- and increasingly noticeable -- dried spice, oak resin, and leather that integrates well with the sweet, fruity notes. Incredible depth and complexity. The Balvenie vintage reputation remains intact.
The Balvenie 30 year old 1973 Vintage (Cask #9219)
Single Malt Scotch | $400
The last Balvenie Vintage whisky I tasted that was this old was the exceptional 1966 Vintage. This new vintage has some big shoes (or should I say bottles?) to fill, so how does it stand up to the 1966 Vintage? This 1973 Vintage is equally as impressive. In contrast to the massive, evolving, sherry-influenced 30 year old reviewed below, this one shows more subtlety and finesse. It is also a very clean and polished affair-signs of an obviously excellent cask. A honeyed, malty foundation incorporates notes of dried fruit (orange, lemon), complex spice (vanilla, cinnamon, sandalwood), and subtle herbs. Very contemplative.
Deep amber color. Exotic aromas of honey, vanilla, and tropical fruit (coconut, pineapple, mango). Medium to full in body, and rich in texture. The palate delivers what the aroma promises-honey, vanilla, and more tropical fruit, with a somewhat dry and rather lengthy finish. The Balvenie distillery enjoys an excellent reputation. The older expressions are particularly noteworthy. They age very gracefully. This one is a pure joy to drink.
Aged in a European oak oloroso sherry hogshead. Orange marmalade and lanolin on the nose, with caramel and candle wax dripped onto old leather. Full-bodied, with slightly bitter orange notes, plus nutmeg and aniseed on the palate. The orange theme persists into the finish as dried-out Jaffa segments, plus edgy oak tannins. A highly individualistic Balvenie.
Fleeting green foliage on the early nose, then orange blossom and fragrant spices emerge, with vanilla that’s cut through by lemon. Big, fresh orange notes on the palate, with brittle toffee, and encroaching dark chocolate. The finish is long, with lingering chocolate, spicy oak, and citrus fruit. £4,000
Slightly oily on the nose, with old leather, ginger, and furniture polish. Ultimately, red berry notes. The palate is initially sweet and fruity, with polished oak, aniseed, and wood spices. The finish dries slowly with oak tannins, but a spicy fruit note never quite disappears. £1,200
A mix of 29 bourbon and sherry casks that were mingled for 3 months in Balvenie’s bespoke marrying vessel, the Tun. Fragrant oriental spices on the nose: ginger, cinnamon, fresh orange juice, and brittle toffee. Full and smooth on the palate, with sweet sherry and spicy Jaffa orange. Long in the finish, with dark chocolate, oak tannins, raisins, and licorice at the close.
A vatting of selected casks located at Balvenie’s No. 24 warehouse in Dufftown, this is made up of seven ex-bourbon casks and three butts whose ages range from 1967 to 1989, all of which are then ‘married’ in a large vat (aka a ‘tun’). There’s classic Balvenie honey, along with macadamia, pistachio, and caramelized fruits. As it opens, it shifts into a high-class gentleman’s cologne: musk and sandalwood with some mulberry to add depth. Elegant and magnificent. £165
The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year old (Cask #7266), 47.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $62
One of the finest Balvenie 15 year olds I’ve tasted. The flavors are clean, well defined, confident, and beautifully balanced. Full malty foundation (with some ripe barley thrown in). Soft, creamy vanilla, honeycomb, bright fruit (orange, nectarine, lemon peel, hints of pineapple), with emerging dried vanilla, coconut, oak resin, and subtle anise. Polished oak finish. It doesn’t have the depth that the classic older Balvenies have shown in the past, but what it does have, it has in spades. Beautiful! (A Julio’s Liquors exclusive.)
The third batch in this series comprises twelve sherry butts distilled between 1989 and 1992, eleven American oak hogsheads from 1989, and eight refill American oak butts distilled in 1992 and 1993. Rich sherry, honey, and malt notes on the nose, with figs and citrus peel. Silky on the palate, with Jaffa oranges, raisins, ginger, and plain chocolate. Licorice, sherry, and spicy oak in the very long finish. (8,850 bottles)
This newbie from Balvenie is the worldwide replacement for the market-specific Tun 1401. A larger volume vat (8,000 liters) is now being filled with an equally eclectic mix of casks (42 casks ranging from 1970 to 1992). Deep amber; this has substance but being Balvenie, it’s gentle: orange blossom/Manuka honey edged with spice, marmalade, scented woods, and a little frangipane. The palate shows a supple, rippling power with some apricot, cinnamon, and root ginger. Awfully good. £230
This is the ultimate PortWood expression from Balvenie and has been finished in 30 year old port pipes. A more vibrant and textured Travel Retail variant is non-chill filtered and bottled at 47.6%. Soft, red grape notes, vanilla, and milk chocolate on the nutty nose. Very discreet smoke. Rich plum flavors in the mouth, dark berries covered in cream, and spicy honey. The finish is long and elegantly drying.
So soon? This latest release of what is becoming a legendary series mixes nine casks—four butts, five hoggies—from between 1966 and 1990. Hugely complex and obviously mature, it is one to sit and smell forever. Marzipan, mocha, pain au chocolat, manuka honey; every sniff reveals another aroma. It opens into cigar, sandalwood, citrus, and ripe black fruits. The palate is equally layered and expansive. It takes water, but only a drop, for that density is all-important.
This limited edition bottling celebrates the 25th anniversary of the DoubleWood releases. DoubleWood malts are initially matured in bourbon casks before a second period in European oak sherry casks. Classic Balvenie honey, orchard fruits, toffee, and oak on the nose. The palate is voluptuous, with orange, honey, ginger, and milk chocolate. Spicy sherry in the rich, long finish. (3,600 bottles)
This 18 year old single malt is stylistically very different from the older releases in Chapter 4. The nose is soft, with honey and mashed banana. Ginger and crème brûlée notes in time. Medium-bodied, the creamy palate follows the nose closely, introducing vanilla custard, coconut, and chopped almonds. The finish dries slightly, with a hint of chili heat. £800
The sixth batch in this highly regarded series comprises whisky aged in five refill sherry butts, seven DoubleWood refill sherry butts, and nine bourbon barrels. The nose is soft and inviting, with honey, pineapple, vanilla, caramel, and ginger. The palate is rounded, rich, and sweet, with honey, vanilla, apples, and pears. Tangy citrus fruit, star anise, and oak in the lengthy finish.
This latest installment of the Tun 1401 series is a classic expression of old, mature Balvenie, where a waxiness akin to furniture polish slides into mead-like aromas; actually more like metheglin, as there’s an herbal, spiced element. Its textural richness means it is best with water on the side, allowing deep earthy, licorice, and cigar ash tones to develop, along with just the lightest squeeze of tannin. (U.S. only.)
A special Balvenie to honor Master Distiller David Stewart’s 30 years working at the distillery. This is a big and brooding dram. The aroma suggests it is aged in both bourbon and sherry oak. It’s complex and richly flavored (sweeter up front and increasingly dry towards its finish), with notes of honey, candied fruit, thick cut marmalade, vanilla, almonds, and prominent spicy oak notes. I’m picking up plenty of sherry in this new expression, which I like. It finishes firmly dry, with notes of spice and tannin. While I enjoy this whisky a great deal, you might want to seek out the Balvenie 25 year old (which I rated a 93) while the odd bottle is still available. It is slightly more rounded on the palate, and less than half the cost.
A harmonious marriage of fruit and spice. More balanced than last year’s sweet Rum Cask release. In fact, this is one of the most deftly-balanced whiskies I’ve tasted this year. Bramble, ripe nectarine, caramel apple, honeyed vanilla, and golden raisin, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Soft (for Balvenie), lingering, warm, dried spice finish.
A refill American oak hogshead matured this whisky. The nose offers malt, vanilla fudge, pineapple, and contrasting lemon. Lively tropical fruits on the palate, almonds, walnuts, and ginger cookies, with ever-present oak. Bitter coffee in the medium-length, leathery finish.
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1968 46 year old (Cask# 7293), 45.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $27,620
The oldest of the set shows a shift into a sense of calm and quietude. The dried blossoms of youth are there, still with a little color to them, while a curl of smoke also comes through. Then, out of nowhere, a sudden eruption of tropical fruits, a flaring in the dying light. There’s no oakiness, just a distillery, framed, gently receding. A remarkable dram. It’s almost shameful to discuss cost! £19,000
A new addition to the permanent Balvenie range. Lovely bright gold color. Layers of sweetness (the characteristic Balvenie honey, along with vanilla fudge, nougat, and rich toffee) peppered with dried spice and a hint of tropical fruit (papaya, guava, tangerine). Nice viscosity with good grip on the finish. I really like the balance and complexity of this whisky. A very solid effort and the price is right.
Duncan Taylor 22 year old Dimensions Cask Strength 1997 (product of Beldorney), 53%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $165
Terrific nose of apple strudel, vanilla fudge, honey, raisins in syrup, and poached pears. A golden, honeyed dram, with fudge and a spike of ginger spice, followed by apple muffins, apple peelings, a touch of oak char, and a finish of sweet caramelized sugar. In case you are wondering, Beldorney is Duncan Taylor’s term for Wardhead, which is a blended malt of primarily Glenfiddich, with a small amount of Balvenie.
The Balvenie Peat Week 14 year old (2002 Vintage), 48.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $99
This expression dates from 2002, when Balvenie first produced a batch of heavily peated malt. Matured in American oak casks, the nose exhibits subtle peat balanced by honey, vanilla, and ripe red apples. On the palate, the soft smoke is well integrated with vanilla, more honey, ginger, and overripe pears. Ashy peat, citrus fruits, cinnamon, and tangy oak in the finish. An elegant peated whisky.
This was aged in new American oak and selected for its faint smokiness, believed to have been picked up from a previous peated spirit run. Pears, white pepper, and faint cigarette smoke on the nose. Full-bodied, with lots of tropical fruit, vanilla, honey, and a slightly antiseptic note. Long and peppery in the finish, with more medicinal flavor. £500
This ever-popular expression of Balvenie is matured for roughly 12 years in ex-bourbon casks and finished for 9 months in Spanish oak oloroso sherry casks. Floral on the nose, with honey, oak, and almonds. Spicy sherry, nutmeg, and dried fruit on the silky palate. Quite long in the finish, with a hint of orange, plus drying spices. Elegant, yet robust.
Made from the same recipe as previous Peat Week bottlings, with the name referring to the one week per year Balvenie distills peated whisky. Stone fruits lightly smoked in a peat kiln on the early nose, new leather, and honey. Sweet peat smoke, orchard fruits, and soft spices on the palate. The fruits darken in the finish, with licorice and spicy oak. (18,000 bottles)
The Balvenie continues its limited edition releases of 17 year old whiskies. Previous editions included an Islay Cask finish and a New Oak finish. This is the newest one, aged in sherry oak casks. It’s a delicious whisky, with clean, ripe, sherried fruit marrying nicely with the dry oak spices. Notes of apple pie, honeyed summer fruit, caramel toasted almonds, and toffee, with dry resinous oak on the finish to round out the sweetness. A big, full-bodied Balvenie that satisfies.
The darkness of the hue of this, the second official release of a 40 year old from Balvenie, gives an indication of how intense the relationship between cask and spirit has been over its long sequestration. It emerges brimming with dense aromas such as tamarind paste, treacle, and Black Forest gateau. Amazingly, on the palate there’s a lift of vanilla-like sweetness before the heavier and drier elements close down on the finish. Incredibly limited; only 150 bottles produced. £2,500
The Balvenie Single Barrel Traditional Oak 25 year old, 47.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $599
Light gold, with good intensity and a more noticeable malty note than is common with this distillery, as well as touches of daffodil and dried honeycomb. The wood influence appears minimal to start with, but more vanilla creeps through in time; water brings out almond milk. Opens into clementine peel, pomelo, then cooked dessert apple. The palate is clean and forward; even slightly hot when neat. Remarkably assertive for a 25 year old.
What a surprise this is! After a steady run of aged and just about agreeable dusty lemon and paprika malts, this is the youngest release—just 8 years old—from the now-demolished Wilson distillery. At a guess I'd say the original whisky was ordinary, so the Tasmanians who own the stock did what Tasmanians do and finished it in port casks to make it fruity. The blemishes aren't entirely ironed out but the whisky gets away with it—and this is rather good, and at a better strength. Why bottle premium malt at 40% and your 8 year old at 44%? NZ$79
Balvenie Peat Week 14 year old (2003 Vintage), 48.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $99
This follows the first limited release of the 2002 vintage Peat Week. Like its predecessor, this was distilled during the distillery’s annual week of peated production. Significantly peatier on the nose than the 2002, with Islay-like phenols backed by sweet floral notes. Sweet smoke, vanilla, citrus fruits, and honey on the bold palate, while the finish features more vanilla and honey, plus spicy bonfire smoke.
Balvenie 12 year old The Sweet Toast of American Oak, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $60
Matured primarily in bourbon barrels for 12 years before a 3-month finish in slow-toasted virgin American oak barrels from Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky. Honey, vanilla, cloves, dried fruit, and lively oak on the nose. The palate features citrus fruit and more cloves, with milk chocolate, honey, walnuts, and lots of wood spice. Raisins and black tea in the medium-length finish. (30,000 bottles)
This was aged in a refill American oak hogshead, as was the 1981 expression. Like that variant, it has pineapple and lemon on the nose and also yields milk chocolate, green apples, and fresh-sawn wood. Smooth, full, and sweet on the palate, again with very ripe tropical fruits, plus apple pie. The finish is medium in length; quite austere.
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1978 37 year old (Cask #2708), 50.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $6,542
After the 68’s quiet nature, we reach Balvenie in fully mature, robust character—well, as robust as Balvenie ever gets. That means more cask-derived notes of vanilla ice, butterscotch, crème brûlée, and a jag of citrus bringing you to your senses. There’s squidgy caramel toffee and the honey is now fixed in the comb adding that distinct waxiness of old, gently matured whisky. The biggest and sweetest of the series. Excellent.
Gold color (as its name suggests) with a hint of copper. This whisky, which was finished in Caribbean rum casks, follows on the heels of the limited edition The Balvenie 17 year old Rum Cask. The 17 year old was pleasant enough, but quite sweet (I rated it an 80). This new Golden Cask is an improvement, because the higher alcohol level, along with an array of dried spice, helps to balance the sweet rum notes. Lively, bright tangerine, nectarine, and pineapple combine with Balvenie’s signature honey, nougat, Heath bar, light molasses, and milk chocolate. Dried spice (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and gritty oak resin kick in on the finish, rounding everything out quite nicely. Now if we could only have the best of both worlds -- the balance of the Golden Cask 14 year old, and the maturity of the 17 year old. That could be a whisky worthy of a 90s rating. (Travel Retail Exclusive) Price per liter.
A limited edition bottling to commemorate the great David Stewart’s 50th year in the business and, as befits this quiet man, here’s a release that rewards just sitting and listening. This gives more of a nod to Cognac than Speyside; something to do with the dried apricot, orange blossom, and golden syrup. The palate is gentle and layered, with more dried fruits, which are balanced by an almost jammy finish where, finally, some cereal is glimpsed.
This expression was aged in a European oak oloroso sherry butt. A savory opening to the nose, followed by figs dipped in lemon juice. Sweet, spicy cream sherry on the palate, Christmas cake flavors, then black pepper and tannins develop. The finish is medium to long, with honey and malt. Accomplished, but expensive for its age.
The newest release in Balvenie’s limited edition range, and the first venture back into smoke since the “Islay Cask” limited release several years ago. Some of this whisky was finished in a peated cask, some in new American oak. Both influences emerge with the smoke (jerky with a hint of kippers) and spice (cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg) on a foundation of honeyed malt. Spicy, smoky finish. Balvenie is one of those big Speyside whiskies that can stand up to the smoke. This one will not appeal to everyone, but it makes for an interesting diversion.
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1985 30 year old (Cask #612), 54.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $1,872
Here, the distillery character is more restrained, as if it is taking a period of calm reflection before the next evolution. There’s slightly more maltiness here and the texture has changed into a light acacia honey stickiness and a development of more oxidized notes, showing a gentle maturation. It’s one I kept going back to; teasing, slightly elusive, but rewarding. £1,300
As if making up for lost time, wee bottles of Kininvie are popping out every month. This is a fine demonstration of the distillery style which sits—appropriately enough—between the lightness of Glenfiddich and the fruity sweetness of Balvenie. Here, flowers are to the fore, along with creme anglaise, and a light herbal edge. There’s some weight to the palate, but very little oakiness. A perfumed finish akin to elderflower maintains the frothy floral aspect. A perfect spring dram. £120
The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 year old, 47.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $100
Big sherry influence immediately, with walnut skin, raisin bread, and mixed peels. Seems pretty dry, and the malty undertow here is whole grain bread. Balvenie’s signature sweetness comes across like soft brown Demerara sugar before it shifts into forest floor, mulch, nut, and dried berries. Just enough residual sweetness to keep the tannins at bay. Water makes it more woody, with burlap, cacao, a little earthiness, and a slightly bitter exit.
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1997 17 year old (Cask #5365), 60.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $1,008
The mix of honey, citrus, fruit, and malt which sits at Balvenie’s core is beginning to deepen. The citrus fruits, for example, are becoming concentrated, the honey is set clover, the fruits moving into cooked apricot and banana. Rounded and thick in the mouth, where the honeyed aspects and fleshiness of the fruits take control, before a bloom of bridal bouquet. Tremendously complex, here’s Balvenie's flowering into mid-period maturity. The price is…scary! £700
The tell-tale rich honeyed Balvenie personality is spiced up by finishing it off in new charred oak casks, making a normally masculine whisky even bigger. The honeyed malt impacts the palate first, with intermediate notes of citrus fruit, followed by dried spices (cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, and cocoa). The new oak impact is most evident on the whisky’s long, dry, spicy finish. A nice whisky, but perhaps a tad too much new oak for greatness?
Another Travel Retail exclusive, but what is a highly lucrative retail sector will inevitably demand items that shoppers can’t buy elsewhere. Imagine Balvenie Port Wood 21 year old, but with more sweetness; damson jam, blueberries, and a slight singed note before maple syrup calls in from the back. It’s big and rounded and, for me, just lacking the definition and complexity of the Port Wood. For sweeter tooths (teeth?) perhaps.
The Doublewood experiment highlighted above may be the way forward for what's left of this old New Zealand stock, because having tasted several samples now, and presumably the better ones, there's a pattern emerging. The core whisky is fine, with tangy lemon and earthy pepper, but the casks clearly weren't great and they throw up inconsistencies. This is fine as far as it goes—until you see the price tag. This is $120 in American dollars. Nor is it as good as the Rugby World Cup 16 year old Vindication bottling. NZ$148
William Grant Rare Cask Reserves The Annasach Reserve 25 year old, 46%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $340
William Grant & Sons Rare Cask Reserves are micro-blends created jointly by Brian Kinsman and various liquor store proprietors, drawing on a choice of over 40 different single malts (importantly, not Glenfiddich or Balvenie). Quite herbal, with tarragon, cilantro, boiled candies, and unripe plums. A slow starter; vegetal notes yield to fudge, milk chocolate, orange, and maltiness, with pepper, oak, and spices in the latter phases. Stocked in only five U.S. retailers.
Rich and sweet, with toffee, coconut cream, Turkish delight, nougat, and honey. Ripe black raspberries, citrus, and dried spice (vanilla, fennel, and evergreen mint) provide complexity and attempt to balance all the sweetness. A pleasant dram, but I wish there was a little more to prop up all that sweetness. A whisky for those with a sweet tooth. Good with dessert, as dessert, or with a cigar.
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 2005 9 year old (Cask #6587), 57.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $576
Drawn from a refill barrel, this is Balvenie all eager and bright at the start of its journey. It’s like an excited kid eating pancakes and runny honey (with a squeeze of lemon juice) at breakfast on her first day of school. There’s a hint of malt, a little peachiness, and a hint of the richness that will develop resonance in time. It’s lovely—I’d be happy to drink a couple—but way overpriced. The score has to reflect that. £400