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Archive for the ‘Balvenie’ Category

Introduction

Last year, I was fortunate enough to receive a free bottle of The Balvenie Madiera Cask 17 year for review from William Grant & Sons (parent company for The Balvenie). I really liked it, but wasn’t completely sold on the value proposition. So, that’s it for freebies from them, right? I guess not! This year, I was sent another 750 ml “sample”, this time of the new U.S. only Caribbean Rum Cask 14 Year release. I was told that this expression was developed especially for the U.S. market by David Stewart, as he wanted to create a release that U.S. whisky enthusiasts could enjoy on an ongoing basis. This is a permanent addition to the core range. Thank you Mr. Stewart!

I’ve already been asked on Twitter about the difference between this release and the previous Rum Cask 17 Year and “Golden Cask” 14 Year limited releases. Here’s the scoop from The Balvenie:

  • While the idea for the 14 Year Caribbean Cask release was based on the popularity of the limited Rum Cask release, and those flavor characteristics were kept in mind, this is a new and different product.
  • The 17 Year Rum Cask release was matured exclusively in rum casks, where Caribbean Rum Cask is just finished in rum casks. Plus, there’s the three year age difference.
  • The 14 Year “Golden Cask” is a limited, Travel Retail only release. It’s produced using casks that previously held golden rum, and it’s bottled at 57.5%, non chill-filtered, vs 43% chill-filtered for Caribbean Rum Cask.

Tasting Notes

I decided to do a full comparison of The Balvenie expressions that are available for $60 or less. Basically, I want to figure out what my “go to” expression will be in this price range.  I had collected the other expressions over the past couple of years.

12 Year DoubleWood (40%) – $40

Finished in sherry casks, DoubleWood offers up soft fruits (peaches, light citrus) and brown sugar, then a hint of vanilla and oak. Light malty palate, with a fairly short finish. There’s some lingering maltiness, but not much else. This is a VERY accessible malt. A nice alternative to Glenfiddich 12 or Glenlivet 12, and a great “beginner” whisky. 81 points (B-)

10 Year Founder’s Reserve (43% in the U.S.) – $40

Reverses the DoubleWood profile. This time, it’s vanilla and oak that stand out. The fruit is more of an apple, but takes a back seat to the vanilla. The initial hit on the palate is fairly light, but it builds to an almost peppery late palate and finish with a pleasant drying effect. I kind of liked the style of fruit on the DoubleWood more, but this one wins out easily on the palate and finish. This was discontinued last year, but has continued to occupy shelf space in the United States. Worth picking up! 83 points (B)

15 Year Single Barrel (Cask #3442; 47.8%) – $60

This is a pretty cool expression, as it comes with the barrel and bottle numbers hand-written on the label, and offers the excitement of differences in each batch. I believe they seek to offer a reasonably similar profile between batches, though.  This one has less fruit than the other mixed cask Balvenies.  It’s sweet, with LOTS of vanilla and fresh oak notes. It’s also a bit hot on the nose and early palate. It’s sweet and malty on the palate, but with my bottle, that maltiness turns a bit stale going into the medium-length finish. I really enjoyed the strong vanilla and the impact on the palate that the higher ABV provides, but the staleness on the finish brings it down a notch for me. I’m sure there’s a batch out there with my name on it, though. 84 points (B)

12 Year Signature Batch 1 (40%) – $40 to $50

Matured in a combination of first fill bourbon, refill bourbon and refill sherry, I think the introduction of this release last year might be the reason Founder’s Reserve was discontinued. On the nose, there’s a great balance of the peaches and citrus from the DoubleWood expression, with the vanilla and oak spices from the Founder’s Reserve, plus some cinnamon. Oh…and is that coconut? This is probably the best nose of the whole group, with lots going on. On the palate, it’s similar to the Founder’s Reserve at first, but doesn’t build like that one. Although it does have the same pleasant drying. Compared to the nose, the palate and finish are a bit of a let down. It’s is worth buying for the nose alone, though. Kudos to Mr. Stewart for that!  85 points (B)

14 Year Caribbean Rum Cask (43%) – $60

A great balance of fruit, vanilla and toffee sweetness. A little spice, but surprisingly, not as much as the signature.  In this expression, the fruit starts on apples, then leans slightly towards the tropical side, reminding me a little of Glenmorangie 18 year. The palate is much thicker than the Signature 12. It’s sweet and malty. The maltiness continues into the finish, with some spice and a nice drying sensation. The finish is medium-long, with the spices lingering. Not quite as impressive on the nose as the Signature 12, but the palate and finish make for a very well balanced whisky, elevating it above the other expressions. It’s not quite as rich and elegant as the 17 year Madeira Cask, though.  Overall, very impressive! 86 points (B)

Note: A review like this shows why I use a 100 point scale to do ratings. I think these are all good to very good expressions, with several falling into what I would consider to be a “B” range. Still, as I go back and review my spreadsheet/notes down the road, I want to be able to recall how these expressions stacked up in my mind relative to each other. Those fine-grained point differences allow that, and show that I felt there was a nice little bump in quality from the Founder’s Reserve to the Signature and Rum Cask releases.

Conclusion

Ok, I think I’ve found my new “go to” Balvenie in the Caribbean Rum Cask release! I’m putting my money where my mouth is, too. I’ve already purchased a bottle as a Christmas gift for a friend who likes The Balvenie. When I first tried the Caribbean Cask, I thought I might like it even more than the Madeira Cask release. However, having now compared them side-by-side, those extra three years of aging for the Madeira Cask really do make a difference. In fact, I think I’m going to update my ratings spreadsheet and move the Madeira Cask from 87 to 88 points. I just wish the price was lower.

Still, for $60 or less, the Caribbean Rum Cask is a fantastic whisky, and a welcome addition to the range. That being said, if they were to somehow add a little more zip to the palate of the 12 Year Signature, and maybe bottle it at a higher ABV, I think it would jump to the top. What an amazing nose on that one! Finally, keep in mind that I’m a big fan of sherried and peated whiskies. If you’re a big Speyside fan in general, I can see where you might rate all of these a few points higher in your own system.

I liked The Balvenie before, and found the lower priced expressions to be a good value, if unexciting. With the introduction of 12 year  Signature and 14 year Caribbean Rum Cask, I think there is a lot to be excited about across the whole range!

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

The Balvenie 17 Madeira Cask

This past holiday season was a great time to be an amateur whisky blogger. Marketing companies are into social media big-time these days. In addition to starting up Facebook pages, blogs and company-owned Twitter accounts, they’re reaching out to “real people” with these same types of accounts to get their message out. Around the same time I was contacted about receiving samples of JW Blue and Chivas 18 for review, I was contacted by a PR company representing The Balvanie, wondering if I was interested in trying out this year’s 17 year special release, finished in Madeira [fortified Portuguese wine] casks. Yes!

On December 23rd, a couple of weeks after I was told the sample would be shipped, a good sized package arrived that required signing. It was my sample, and I soon discovered why it had taken a little while to get here: the Liquor Fairy [amusing disclaimer mechanism from The Pegu Blog] had turned my small review sample bottle into a full 75oml retail bottle of The Balvenie 17 Year Madeira. Merry Christmas to me, and thank-you Balvenie! [Officially, it's "The Balvenie", but I'll probably fall back on just plain Balvenie much of the time]

Tasting Notes

Ok, after 2 weeks of a head/chest cold followed by a couple of healthy days, and then a week with a stomach virus…here, finally, are my tasting notes on this Christmas present. Not that you were dying to hear my take on it, but it’s been frustrating for me.

The Balvenie Madeira Cask Aged 17 Years; 43%; 2009; $120

Nose: This is easy to nose, with the alcohol staying out of the way. Sweet spices hit me straight away. Cinnamon & sugar for sure, and maybe I’m influenced by other tasting notes I’ve read, but I’ll go with nutmeg as well. It’s also reasonably fruity. Perhaps some apple, but it’s more like baked apple, not a fresh/crisp fruit. Also more than a little raisin. Finally, a rich vanilla comes through, and as I pull away, just a hint of fresh oak.
Note: On a couple of occasions, I felt there were some chocolate/orange on the nose, not unlike that part of the Dalmore 12 profile. However,  the above notes represent a more consistent picture of what I’m getting from this bottle.
Palate: More than most other whiskies I’ve tried, the nose prepared me perfectly for the mouth experience. Sweetness is quickly balanced by fruit and followed by the spices. There’s a bit of spicy tingle, but it’s pretty tame. I wouldn’t call this heavily bodied, but it’s not watery either.
Finish: No surprises on the finish. The taste just carries straight on through and slowly fades after a medium duration. Perhaps just a bit of added maltiness lingering at the end. With other Balvenies I’ve tried, there has been a little bitterness on the finish (not necessarily in a bad way), but there’s none of that here. There is some marginal drying on the finish.

Comments: I was struck by the consistent story this dram tells from first nosing to finish. That doesn’t mean it’s overly simple, though. While nothing particularly new was introduced on the palate and finish, nothing was really taken away from the multi-dimensional nose, either. This whisky is very smooth and accessible, and should appeal to a wide audience. Also, [not taste-related, but...] I love the Balvenie bottle shape. It makes a great glug-glug-glug sound when pouring. :-)

Rating

  • Score: 87/100 (B) I’ll still reach for a peated malt most of the time (even lightly peated like HP), but for a Speyside that’s not heavily sherried, this ranks pretty high for me.
  • Bottom Line: Very impressive Madeira cask integration, providing an extremely balanced and accessible whisky. The Madeira finish provides some nice spices that you don’t get every day with a Speyside scotch, without blocking out the fruitiness of the spirit. Enjoyable from start to finish.
  • Score higher if: You’re a big Balvenie fan to begin with, and/or Speyside is your favorite scotch region.
  • Score lower if: It’s all about peat and/or big sherry for you. This one won’t change your mind about more subtle Speyside offerings.
  • Value: This is definitely a step above the younger, very nicely priced Balvenie expressions. I think the Edinburgh Whisky Blog hit the nail on the head when they put this in their Christmas Gift Guide, as it would make an excellent gift, and appeal to both the occasional drinker and the connoisseur. At $120, though, I don’t see a lot of people buying this by the case. To consider the premium Bavenie expressions “values”, I’d want to see the Bavenie 21 year Port Wood come back down below $150, and these 17 year releases at or below $100.

Comparisons

Younger Balvenies

I did some direct comparisons with the 15 year Single Barrel and 12 year Doublewood Balvenie expressions. You can definitely taste the family resemblance when comparing to the Doublewood, which brings fresh apples, vanilla, some spices and a bit more oak to the nose. The Madeira takes this base profile to the next level. Everything is richer and smoother. There’s less fresh oak, but the vanilla is much richer. The 17 year also brings those additional spices from the Madeira cask. As for the 15 year, it’s got HUGE fresh oak. I like oak with stronger whiskies (Laphroaig QC comes to mind), but it’s almost too much for me here. I definitely like the way the finish tones this down in the 17 year Madeira expression. I also find the 15 SB to be much more “spirity” than the Madeira Cask, with the alcohol being more prominent on the nose.

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

My first dram of Balvenie 17 year Madeira immediately called to mind the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, a 12 year finished in port casks. Madeira and port casks, both having previously housed fortified wines, seem to offer similar contributions to the whisky, at least where the spices are concerned. I’d love to see a review of this expression by Serge over at Whiskyfun. He doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the Glenmorangie finished expressions. However, to my [admittedly much less experienced] palate, this finished Balvenie feels very nicely integrated and balanced. Much less “constructed” than the Glenmo bottlings. That being said, I like the Quinta Ruban very much, and it does manage to scratch the same itch for me that the Balvenie Madeira does at a 60% discount in price.

Other opinions

There even more reviews than this out there, but here are some that stood out to me:

  • What Does John Know (Malt Advocate): – John was impressed by the balance of this whisky and awarded it a very impressive 90 points. I probably could have just copied and pasted his notes to represent my own findings.
  • Dr. Whisky: The good Dr. considers this one of the best in the Balvenie 17 year series.
  • whisky-pages: They also mentioned the shift from fresh fruit with their “stewed apples” reference.
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog: Definitely some different references in the tasting notes, but I can see where they’re coming from.
  • Drinkhacker: An A- rating, but with a disclaimer that some might be put off by the Madeira finish. Perhaps, but I still think this is an amazingly accessible whisky.
  • discover whisky: Why wasn’t I aware of this blog already? I really like their notes in this review.

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Have you ever seen these nosing/tasting kits? I think it looks like a great idea, but they’re a little more expensive than I would like.

Nosing and tasting kit

Now The Balvenie is offering up a chance to get one for free. I got an email from them today with the following info:

Just in time for the holidays, The Balvenie is offering the chance to win a one-of-a-kind prize: An exclusive Scotch Whisky nosing and tasting kit. This unique kit contains 24 separate aromas and a dedicated nosing guide, as well as other essential whisky tasting tools. The lucky winner will also receive an exquisite Balvenie hipflask.

Visit this link to enter:
http://www.thebalvenie.com/en-us/sweeps.php

It’s really easy to enter. Just provide your name and email address. No long surveys to fill out or anything.

Good luck!

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