I once heard a musician remark: “Jazz is smooth and cool. Jazz flows gently like water. Jazz isn’t over the top, but it isn’t messy either. Jazz is a relaxed conversation”. Whilst I sit here contemplating Balvenie, I would be tempted to use these adjectives again. Balvenie can be incredibly smooth in taste and character. It has become one of the “cool” brands in the whisky market at this time. Whilst drinking, it can certainly flow gently, enticing the taste buds with each sip. The whisky and branding, in my opinion, is not over the top, or messy and slapdash in any way. Finally, drinking Balvenie really is like a relaxed conversation with an old friend.
I enjoy much of what Balvenie produce and I’ve never been disappointed by one of their whiskies. Saying that, I have only tried two of their expressions that have really made me jump up and down with excitement and they were both at The Whisky Exchange Show last month (you’ll have to wait to hear about them). I find that Balvenie constantly churn out gentle, solid and beautifully crafted whiskies. I know many whisky drinkers who simply find the core range “boring”, but I would have to disagree with them. It’s not necessarily (apart from the Tun 1401/1509 series) ground breaking whisky, but it is one that you can constantly rely on to bring enjoyment to your tastebuds.
A few months ago, I popped into another local whisky tasting held by the lovely Lyn at the Guildford Whisky Shop. This time the Balvenie core range was on the menu, tempting stuff. What helped me make my final decision though, was the news that Alwynne Gwilt, or Miss Whisky to some of you, would be taking the tasting. I had been lucky enough to meet Alwynne at a number of whisky events and meets in London over the past year and thought it would be good to get along to one of her tastings. I would highly recommend checking out her website here. My drinking partners for the night; John McCheyne, a good friend and a SMWS Ambassador and Ben Matthews of Littletipple.com.
We tried six expressions:
Caribbean Rum Cask 14yo
Single Barrel 12yo
Single Barrel 15yo
I already reviewed the Doublewood 12yo on this site last year (here), and wrote down similar notes: vanilla, raisiny sweetness, nuttiness and overall smoothness. It’s a solid, warming dram that won’t let you down, but won’t necessarily excite you that much. Looking at low 80’s.
Balvenie Doublewood 17yo (43%)
N: Similar to the 12yo, but shyer, slightly fuller and richer. Balanced between some fresh oak and raisiny sweetness before I got quite a bit of vanilla and coconut. Some hint of roses and crunchy apples too. To me it felt more complex but also quite withheld.
P: There is an overriding sweetness here. Toffee apples, dark fruits, slightly nutty. There seems to be quite a bit of oak here, which isn’t always a bad thing I guess. With time I got some orange zest on delivery. Again seems confidently more complex than the 12yo.
F: Medium/short. Honey, heather and a lingering dryness. I was slightly let down by the finish as I felt I was slightly overwhelmed by the oakiness and not much else. It’s an interesting one, but for me, a slightly more complex version of the 12yo but at more than double the price. Mid/Low 80’s for this one.
Balvenie Portwood 21yo (40%)
P: Slightly disappointed by initial arrival, until the spices arrive. Dark red fruits, honey and raisins. When the port notes arrive, they seem pretty delicate with a duty sweetness. Quite a jam like quality, but seems slightly thin.
F: Medium. Pretty peppery and dry. Cocoa powder with a hint of bitterness. It is quite graceful, but seems to be lacking something to fully hold my attention. For me, the spirit and the port don’t seem to be coupled as well as other port matured/finished expressions that i’ve tried and that it also suffers at the weaker strength of 40%. A bit more bite would round it off a tad. Mid/Low 80’s again.
Balvenie Caribbean Cask (43%)
N: Sweet spices grab you at first, before the honey, vanilla pod, and red currents take hold. Some fresh fruit and dusty tones too. A strong sweetness leads the way with some fresh coconut before a slight metallic note towards the end. Pretty shy nose again.
P: Better arrival this time. Similarities to the Doublewood’s but spicier with hints of cinnamon. Glides around the mouth more, giving some heathered honey, vanilla and tropical fruits. Citrus, fudge and brown sugared sweetness. Nice levels of oak throughout.
F: Medium. A lingering dryness doesn’t dominate the quality malt and oak notes. At times I found the sweetness to be slightly cloying, but the robust maltiness balanced it nicely. This is a session dram in my book. Easy drinking, graceful and slightly sweet. You could sit down with a friend and finish this bottle before you knew what hit you. Mid 80’s.
Balvenie Single Barrel 12yo (47.8%)
N: Now we’re talking! Wide, full and fruity – mostly apples, but hints of melon too. Rich and honeyed sweetness. Lots of vanilla ice cream. Marshmallows over an autumnal fire. Very moorish nose right here.
P: Beautiful. Complex flavours intertwining gracefully. Fruity, malty, slightly prickly and exciting. Freshly cut strawberries & bananas balanced with a graceful oakiness. Slight sawdust note with lots of vanilla. Absolutely spot on!
F: Long. The fruits linger nicely leaving fresh overtones, with some gentle sweetness throughout. Quite simply gorgeous. This is quality whisky with some fantastic flavours. Simply enjoyable. If you can get your hands on a bottle, do it! Elegant, graceful, complex and exciting. Whisky of the evening. High 80’s.
Balvenie Single Barrel 15yo (47.8%)
N: You can tell this was fully matured in sherry casks. Noses just like a sherry. Leathery, dusty, sawdust, daaark fruits with orange and honey. A hint of wood polish towards the end. Overall fruity and spicy.
P: Feels lighter than the Single Barrel 12yo, but it does continue to build on the palate. The sherried fruits couple with notes of leather and wet wood to bring quite a heavy feel on the tongue. I got some notes of burnt fruitcake, especially strong chewy raisins. This has quite a musty feel to it.
F: Medium/Long. Dry and dark. As the sherry subsides it leaves a slight bitter note. Rum and raisin ice cream. It does have quite a creamy character. I did find the finish slightly cloying, but some would find it spot on. Enjoyable and the sherry works nicely, not over the top at all. Second best of the night. Mid/high 80’s.
A great evening had by all. Alwynne was entertaining, informative and as always, fun. My pick of the evening was the 12yo Single Barrel. Although I’m a big fan of sherry matured whiskies, I felt the 12yo (the cheaper of the two) had the upper hand this time.