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Issue 18 of WM arrived yesterday. Among the tastings is a Balvenie Islay Cask. I'm curious: can this be a single malt? If there is one drop of the Islay whisky still in the wood, it technically makes it a vatted malt. If there is no Islay whisky at all in the wood of the cask, then what is the point of maturing the Balvenie in an Islay cask?
Strange beast this one ....
I don't quite agree with you. All the malt whisky in a bottle of single malt whisky comes, by definition, from one distillery. The wee amounts of port, sherry, etc. are not malt whisky and therefore, do not have to come from the same distillery. FAIK, this Balvenie Islay Cask is the first Scottish single malt distilled in one distillery and matured in casks which previously contained whisky from another one .... Hence my doubting whether this technically is still a 'single'.
Which Islay distillery (and expression) was used for these casks? And, what 'finish' was the Islay whisky?
Your question is good, and will undoubtedly stir some whisky-heads into a frenzy What is the governing body who would have control over the legal answer the Islay cask question? Is it left to the discretion of the bottling distillery?
Time to sit back and watch the topic heat-up as people argue with a fat dram
You have a statement there no doubt about it
Except for one thing, I disagree with you that it technically spoken is a vatted malt.
There for you need two ore more malts, and all they did was extract some flavors from an ex-Islay cask, so I don't see any reason to call it technically speaking a vatted malt
But what about all the ex whisky casks being used as refills, in lager distillery companies it seems like they all circulate to one another, so will that be a vatted malt too?. No I still think that the Balvenie 18Y old ex Islay cask is still a single malt, until otherwise is proven....
Don't get me wrong, it'sa lovely drop -- hey it's Balvenie, what do you expect -- but I found that the peatiness seemed slightly unnatural. It wasn't like a peaty Balvenie in other words, but a Balvenie with peat added -- and Islay peat at that. Where the cask came from I don't know, but rest assured it wasn't Bunna' or the 'Laddie!
My point was to ask where the peatiness in the Balvenie comes from. From the cask itself or from the Islay whisky still in the wood?
You don't need equal amounts of malt whisky from two distilleries to make a vatted malt. Several distilleries throw a tiny amount of whisky from another distillery in casks destined for blending to avoid independents snapping up these casks and selling the whisky as 'single malt'.
If the peatiness in this Balvenie comes from the wood of the cask (and not from the Islay whisky still in the wood), I'm really curious as to how the wood can impart peaty notes to the whisky. Does wood easily soak up phenols and then release them back into fresh spirit?
Lex, it seems that the whisky would be, as you say, 'vatted' if there was liquid in those Islay casks. But, what if there was only sediment in them (bits of wood and other solids)? Should they have been rinsed out prior to the finishing process? I haven't heard of that practice. BTW, is this the first time a single malt has spent time in casks of another distillery? Hardly seems likely. Perhaps someone remembers if it happened before, and what the upshot was.
Great topic, Lex!
I often wondered why the uptake of say fino sherry was so noticeable in Glenmorangie fino finish while Macallan's David Robertson argues that it is the wood type which gives the flavour and not the liquid -- Macallan tastes of European oak not sherry is David's belief.
But in some ways they are both right because the impact of the liquid that was previously in a cask will be less noticeable in long-term maturation of a malt.
In other words, after a period of X years (and cycles of the whisky penetrating deeper into the barrel) the wood influences become dominant and the influence of the liquid previously in the cask lessens. The reverse is the case for a 'finished' product, where the residue of the liquid previously in the cask (which is at its greatest concentration near the surface exposed to the whisky) will have the upper hand. After all the whisky doesn't have time to penetrate deep into the cask.
In other words, a Glenmorangie aged for 12 months in a European oak fino sherry butt will show some fino sherry flavour, but the same whisky aged for 12 years in the same butt will show the influence of European oak.
The overt 'Islay' character of the Balvenie is (as I said) a bit of a mystery to me, though this may be a possible solution.
It would be interesting to see what UDV or Glenmorangie do once they have emptied the casks from Lagavulin or Ardbeg -- are they happy for them to be filled with Knockando and Glenmorangie because after 12 years any residual peatiness will have diminished to barely noticeable levels? If so, the argument stands, If not then we have to do some pretty speedy rethinking!
Does this help?
The real issue to debate is:
Did you enjoy it, if not don't buy it again, if you did tell the world and we can all try and find a bottle to taste.
I applaud Balvenie for having a go at something different, if it fails there is no harm done, if it succeeds and the end result is something different and enjoyable then we all benefit.
It has been the same in my whisky circle with the `regular´ finishings of glenmorangie, which are more than the few elements that are regularly allowed for whisky production: beside peat, malted barley, yeast, water and the wood of the cask there are obviosly wine flavours. but at the end we agreed the finishing are of great taste and it´s something to enjoy. Why hesitate then. I know that there must be a frontier for such experiments but who can say where? I hope the market will do that.
I think that Dave showed us the most possible explanation "that during the years the whisky who matures in a cask penetrates deeper and deeper during the years" and that leaves of course certain flavors behind(it must be) and that all together, gives you a Balvenie with a touch of strong peat, Dave is right, it isn't the Bunny or the Laddie that's for sure, my guess is to look for a UDV cask, besides they do have there the Caol Ila, Lagavulin and the late Port Ellen, but that's just a guess I might be very wrong on this one. Any way just let us enjoy this rare type of Balvenie, and don't care where the cask came from, all we know that cask gave the Balvenie certain flavors.......
Thank you for your interest in The Balvenie Islay Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
The Balvenie Islay Cask 17 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky is without question a single malt Scotch whisky. The Islay cask in which it is finished does not contain any Islay Scotch whisky 'liquid' as it is completely drained before refilling. The Islay characteristics of The Balvenie Islay Cask are rather derived from the wood itself which previously was in contact with Islay single malt. Consequently, The Balvenie Islay Cask only contains The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky and therefore is a single malt, not a vatted malt.
The Balvenie Islay Cask was matured in traditional oak casks for at least 17 years and then transferred into just 94 casks which had previously held Islay single malt. Having sampled the maturing whisky regularly, I believed that after six months the casks had imparted the desired amount of peaty notes, typical of Islay, whilst retaining the distinctively honeyed character of The Balvenie.
The result is, I believe, a characteristically well-matured Balvenie a very honeyed Speyside single malt with soft, sweet oak notes balanced with a delicate hint of peat from the Islay casks.
The Balvenie Malt Master
What is behind the secrecy of the source of these Islay casks? If the distillery of origin for the casks were mentioned would there be a legally enforceable fee or percentage owed them? Perhaps it is a simple marketing ploy -- we'll buy more bottles trying to guess?
I haven't tasted this whisky, but from the mentions of salt, I would suggest Laphroaig-15.
Waiting for B-IslayCask,
That exemption refers to the allowable additions to Scotch whisky as a whole. Water and colouring are allowed, nothing else. Exempt are residues still in the staves of barrels that have previously contained other liquors. In other words, pouring sherry in a barrel of whisky prevents you from calling the spirit 'Scotch whisky', but sherry in the staves is allowed.
FAIK, there is no such explicit exemption in the definition of 'single malt' when the residue in the staves is whisky from another distillery (as opposed to non-whisky, such as sherry, madeira, rum, etc, etc).
Now, if I get this right, otherwise emptied casks contain an amount of residual liquid within the staves. If it is a non-whisky liquor then the final product is exempted from being labelled a blended or vatted whisky. (?) What we have here with the B-IC is the use of an ex-Islay whisky cask. If that's okay, great. If not, then I refer you all to Erik Huurman's post above which mentions the possibility of several (many?) distilleries swapping casks on a regular basis. Is there any evidence of another distillery's casks being used by someone else? If that ever happened, it is surely as great an issue as this one before us now.
To be sure, DB, Opi, yorki, and Erik are correct when they say that the bigger issue is whether we like it and will drink it again. Yet, this is just the first of such finishing attempts, and with sherry, peppery, and smokey/peaty notes so popular, perhaps it signals the beginning of a trend. Hence, the concern of Lex, and others (myself included).
Cheers to all, and may the discussion continue until all are satisfied that there is no slight of hand here or anywhere else, intentional, or unknowingly.
I would like to say first that I can't join the discussion between Ian and Lex, because I still haven't got Issue 18, It's always comes far to late here at my address.
I'm glad that the Balvenie statement from Malt Master David Stewart came along, and actually it says a little bit what me and Dave earlier said in the forum, that just some flavors from the cask added some extra's to it and nothing more, and there for in my opinion I can be still claimed as a single malt, or is it like, that a single malt must come from a single distillery and has to come from the same casks from that distillery, in other words you must use the same casks from that distillery again. But than people will probably speak of a single marriage malt, no as far as I can remember, it doesn't matter what kind of casks you use and what liquor had been in it, before filling it with "new made spirit".
However Lex has got a point there to think of, that the casks only may have been used for "non whisky" purposes, but like he said there's no explicit exemption towards the single malt, so where lies the true, I think only an expert can answer this, and maybe David Stewart already did that?
I have a feeling that this discussion will not be ended very soon, until we have some straight answers.......
First of all, the quote that Ian posted comes from an article by Ian Wizniewski on the current trend of using casks that have held other spirits (rum, cognac, etc).
I think it is important to keep two issues separate: one is the legal definition of Scotch whisky, which states that nothing may be added, except water and colouring. In this light, it is not permitted to add, say, sherry or bourbon, but residues still in the staves of a cask are exempt. This definition of course allows Scotch whisky to be added to Scotch whisky in any amount: the result is still legally Scotch whisky.
The other issue is what constitutes a 'single malt'. FAIK, this is not LEGALLY defined (someone correct me if I'm wrong!), but is said to mean that the whisky all comes from one distillery. Both Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich make use of this by tipping just a tiny amount of Glen Moray and Balvenie (respectively) in their casks destined for blenders to avoid indies snapping them up and selling them on as 'single malts'.
So if the Balvenie expression that started this whole debate gets its Islay character from phenols left in the wood by the Islay whisky, no problem whatsoever (and of course I agree that if it is a good whisky, it should be enjoyed as such).
But if a single malt whisky is finished in casks which have contained whisky from another distillery AND the staves of these casks still contain some of that whisky, the term 'single malt' has arrived on a slippery slope. Don't you look at a label of a whisky for the words 'single malt', which then gives you the assurance that the whisky comes from one distillery only? If we're happy with relaxing this, and allowing some whisky from other distilleries to be present in a single malt, in x years time the whole term 'single malt' will have become an empty meaningless term.
When David Stewart assures us that there is no residue of Islay whisky left in the staves of the Islay casks, I'll of course accept that. What makes me very curious (I like to understand why whiskies taste the way they do), is what elements (phenols?) of the Islay whisky are absorbed by the wood and subsequently released again to the Balvenie. It has to be pretty powerful to be detected after only 6 months.
Thus, if there is a definition of "single Malt" which states "from one distillery" then one might expect the above,which pertains to Scotch Whisky in toto to apply also. And,if there IS no definition of "Single Malt" then the Glenmorangie / Glenfiddich ploy becomes irrelevant and the Indies can bottle as they wish (and we'll be all the better for it!)
So,I say again, can some expert (Marcin?) please look at the relevant legislation and give the reference- then we'll all know.
I don't know the story behind the Balvenie-Islay, but a malt that promotes a new flavour compound in its product range using a characteristic of another malt, that doesn't sound very "single malt"-like. Would we accept a new "peppery" release of let's say Bowmore... ?
If the Islay-taste in the Balvenie comes from phenols, than it has to come from the Islay single malt that aged before in these casks, and not from the wood itself.
I have never heard of any definition of the term single malt, but I don't like the idea that a distillery can develop the flavour of its products just by using typical flavour compounds of other single malts.
But that's just my opinion...
Not to mention sherry or other wine finishes. ...
Using this logic would turn Macallan into a whisky longdrink (it is stored in sherry casks, right?), not to mention the short drink "Springbank rum cask" !!!
And what about artificial colouring? Does E150 turn a powerful single malt like Glenfarclas 105 into whisky-candy ?
Whisky has a long history of using whatever oak cask available (or suitable for that brand). This practice does not change a single malt into a vatted malt or blend. Or a longdrink....
In the absence of a strict legal definition of 'single malt', I guess the debate ultimately comes down to personal interpretation. You may be happy calling a whisky a single malt if it contains only a little bit of whisky from another distillery. On the other hand, you may not accept even the remnants of substances from another whisky.
In this light, there is an indie Irish 'single malt' on the market, called Preston's and clearly labelled as 'single malt'. It basically is single malt from Cooley, with the addition of a tiny bit of pot still whisky from the old Jameson distillery. For me, this is clearly not a single malt and when I asked the company about it, they admitted it wasn't 'technically' a single malt, but it was still a single malt "in spirit" .....
For me personally, it's clear where I draw the line!
(although I suspect it's not a term that will find favour with any marketing departments!)
The Scotch Whisky Drinker's Association (note the apostrophe - there's only one member)will look into the matter.
Somehow, the Islay cask makes me irritated. Instead of making an proper Islay malt, William Grant & Sons Ltd has decided to cut corners and still use the increasingly popular word "Islay" while marketing their Balvenie brand.
A couple of months in Laphroaig casks , and voilà! Instant Islay-fication. The nescafé approach to making malt whisky.
It would have been much more honest (ethical, perhaps?) if they had used the Springbank/Longrow approach. Ressurrect an old brand and make an a new, more peated Balvenie. But that would take another 10-12 years. Too long, obviously, for the product managers at Balvenie. They prefer the Nescafé approach.
Balvenie instant islay malt, no thanks
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