This is the result of an extensive review of the Balvenie. I am doing similar reviews of all scottish distilleries and was particularly interested what the core whisky enthusiast makes of it. It is aimed for the whisky beginner/novice, but I would like to know what you people think of it aswell as hearing about what may be wrong or simply bad in your eyes.
The only one missing is the Roasted malt but I am tasting it currently inbetween the Knock dhu review. I will update this post when it's done.
Each whisky has been evaluated at least 6 times at different days. Here goes...
In 1892 William Grant transformed Balvenie New House to what is now the Balvenie distillery. This mansion was built next to the ruins of Balvenie Castle and purchased by the Grants in 1892. 15 Months later, on 1 may 1893 the first spirit was produced and The Balvenie was a fact. The first single malt bottling was released in 1973 under the name Balvenie Classic. An interesting fact is that the distillery is still in family hands, an exceptionally rare occurrence in the whisky industry. The same family also owns Glenfiddich and Kininvie, making Balvenie the sister distillery of Glenfiddich. Both distilleries lie next to each other and use the same water source. Although Glenfiddich is by far the biggest and better known of the two, The Balvenie is favored by practically every whisky enthusiast and connoisseur alike. Its outstanding quality and complexity ensures this malt wins gold and silver medals year after year on spirit competitions across the world. Perhaps not surprisingly then, The Balvenie claimed its place in the top 10 best selling single malts worldwide in 2004.
Balvenie takes great pride (and quite rightly so) in their traditional way of making whisky. Indeed very few, if any distilleries still apply this degree of tradition and devotion. As such The Balvenie grows its own barley at the family farm “Balvenie Mains” which holds 1000 acres of land. This barley provided previously 30%, but since recently 10% of the total malt requirements. They have their own floor maltings, operated manually which is just another tradition you will find nowhere else on the Scottish mainland. The malt is dried using peat for the first 12 hours, followed by anthracite for the next 28 hours. This provides the wonderful mild smokiness in the undertone. Ten Oregon pine washbacks of 50.000 liters each provide the wash after a total fermentation time of 60 hours. The stills have a capacity of 12729 liters and are heated by steam coils. All the stills are ball-type and rather tall, equipped with a boiling ball for some reflux. The wash stills have slightly rising lye arms while the spirit stills have descending lye arms. 4 wash stills are charged for approximately five and a half hours. Two containing 12729 liters (maximum capacity) and two with 9092 liters each. The wash is then divided amongst the five spirit stills for the second distillation run which takes approximately 12 hours. Unique in the industry, The Balvenie has its own coppersmith who tends to the stills and repairs or replaces parts at a regular basis. The distillery uses casks from Spain (Oloroso sherry), the US (bourbon) and Portugal (port pipes which held the finest ports for two years previously) for its core range with additional finishes of new wood, rum barrels, more port pipes and probably a lot more to come in the future. Once more according to tradition, they have their own cooperage on site to assemble the casks and repair damaged casks where necessary. The majority of the warehouses are traditional dunnage warehouses, the best known being warehouse 24 which used to be the basement of the Balvenie New House. However since 1963 a few racked warehouses were added to the site. These still use earth floors but can store the casks six high instead of three high, maintaining the damp atmosphere of the dunnage while at the same time improving storage capacity.
Since 2005 the distillery owns a visitor centre and organizes guided tours for a maximum of 8 people. The tour lasts about two and a half hours and costs £20. For this money you get the tour guided by the distillery manager himself and you get to taste the range including the 30 year old afterwards. Only in weekdays and you are advised to contact the distillery to pre-book your tour.
House Style: Honeyed top notes, full body with a heathery and malty undertone. Accessible and pleasing.
Price/Quality best buy: The Balvenie 15 Single Barrel
The Balvenie Founders Reserve
This used to be the standard before the 12 year old took its place. Stopped production in 2005. The Founders Reserve is a marriage from 90% bourbon and 10% Oloroso sherry casks.
Rating : 81
Nose: Sweet and clean honey; acacia honey at its peak, sunflower honey at softer moments. Obvious vanilla. Well balanced underground from sweet malt and soft smelling flowers. At the background light aroma’s from peat smoke, subtle hints of nutmeg and young oak. Mild hints of citric fruit. Overall a light and unpronounced nose. Obvious bourbon influence. Pleasant, delicate and soft.
Taste: Full and firm body with a smooth, oily and soft mouth feel. Obvious soft honey and vanilla. Underground containing sweet malt and vanilla again. Recognizable fruity tones with apple emerge. Slightly smoky. Subtle hints from the oak, grass and flowers in the back. Beautifully balanced flavor with a lot of subtle nuances. Full and accessible taste.
Finish: Mild sunflower honey leaves an echo together with obvious sweet malt. Light touch from almonds and nutty oil. Subtle hint of dry young oak and vanilla. Very light hints from fruit and spices with ginger. Long finish with mainly honey and at the end nuts. Sweet.
Opinion: Balanced, smooth and easily drinkable. Enough complexity for the experienced enthusiast and accessible enough for even the very first beginner. It may appear simple but hidden underneath lies a lot of complexity with a lot of subtle nuances.
Compared with the standard: Lighter nose, with more honey. Flavor wise there is less of everything. Sometimes the honey is a bit stronger here but in general less pronounced. Maybe more easy-going, but a bit dull compared to the 12y old.
The Balvenie DoubleWood
The standard bottling since 2005/2006. Matured for at least 11 years in bourbon casks and finished further in Oloroso sherry casks.
Rating : 83
Nose: Aromatic and fruity. Good balance between honey and sherry. It needs time but eventually gains complexity. Balanced sherry influence with dried fruit, apricots, oranges, lemon peel and a hint of dates and raisins. Underneath that a combination of sweet malt, wet oak and wood smoke. Recognizable touches of walnuts and vanilla with a hint of caramel. In the background hints from leather, rubber and tobacco. Spicy with hints of cinnamon and cloves. Slightly winy.
Taste: Very full body with a smooth and pleasant mouth feel. Soft sherry alongside obvious oak at the mouth arrival. Undertone with malt, some apricot and grapes. Mild smoky underground. Sweetness coming from the malt and toffee/caramel. Subtle hints from spices with cloves and green herbs. Overall a mild taste. Accessible but lacks some depth. Well balanced without pronounced flavors.
Finish: Very obvious and slightly bitter oak. Nutty with hazelnuts, followed by sweet malt and dark honey with a touch of caramel. Beneath some wood smoke and fruit with light oranges and tangerines. Subtle touch from green herbs and a vanilla sweetness. Fruity sherry leaves a kind echo. Medium length and a bit drier here.
Opinion: Impressive nose. Reasonable complexity, but the balance drops a point here and there by account of the pronounced oak. Accessible and smooth but there is far more sherry influence then bourbon influence.
The Balvenie 15 Single Barrel 1989
Bottled from a single cask, aged for 15 years in a first fill bourbon barrel, Unchill filtered. Since the 15y olds are all single casks, the flavors will differ slightly from one bottling to another. Therefore each bottle bears the cask number on the label. This bottle is from cask n° 8424
Rating : 89
Nose: Very light acetic surface. Obvious bourbon influence. Vanilla and soft honey. Undertone is floral with smelling flowers: roses, heather and mayflowers. Smoked malt and wet oak. In the back almonds and citrus tones with soft lime and lime peel. Slightly spicy. It needs some time to open up but when it does it is quite sweet and complex. Sometimes slightly sharp and pungent.
Taste: Full body and an oily mouth feel. Wonderfully complex opening containing sunflower honey and sweet vanilla. Pronounced bourbon influence and somewhat punchy sweet alcohol at the surface. Underneath floral with heather and sweet flowers, alternated with some punchy spices, ginger, and soft peppers. Sweet malt with cake and cookies. Smoked malt and even peat smoke in the background together with subtle hints from berries and tangerine. Sugar syrup. Generally spirity and sweet. Complex, intense and multilayered. Full and pleasing.
Finish: Masses of clean thick honey. Somewhat young and dry oak mingles with honey and vanilla. Honey and sweet malt linger for quite a while. Heather and flowers emerge once more, accompanied by fruit with some kiwi and tangerines, yet ever so subtle. Hint from almonds in the background. Overall long and very full flavored. Sticky and sweet. Water makes for an even more intense and longer finish.
Opinion: Pronounced and complex on all fronts. Rich taste with multiple layers and well balanced with an explosion of light and subtle nuances. Above all there’s the obvious bourbon influence and the typical Balvenie fullness and honey. The Balvenie we all know and love. A must!
Compared with the standard: Needs a lot more time to open, but once opened there is a far more pronounced bourbon presence, more honey and vanilla. There’s also a spirity punch here that is lacking in the 12. Apart from the nose, more complex on all fronts. Sweeter and more intense. A much more assertive and pronounced character then the 12.
The Balvenie 15 Single Barrel 1990
This is another 15y old, only from another cask and another vintage. This one is from cask n° 1682. I have done this to see if there are in fact differences between batches.
Rating : 87
Nose: Vanilla sweetness and fruit with pineapple and lime. Obvious bourbon influence with almonds and caramel. Underground is quite floral with heather and sweet smelling summer flowers. Spicy with ginger and also a light touch of immature feints. At the background some acetic tones, nail polish remover. Subtle hints from candy and marzipan, mint and grass. In general an interesting nose, sometimes a bit too sharp. Somewhat musty and closed at the beginning, but gains intensity and sweetness over time.
Taste: Full body and a firm mouth feel. Sunflower honey and obvious vanilla with a pronounced bourbon influence. Spirity due to the sweet alcohol. Undertone with lots of sweet malt, caramel and almonds. In the back there are hints of heather, barley-sugar, smoked malt and feints with leather and some sulphur. Punchy spices, hint from cedar and balanced oak. Complex and full flavored, honey from start to finish. Excellent balance between honey and soft floral influences. Intense.
Finish: Spicy with chili peppers, green pepper and ginger. Some honey, vanilla and towards the end firm oak and a sweet cedar touch. Underground with peeled almonds, banana and some hidden malt. Slightly more vanilla presence now and a beautiful bourbon influence. In the background there is a nutty/bitter touch creeping up. There’s also a grainy tone here which is working against the malty sweetness. Complex, long, sweet and honeyed.
Opinion: Very obvious bourbon influence. Mainly honey and vanilla but still complex with a full and extensive undertone. Beautiful succession of flavors. Spirity and intense, sometimes alcoholic even.
Compared with the standard: Thinner nose, sharper and less accessible. The mouth feel is sharper and more edgy, but the palate is richer. Generally far less accessible, much more intense and more alcoholic. It is also more complex with more underlying flavors derived from an obvious bourbon influence and far more pronounced vanilla.
The Balvenie 21 PortWood
Although it states on the label Limited Edition, It is not all that limited as you might think. It has been around for years and I have not heard it will disappear. Aged for more then 20 years in a bourbon barrel, the spirit is then matured further in 30 year old port pipes. This bottling is exemplary of how a finish can complement and add complexity to single malt.
Rating : 89
Nose: Liquorish and winy. Aromatic and strong nose containing a lot of soft fruit, dried oranges, strawberry and raspberry. In the undertone there are almonds and some marzipan. Soft honey, smoke and matured oak. Hints of vanilla sweetness. Bourbon influence at one side and liquorish at the other. Excellent balance between oak, sweet malt and port.
Taste: Firm body with a round mouth feel. Dry, clean oak hand in hand with sweet malt. Christmas cake with underneath a fruity layer containing grapes, berries, dried oranges and a hint of cherries. Soft vanilla and honey. Smoky background with wood smoke and burnt heather. Overall intense and complex, winy but sweet, somewhat drier towards the finish. Excellent balance.
Finish: Off-note from dry oak opens the finish and disturbs the balance with a short bitter tone. After that once more sweetish and fruity with red fruits, brambles and oranges. Honey arises alternately in the background and the underground accompanied by spices; cardamom and cloves. Nutty with walnuts and peeled almonds. Long and intense. Very complex with a lot of depth and different flavors. The first signs of old age are beginning to show here.
Opinion: Well balanced and very complex. Soft and smooth with a fruity surface. Port influence is very well balanced with the typical Balvenie bourbon influence. This is top class, but it’s a pity that the first signs of age and thus slightly unbalanced oak emerge in the finish.
Compared with the standard: On all fronts more complex and more intensely flavored. More fruit, more balanced more pronounced. Feints seem to have disappeared. Everything is more obvious, more present and better balanced. An excellent example of evolution.
The Balvenie 25 Single Barrel
25 years of maturation in a bourbon barrel, Unchill filtered and bottled from a single cask, this whisky follows the same principle as the 15 year old and is accordingly unique from cask to cask. This bottle comes from cask n° 6460 and was bottled in 2004.
Rating : 86
Nose: Full soft oily nose. Clean and obvious bourbon influence. Complex and constantly changing. Everything is light but clean. Top notes from peeled almonds, vanilla and vanilla pudding. After a while dry dusty oak followed by citric fruit: lemon and oranges. Soft, clean orange blossom honey. Light floral touch with blossoms and heather. In the background hints of old leather and sometimes acetic.
Taste: Full, thick body with a soft and oily mouth feel. Soft sunflower honey and vanilla. In addition sweet malt, cake and biscuits. Somewhat punchy underground. Smoked malt and subtle old oak. Hints of almonds and cocoa. Everything on an oily background containing sunflower oil and caramel. Overall mellow and well balanced, complex with a beautiful bourbon influence.
Finish: Honey lingers on for a long time. Then comes the oak to the surface with now and again a bitter hint. Strong bourbon influence with nuts, almonds. Undertone is malty followed by spices; peppers and ginger. Somewhat bitter and grainy aftertaste at the end.
Opinion: Age has smoothened everything out but also the complexity suffers from it. However with more time there are constantly new layers forming, definitely worth to wait 30 minutes or so. This whisky is made from the honey and vanilla. There’s also a pronounced bourbon influence but it lacks some depth here. Everything is subtle but present. Reasonably complex, well balanced, smooth and very pleasant.
Compared with the standard: More sophisticated. Softer and lighter flavor wise. Whereas the 12 throws malt, sherry and oak in your direction, here you’ll have to be patient and let the vanilla, oak and malt tell their story in a more civilized and controlled manner. Cleaner and more self restrained. Honest.
The Balvenie 17 IslayCask
Released in 2001, now a collectors item. 17 year old Balvenie was finished in casks that previously held Islay whisky, and then the casks were married together and bottled. A limited edition from 94 casks. This bottling evoked strong reactions from both Speyside as Islay fans. Nevertheless this practice shows up now and again at different distilleries this present day. It also found its way to the blends.
Rating : 87
Nose: Calm and complex. Intriguing and excellent balance. Fruity with oranges, soft tangerines and hints from stewed apples. Bourbon influence with gingerbread and spiced biscuit. Sweet and fragrant. Complex underground with smoky sweet malt and mild flowery tones with a grassy touch, all in good balance. In the back there is sugared almonds, volatile honey and vanilla, light presence from feints; leather, dust and wool. Soft spicy touches, aniseed, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. There’s also old, wet oak.
Taste: Full to oily body and a soft mouth feel. Sweet malt and soft fruit at the mouth arrival with tangerines and oranges. Grassy and floral upper tone with some violets. Oak is present and obvious from the beginning. Sweet and smoky undertone with smoked, sweet malt and a hint of peat. Full, thick honey arises and remains present alongside some thin wet oak. Background from spices and subtle touches of pear and tangerine. Pleasant and soothing.
Finish: Well balanced and variable nature. Long and a somewhat woody aftertaste. Walnuts and obvious oak linger for a long time. Smoky undertone with a hint of peat. Even here there’s a touch of oak and liquorice. In the background subtle hints from brine and just sometimes a bitter hint at the end. Thick honey and very light lemon.
Opinion: Rather complex but closed. Needs a lot of time to open up. The bourbon influence shines trough, be it unclear at times. The smoky underground adds a lot of interesting nuances. Good to excellent balance between many different flavors, well divided over the different layers.
Compared with the standard: More mature and calm. Better balanced and more peaceful. Generally less different flavors, but better divided amongst the layers. Although the nose suggests tangerines, far less fruity then the 12. There is however a more obvious presence of smoke. Sophisticated compared to the standard.
The Balvenie PortWood 1989
Released in 2002, this whisky was distilled in 1989, matured in bourbon barrels for 12 years and was then transferred to port pipes for further maturation. Although it states a vintage, this is not a single cask meaning the casks were married, chill filtered and diluted to 40% prior to bottling.
Rating : 83
Nose: Aromatic and fruity with apricot and oranges. Sweet malt and cashew nuts, sweet almonds. Beneath there is oak and malt with bread crust. Sweetness coming from the malt and acacia honey. Broad background with spicy tones, floral touches with mild flowers, lily and honeysuckle. There’s a touch of sulphur which actually adds to the complexity. Well balanced without pronounced aromas. Closed but opens up with time. Water turns the nose towards malty.
Taste: Full and soft body, slightly oily with a firm mouth feel. Dry oak and soft fruit at the mouth arrival. Grapes, brambles, apricots and dried oranges. Obvious cask influence. The undertone is slightly dry and nutty at one side, sweet and malty at the other. Somewhat unbalanced and winy. Subtle earth tone at the background and a hint of cinnamon. Generally tight and closed, complex but lacking some balance.
Finish: Sweet plums and grapes, slightly unbalanced dry oak and hazelnuts. Sweetish with an obvious port influence. Underlying berries, brambles and apricot, even some peach. Towards the end it becomes drier with grainy malt and sour fruit: plums and subtle rhubarb. Tannins and nuts, hint of nutmeg and cloves. Long, initially sweet, then becomes dry. Somewhat unbalanced oak and nuts dominate the finish.
Opinion: Somewhat closed, oak is slightly dominating and brings ripples to the balance and complexity. There’s sweetness coming from the malt and the fruit, but oak and tannins add a certain level of dryness as well. Port influence is obvious yet never pronounced. Winy with an interesting background.
Compared with the standard: A similar nose, some more oak and fruit. The taste is quite thin and sharp compared to the 12. The finish is longer with more oak and tannins, more dry and intense. Generally there’s a lot more oak influence here making it less accessible, not as complex and lacking in balance compared to the standard.
The Balvenie 1991 PortWood
Released in 2004, this is the same principle as the 1989 PortWood. It is a vintage from 1991, and although the principle is the same, the flavors are most certainly not.
Rating : 83
Nose: Strong and pronounced aromas. Complex and refined but volatile. Pungent and slightly unbalanced due to some rubber and sulphur. Upper tone of dried fruit and dry nuts, a constant presence from dry oak and dry Fino sherry. Underneath hints of leather grease and volatile feints. In the background tannins and burnt wood. There is also a hint of soft honey and vanilla and a bizarre port influence.
Taste: Full body but a dry and thin mouth feel. Very obvious dry oak. Fruity with sour fruit at one side: white grapes and plums, and at the other side brambles, juniper berries and raspberries. Light hints from vanilla and medium sweet malt at the beginning. On the background light honey, subtle briny, and next sour tones. Intriguing yet sharp port influence. Sweet and smooth yet lacking some harmony.
Finish: Dominating top notes of gooseberries, plums and dry grapes. Lots of dry oak and tannins. The underground has just enough sweetness alongside some chestnuts and hazelnuts. In the background grainy and malty, white wine and slightly smoky with wood smoke, coals and ash. Briny touch. Overall very long, probably too intense for many. Very pronounced but a taste you can learn to appreciate. Dry oak and sour fruit.
Opinion: Dry oak and sour fruit are disturbing the balance. Inaccessible. Too pronounced for a finish. However very interesting for the Fino sherry devotee for example. A unique cask influence, the taste is sweetish and smooth but the finish is quite dry and rich of tannins.
Compared with the standard: Far more dry oak and woodiness, instead of the sweet grapes from the 12, you get dry grapes here. Not as balanced and not as accessible, however far more interesting then the standard. This doesn’t seem like a Balvenie anymore, the cask influence is too dominating.
The Balvenie RumWood 14
Released in 2005, this is a limited edition of only 14 casks. The whisky has matured in bourbon barrels and was finished in rum barrels, married together and bottled without the chill filtering process.
Rating : 81
Nose: Very closed. Everything is subtle and light. Obscure nose. Sweet but lacking in depth. On top some sweet toffee and caramel, touch of rum and mellow lemon tones. After some time the sweetness from the rum arises with cane sugar and caramel. Subtle hints of wet grass and hay. Feinty with new leather and saddle leather. Soft, warm underground. A whiff of honey, fruit and coconut in the background.
Taste: Round body with a full taste but sometimes a bit thin. Sweetness coming from the rum with cane sugar and sweet alcohol. The rum seems to mask the whisky a little. Still some honey and vanilla strays on the surface. Malty underground with sweet malt and also barley tones. In the back a hint of fruit with nectarines. Slightly spirity due to the alcohol. Generally a reluctant flavor profile below the typical rum/alcohol influence.
Finish: Medium to long. Warm finish but unpronounced. It gets considerably better after some time in the glass. Sweetness returns with cane sugar and sweet malt. Underneath some vanilla alternated with soft rum. Unclear touch of oak, mellow hints of chili and peppers. Unpeeled nuts and some fruit with banana. Threatens to become bitter at times.
Opinion: A malt that needs time to develop. The rum has an obvious influence but suppresses the other flavors. Honey, malt and sweetness are present but too light. Everything is subtle instead of confirmed. Although not as complex as usual, probably more accessible due to the sweetness from the rum. Nice whisky, but lacks depth.
Compared with the standard: There’s more sweetness in the taste but a bit sharper mouth feel due to the alcohol. Sweeter and more one dimensional then the 12. Not as full and smooth and lacking complexity compared to the standard.
The Balvenie NewWood 17
A limited release from 2006. A selection of 79 bourbon casks has been finished in new casks. The spirit has matured for 17 years in bourbon barrels, was then transferred to new casks made from American white oak for the finishing effect and bottled at 40%. Although Balvenie is not the first to experiment with new casks, this is still a relatively new development in official bottlings.
Rating : 84
Nose: Very fruity nose, fragrant and aromatic. Top layer containing fruit: sweet berries, apricot, soft tangerine, kiwi and apple. Immediately followed up by oily honey, orange blossom honey and beeswax. Sweet malt with wafers and cookies. The undertone is floral with hints of aniseed and basil, mild flowers and blossoms. In the back sweet cedar, light feints with musty oak and some vanilla and caramel. Hint of cinnamon.
Taste: Full body and a soft mouth feel. Toast at the beginning at the front, and afterwards in the underground. Fruity mouth arrival with peach and tangerine, hints of apples and grapes. Vanilla and caramel. Malty undertone, balanced sweet malt and a subtle hint of smoked malt and wood smoke at the back. More in the back there is dry oak and cedar, some honey and mocha chocolate.
Finish: Wood is obviously present now. Cedar wood and some liquorice. Underlying sweetness coming from sweet malt, light honey and fruit. Then the grainy malt takes its place alongside some pepper and unroasted peanuts. Overall medium length and slightly dry, however most of the time sticky and sweet.
Opinion: Fantastic floral and fruity nose. Very well balanced. Vanilla and malt, together with the oak are slightly dominating. Perhaps lacking in depth but this is very sweet with a pronounced toffee/cedar flavor. Very accessible.
Compared with the standard: Totally different nose. Fruit is fresher and pronounced, cedar instead of mature oak. More pronounced nose. More sweetness and complexity in the taste. The focus is more on the malt and the vanilla/caramel. In general the fruit is more pronounced with unexpected tones from kiwi and exotic fruit. Far more sweetness and vanilla related flavors.
One of the extremely rare independent bottlings from Balvenie. This is from Cadenheads Authentic Collection. As a matter of fact, this was the only one I could find. Therefore I had no choice but to include an independent over 100€. Matured in a bourbon hogshead and bottled straight from the cask, this is a rare insight to Balvenie in its cleanest form.
Rating : 89
Nose: Very strong and complex nose. Mellow, oily at the beginning. Floral with mayflowers, fresh grass and a firm aroma of flowers. Followed by lime and fresh lemon. Sometimes slightly pungent alcohol. Spicy undertone with pepper, marjoram, ginger and a bit herbal with parsley. Nutty oil and butter. Almonds, soft malt and honey. Intriguing background: apples and baby-banana’s pitched against soft leather and tobacco aromas. Subtle hint of metal. Touch of smoked malt too. Water opens this whisky tremendously.
Taste: Firm body with an initially hot and astringent, then a soft and mellow mouth feel. Very complex, impressive balance. Alcoholic, but water removes the edges. After the initial alcohol bite, clean acacia honey and sweet vanilla comes into play. Everything is balanced by sweet malt. Sunflower honey with underneath floral and spicy flavors. Followed up by fruit with soft peach and a fresh hint of mango and melon. Alcohol-sweetness, oak in the back together with some old leather and smoky malt.
Finish: Long and complex. Sometimes slightly thin with here and there a bitter touch. Honeyed at first, then spicy with red peppers, oregano and nutmeg. Hints from liquorice at first, after that firm, matured oak. Underground with sweet malt and alcohol, short arrival from almonds.
Opinion: Excellent complexity. Alcoholic but sweet. Intense and tightly balanced. Thick clean honey and vanilla leads the way, immediately followed by a powerful and unusual spiciness. Floral throughout the underground and background. Lots of subtle nuances. Water even improves the balance and complexity.
Compared with the standard: Far more intense and complex. Still holds the typical Balvenie honey and fullness. Cleaner floral influences with flowery tones. Obviously a lot more alcoholic. More subtle nuances on the background. Sharper, not nearly as fruity as the 12y old. Actually these two are almost impossible to compare due to the different cask influence on both.
The Balvenie Roasted Malt 14
Released in 2006, distilled in 1992; the malt used in this bottling consists of partially traditional malt and partially dark roasted malt commonly used to produce stout. This particular malt has been germinated in a shorter time span and has been completely roasted to between 1600 and 1800 European Brewing Color units (The normal EBC is around 30 EBC’s). This is a limited bottling of 34 casks, married together and non chill filtered.
Rating : 90
Nose: Very aromatic and sweet with tons of sweet fruit; banana, peach, ripe mango and in the undertone some oranges. After a while more strawberries and raspberries emerge. Then the perfect balance between fresh, new cedar wood and sunflower honey comes into play. In the underground there is more clean honey with a touch of caramel and some flowers for more complexity. A lot of sweet malt here with aromas of cookies and cake. In the background subtle hints appear from the bourbon influence with vanilla and almonds. Finally some mild feints emerge with sweaty tobacco. In general a complex and hypnotizing nose, thick and buttery yet very sweet and pleasing.
Taste: Full body with an oily, creamy mouthfeel. Intensely flavored with a fruity top layer, ripe mango, strawberries, raspberries and ripe oranges and tangerines. Underneath lies the sweet malt alongside the honey and vanilla resulting in more cookies and cake. In the back hints from dry oak, spices and almonds. Water tames it, taking off the pronounced flavors but on the other hand brings out the smoke and the oak.
Finish: Long and syrupy. Top notes from cedar and caramel immediately followed by an abundance of honey and sweet malt. In the back more hints of smoked malt and the cask influence shows itself here. After a while new malt waves appear this time with cereal flavors and toast just as the name promised.
Opinion: Full and complex. Well balanced and accessible thanks to the sweetness from the honey and the malt. Sweet biscuits in a glass. Magnificent sweet fruity nose and taste, every subsequent flavor following the previous in a seamless pattern. Excellent bourbon influence too. Very impressive and ultimately pleasing stuff.
Compared with the standard: In the nose perhaps less different aromas, but definitely more complexity and honeyed top notes. More summer fruit in the taste with more flavor intensity. The finish has more honey, spices and has a better cask influence. On all fronts more complexity and fullness. Little interference from the oak compared to the 12Y old. No sherry but a far better balance from the bourbon.
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I really liked it . Much drier than your usual Balvenie, and maybe they were victims of preconception, but I got through a bottle easily, and my neighbour got through two bottles, no problem
A quibble or two: I believe Balvenie is dried entirely over anthracite; there is a small stove beside the main one under the kiln for peat, for better control of the smoke. Perhaps that side stove is used for the first twelve hours in addition to the anthracite, or I suppose it could be used before the anthracite is lit (in which case what you wrote is perfectly accurate). A small point, and maybe I didn't understand something there, but perhaps worth clarifying.
Also, do you know for a fact that production of the FR has ceased? Not to start up this whole conversation again, but we had heard that was going to be the case; then, the last I remember hearing was that it was going to be restricted to certain markets. The availability (or lack thereof) of the FR is a matter of great interest to many, so it would be worth confirming.
Great job, thank you, and thanks for starting with one of my favorites!
I have not yet tasted any 1991. They are the latest batch and when I commenced writing the review they were not yet released. However, like I wrote in the 15Y comments, each cask will inevitably taste different from another. Lets say the UK has 3 batches (casks) a year, all 3 from 1991 (mind you this is guessing, it could aswell be 5 or it could be just 2) then they will taste different all three. The vintage itself does not matter, it is the cask number that counts. Nevertheless I am somewhat intruiged that you mentioned a 1990 with 50.4% ABV. I was led to believe the 50.4% batches were from earlier years. All recent batches have 47.8% regardless of country.
The first 12 hours of kilning involves athracite and peat, yet only one layer of peat is used each time the fire is replenished. After that it is anthracite alone. It is clearly stated on the website aswell as referred to in Misako Udo's book The Scottish Whisky Distilleries.
As for the Founders Reserve, It was said by someone from the distillery itself and repeated by a malt ambassador of Maxxium which is the importer in Belgium; The Founders Reserve stopped production due to the lack of demand compared to the DoubleWood. It was said nobody buys the 10Y old if they can buy a 12Y old for only one or two Euro's more.
That being said, we both know these things will eventually prove themselves. People say alot, all we can do is wait and see, but I wouldn't keep my hopes up.
Could you see if everything I wrote is indeed accurate? The distillery has not replied on my mails so I am somewhat dependent on the people that go there and check stuff out.
There is one question in particular if you would be so kind to pass it on there: Although the label clearly states single cask and a vintage is added to clarify that every cask may taste slightly different, Why is every 15Y old diluted up to 47.8%??? Even if they give you the "unchill filtered" theory there still should be casks that have a different ABV. Why bother saying every cask is unique if you flatten out the differences by giving every single cask the same ABV. It doesn't make sence.
Thank you for the replies.
From the website re kilning (as you have noted):
To produce the characteristic taste of The Balvenie range, peat is used only for the first 12 hours of kilning, and only a single layer each time the fire is replenished.
I'm not quite sure what this means, and I suspect it may be out of date. I was told that formerly, a layer of peat was laid on top of the anthracite (which is what I think the above is talking about), but now, the peat is burned in a separate stove to the side, for better control. I saw this stove with my own eyes, although I stupidly failed to take a photo of it. Perhaps Crieftan would be kind enough to clarify this when he visits. C, if you think of it, ask them when the stove was added.
This is of course just a bit of anorak arcana...but it happens to be a detail that I remember, and therefore it is important!
It does makes sence though, for a better control they could use the stove for peat while the main fire is fueled with anthracite. You are probably right that the site is outdated. it remains the same principle though, the first 12 hours peat and athracite and the next 28 anthracite alone. As soon as I hear anything more of this I will change it for more clarification as the anoraks desire. And you are right, it is important. I hate it when people teach me something that is completely incorrect like I have experienced many times, hence it would be unforgiveble if I did the exact same thing.
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Mustardhead wrote:Oh, and the supermarket shelves still seem to be heaving with 10yo Founder's Reserve.
I've seen quite a bit of it too, recently.
Can anyone confirm that this bottling has in fact been discontinued? Balvenie doesn't list it on their website anymore, but does that mean they've stopped production?
Also, this was a great review. Very useful. I hope you cover some more distilleries.
The vintage range of Balvenie is over that price range and although I have the policy: everything they send me for free will be included, there is litlle chance they will send a sample as they didn't even bother to reply to the 5 or 6 mails I sent them...
If they would release a vintage below that price point it would be included.
Off topic: whats the 23rd hint? I guess I'm lost.
Ah, a wee hint about the 23:d. Look at Balvenies webpage...
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