The Balvenie 15yo 1989/2004 ‘Single Barrel’ (47.8%, OB, Bourbon Barrel #7581)

2003 will for ever be the year when The Balvenie 15yo aka ‘The Single Barrel’ from the masters of reduction, was even further reduced. Where this bottling, which often was older than the stated 15yo, used to be reduced to a nice 50.4% ABV, from 2003 on, was further reduced to 47.8%. Bugger, less tax, mo’ money? Never mind. Balvenie is always a nice distillery to review. The company usually puts much effort in reaching consistency between batches, but fails miserably, when comparing this 12yo ‘Doublewood’ to this one and this one. The 15yo however, was intended to have (some) batch variation, since they were the results of one Bourbon cask (I’m not sure if all are Barrels though). Funny enough subsequent releases, and there are many, were pretty similar, when you expected some more emphasis on the difference between casks. I guess, there is more difference when comparing two from (quite) different distilling dates. Well how convenient. Five years back I wrote a review of a 15yo ‘Single Barrel’ that was distilled in 1983, and released in 1999 @ 50.4% ABV, and now we are going to have a look at a “newer” example distilled in 1989, and released in 2004 @ 47.8% ABV. (The picture is of a similar bottling from cask #7633).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Initially fruity and fresh. Very accessible. Vibrant and happy I would say, Summer, it’s like sunshine in a glass. Barley, some butter and brown sugar. Vanilla powder and white oak. Dusty mocha. Hint of gun powder and soap. Next a more vegetal note emerges. Half dried weeds lying around in the sun and some fresh almonds in the background. Soft rhubarb. The more it breathes the weaker it gets. Simpler as well. Pretty easy Whisky, typical of the cask it came from.

Taste: Sweeter than expected, and bigger as well. Lots of fruit, dried apricots, peach in sweet yoghurt, but also vanilla and coffee creamer notes. Pudding and custard. Milk chocolate. Chocolate mousse. This cask gave off lots of vanillin. Very green and vegetal. Nutty, almonds again. A hint of christmas spices. Cloves, that kind of thing. Apart from this, a strange cold dishwater note and add to that a burnt note as well as a slightly floral note. Green. The nose definitely was cleaner. Ice-cream and fruity liqueur (alcohol).

It is strange and typical at the same time. Typical in the way that it is where it came from (Bourbon Barrel), but some strange notes appear as well. The sweetness and the notes mentioned above make this not really a daily drinker. With this one you need some down-time or follow it up with something else. One at a time is enough, and yes this makes it different from other examples of the 15yo I have tasted, so a succesful exercise in getting some batch variation. Not my favourite of the 15’s though.

Points: 84


The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2016)

Remember Master Quill’s Highland Park Week? Remember day two? I went completely bonkers by reviewing a different batch of a recent Highland Park 18yo. Why would one do that when they are supposed to be quite similar? First I reviewed a 2012 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2014 batch. We all know the industry is always insuring consistency between different batches. Consistency is the magic word, and at least in color, and color only (or so they say), consistency is achieved by adding caramel coloring. If you read both Highland Park 18yo reviews you’ll see there is quite a difference between both batches. The difference being five points! My last two Balvenie reviews were also of two different batches of the 12yo Doublewood. First I reviewed a 2014 batch and a bit later I reviewed a 2004 batch. I found that even though the batches were ten years apart, at least quality-wise, the difference was not that great, although the 2014 showed that some Sherry-influence was traded in by sweetness. The difference being only one point.

This triggered a response of Nico, one of my readers claiming there is a larger negative shift in the quality of his 2016 batch Balvenie 12 Doublewood. He invited me over try find out for myself. Well, Master Quill is an adventurous guy, so an appointment was made, and I drove over, but not without a bottle of a very early Balvenie 21yo Portwood in my bag and this 17yo. After a very nice dinner with white gold (asparagus) and a wonderful piece of salmon, the Balvenie tasting begun…

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Sweet Sherry on a bed of sugared yellow fruits. Caramel and toffee sweetness, but this time with lots of fruits and even a floral bouquet. Extremely friendly and accessible, but strange enough it also reminds me a bit of a sugared Rum. Vanilla from American oak. Cereal and oat cookies. All seems to blend well together, it’s almost one big aroma. No off notes, but you have to work on it to detect some separation between the different constituents of the aroma. I’m missing some wood actually. The chewy sweetness seems to hide it. Hints of warm (not burnt) plastic and some toasted wood and cardboard. Smells you get when ironing clothes. Hey, there is the wood-word! Hint of cherries. But yes, there is a blanket of dumbing “sweetness”, dulling the whole. Initially its friendly and likable, but there is also something not quite right. Maybe dull is a word I should use again?

Taste: After Nico’s notes, I expected it to be sweeter, but that’s how expectations work. Still, it has the taste of sugar-water. Worse, the same is noticeable as in the nose. It seems to be some sort of mono-aroma. When I was a member of the Malt Maniacs we encountered this “effect” when adding caramel coloring (E150-a) to four otherwise unadulterated Whiskies (link below). It shaves off highs and lows from the original Single Malt Whisky, making it taste more like a Blended Whisky. When the Whisky is entering my mouth, al seems to be ok, but the body already starts to disintegrate right after that, focussing on an oaky and acidic note. Later the cereal and sweaty cookie notes make a short appearance. Again no separation between the aroma’s. Short finish and no aftertaste worth mentioning. Well cookies, smelly socks maybe and something burnt. Toasted White Wine cask. This is not good. Unbalanced. Whisky like this is no fun. Avoid. (I washed the taste down with the wrong batch of Highland Park 18 (82 points), and that was (now) amazing, at least it smelled amazing…

I could deal with the sweetness. I guess I don’t think it is as sweet as Nico mentions, but I was surprised with the mono-aroma, the complete lack of complexity and development and the quick break-down. I believe this has definitely suffered from too much added caramel. It has all the life squeezed out of it. The nose sort of shows what kind of Whisky this used to be/could have been. Claiming adding caramel does nothing but changeling the color is pretty ignorant. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to conduct your own caramel experiment and see (taste) for yourself.

Points: 72 (eleven whopping points below the 2014 batch and ten whopping points lower than the wrong batch of Highland park 18yo)

Thanks go out to Nico for obvious reasons, and Michel again for the excellent E-pistle.

The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2004)

It has been 15 months since I last reviewed a Balvenie on these pages, and how convenient now, that is was also a 12yo Doublewood. However, the previous review was about a Doublewood bottled in 2014 and here we have an example of the same Whisky, the only difference being, that was bottled a decade earlier, 2004. You never know, but I think I know which one will be better…

the-balvenie-12yo-doublewood-2004Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Spicy Sherry notes, bursting with aroma. Deep honeyed layers somewhat reminiscent of Bourbon. Nice oaky feel, combined with some hints of vanilla, warm butter, hot gravy, cardboard and paper. Vegetal and slightly dusty. Definitely some sweet barley notes underneath, accompanied by soe sweet/acid red fruit notes. Candied cherries, waxy red apple skins and meaty Sherry. Very much Sherry driven but the underlying Bourbon notes are a good match as well. Excellent big nose, with all aroma’s well integrated. wow. This brings back memories from when I first started to drink Single Malt Whisky. One thing is certain, the entry-level Whiskies form a decade ago were different from (the same) entry-level Whiskies of today.

Taste: The start is creamy and buttery. Pudding and custard. Next come the drier woody bits. Sawdust and oak. Slightly warming but also a bit too thin.The wood gives it a bitter edge. The Sherry aroma’s must be rather heavy since they come a bit late to the party. And here they are. Somewhat dark and brooding and slightly syrupy. But no doom and gloom, because on top there is a fresher and more acidic fruity note as well. Hints of warm apple sauce, which is very much different from the apple skins I got in the nose. Waxy with hints of Calvados. Towards the finish it starts to break down a bit. The waxy sweetness stays behind the longest, as, for a while, does the bitter edge (pencil shavings), but the distinct aroma’s merge first and then fade away…

Wonderful stuff brought down a bit by the 40% ABV. Should have been higher. Nevertheless, you don’t hear me complaining because it is big enough to overcome the 40% ABV. Very nice stuff especially the start. It tastes best right upon entry. It’s still going strong when it develops in your mouth, but loses grip a bit when finishing. At least a medium finish, but the overall aroma stays behind for quite a while with a nice and warming quality to it.

Points: 84

The Balvenie 12yo “Doublewood” (40%, OB, Circa 2014)

Somehow a lot of Balvenies were already reviewed on these pages. However not the most popular one, the entry-level 12yo “Doublewood”, yes not a NAS bottling yet. Before the 12yo, the 10yo “Founder’s Reserve” was the entry-level Balvenie, but that one was discontinued in favour of this “Doublewood”. As I said before, Balvenie is a Single Malt I like to like, or like to love if you prefer, but somehow I don’t buy a lot of them anymore. Sometimes a bit weak and if they are really good, they are also really expensive. Once I had my own bottle of “Doublewood”,long, long ago, and it was very nice. I had several “Doublewood’s” since, but just like the 15yo “Single Barrel” I found the quality to be somewhat slipping, but they always stayed true to the Balvenie style, and for me that is elegance. Time to fill in one of the gaps on these pages and finally review the 12yo “Doublewood”. I can only hope this recent bottling does the trick for me again…

The Balvenie 12yo DoublewoodColor: Bright ocher gold.

Nose: Lots of caramel to welcome you, and hints of sugared orange skins. Creamy with slightly spicy oak. Sweet sawdust and sweet whipped cream. Hints of Cream Sherry, but the American oak donated a lot of vanilla to this Balvenie. It’s almost like there is also some virgin oak in this one. Hints of dried crushed leaves in autumn and a tiny burnt note. Smells fresh and well-balanced, although it does remind me of a heavily caramelized Whisky.

Taste: Nice but also rather thin. Sugary sweet and again caramel and cream. Yes, loads of vanilla are present as well as fresh almonds. It’s an ice-cream of a Whisky. The creamy aroma’s are quite big so it seems ok at 40% ABV. The lowest possible ABV to call itself Whisky, does show in the short finish. It hardly leaves any after taste. The finish itself seems to be built around a toffee flavour.

So this is probably a very nice entry-level Whisky. Very appetizing and sweet, with all the sweet markers. Toffee, caramel, Sugar and vanilla. Nothing to scoff at. Pretty good balance, but also quite simple. Not for analyzing, but for drinking without giving it too much thought. The only beef I have with this one is the short finish.

Points: 83

The Balvenie 30yo “Thirty” (47.3%, OB, Circa 2011)

After the young and very affordable Benromach, we are now going to look at a Balvenie that isn’t young nor affordable. For this expression, the story is that David Steward hand-picks some exceptional casks that are more than 30 years old. Casks that once held Bourbon as well as ex-Sherry casks. How unusual. These casks are then blended together and after a while bottled. Quite a surprising technique. A shame though, that only 30 years and older casks could be used for this expression, because the public demands Whiskies with an age statement… Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Quite unfair of me actually, since The Balvenie bottle a whole lot of Whiskies with an age statement…

The Balvenie 30yo ThirtyColor: Light orange gold.

Nose: Funky, but in a good way. Sherried with Haagse Hopjes (Dutch coffee flavoured candy). Bad breath and old elegant wood often go together. Creamy. A distinguished gentleman, and after the Benromach “Organic” you know this will hurt your bank-account. Freshly sawn wood and hints of saw dust. Vanilla and some caramel. Powdered candy. Sometimes whiffs of Marmite and lavas float by. Actually, this doesn’t smell as old Whisky as I’ve expected. It smells like an old yet modern Whisky. Well balanced, but quite a lot of wood in the nose.

Taste: Sweet powdered candy, but also fruity. Sherry with cherries and other red fruits like raspberries. Thick toffee and slightly acidic. Acidity from fruits but also acidity you get from (freshly sawn old) oak. Not as complex in the taste as I expected. Coffee, cask toast and quite warming. Some bitterness towards the finish though.

A good, but not super-premium-great Balvenie. For this kind of money you can do better I guess. Just have a look at some of the TUN-versions that are around. Nevertheless, a more than decent Balvenie, period.

Points: 87

The Balvenie 21yo “Portwood” (40%, OB, Circa 2013)

A long time ago, as I got interested in Single Malt Whisky I always wanted to really like Balvenie. There was some nice variations of Balvenies around, even from independent bottlers like Cadenheads, and the bottles looked so nice. Uniform and beautiful. 10yo Founders Reserve, 12yo Double Wood, 15yo Single Cask, 17yo Islay Cask, 21yo Port Wood and the 25yo Single Cask. I bought the 12yo, the 15yo and the 21yo As often is the case the 12yo “Doublewood” was the first one I opened. I have to admit I never bought any more than those three…

The Balvenie 21yo Port WoodColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Malty, vanilla powder and definitely some winey notes. Lots of cream and vanilla. Next to come through are some vegetable or plant like notes, but also some new wood and tree sap. Elegant wood, in no way overpowering, even at this age. Very organic. Hints of (saw) dust and very light chocolate (milk). Tiniest hints of cask toast and…wait for it…chlorine. Yet over all a nice nose. Balanced but light by reduction?.

Taste: Cardboard and wine. Malty and quite sweet. Very likeable. I like the fact that the Port is definitely there, but again, not overpowering. Mocha, licorice (Port related this time) and Tiramisu. Not bad, but the taste is really to weak. Definitely reduction!

Yes I will get on my horse now. This one is very nice, but almost reduced to death. It is too mild and especially the finish is almost ruined. You’ve probably had the experience of dabbling with water, and one of those times you slipped, and added a little too much. Remember how that tasted like? Remember how the finish got weak? Well that is what happened here. I can’t help but feel this is a money decision and not because they believe this Malt would be at it’s best @40% ABV. In 2002 I bought myself a bottle of this and remember it to be very, very good, also reduced to 40% but way more aroma in that one. This newer 21yo Port Wood doesn’t cut it (as much) for me. I’m planning to open that older version soon and I’ll get back to you on that subject a.s.a.p. Fun fact: I bought this 21yo, ten years ago for 58 Euro’s and I was recently informed, that very soon, the 21yo will cost almost 200 Euro’s. So If you like it, don’t hesitate, get it while you can for around 125 Euro’s.

Points: 85

The Balvenie 17yo “Peated Cask” (43%, OB)

Time for another Balvenie, excuse me, “The” Balvenie. Some say it is some kind of middle of the road dram, and yes there may not be a true cask strength version around. Some say you’re foolish for sometimes spending a lot of hard-earned cash on a Whisky that is in no way full of aroma and almost always diluted. Yes sir, we’ll add the water for you and charge you more for it. They might be right but they also might not get it at all, or at least some of the time. Most statements might be true, but that doesn’t mean The Balvenie is a bad Whisky. Far from it. The Balvenie is about delicacies. It is some sort of homeopathic Whisky. Just a tad of wood here, a tad of wood spice there. A splash of Rum wood for that one and let use a spoonful of Sherry wood there. This time we do not get a peated Balvenie, but we get a Balvenie with a pinch of peat, subtle difference. This version was launched in 2010 and replaces the Islay Cask version which was made with ex-Laphroaig casks, and this one is said to be made with casks that once held peated…Balvenie! Wow.

The Balvenie 17yo Peated CaskColor: Sparkling light gold

Nose: Clay, lightly peated and malty. Sweet vanilla and a breath of fresh air. Licorice and more hefty vegetal and meaty notes. Marmite. All aroma’s seem to fit pretty good together. A distinguished gentleman in an excellently cut Savile Row suit. Cheers!

Taste: At 43% it is hardly too light, and it is a warming Whisky. Suits the bad weather outside. A nicely balanced liquid that pours down gently into ones throat. Smoky sweet vanilla, definitely American oak, with notes of peat and tar on top. Not woody at all. Sweet vanilla, but also hard candy sweetness, but not the fruitiness of those sweets mind you. Sugared apricots and honey drops. Cold black tea. Quite a long finish. Lots of staying power. Not really a peated Whisky but a peat flavoured Whisky. Nicely done. Definitely a step up, and sideways (for the variation), from the 15yo Single Barrel and probably my favorite Balvenie with the 21yo Port Wood. Ok, some of the 25yo’s and the thirty are pretty good as well.

This version is bottled at 43% ABV but there is also a higher strength version around. Cask strength, you ask? No, not quite, 48.7% ABV. Batch code on the reviewed bottle: L9097OK.

Points: 88

This one is for Colin and Krzysztof, sorry I couldn’t make it guys.