Balvenie, the sister distillery from Glenfiddich built by William Grant in 1892 when he converted an 18th century mansion called the Balvenie New House into the distillery. Construction took 15 months to complete with the first distillation taking place shortly after in May 1893. Today, the distillery is a well-recognised global brand producing some 6 million litters of alcohol a year. Due to the complex malting process, most distilleries buy malted barley from specialised producers. However Balvenie are one of the handful Scottish distilleries to keep the tradition of floor malting. Located in the Speyside region, the core whisky range of Balvenie is usually non-peated, matured in American oak before being finished in previously held sherry, rum or port casks but you will find other styles too.
Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old 40%
Launched in the 1990s, the Balvenie Doublewood 12yo is matured in American white oak previously held bourbon for 12 years before finishing in sherry casks for a further 3 to 6 months. The aroma has vanilla, honey, caramel and raisins. You could say the vanilla and honey is the result of the American white oak whereas the sherry cask gives you the punchier raisins. The palate is soft at first followed by mild vanilla spiciness. The finish is gentle and quick. The Balvenie 12yo Doublewood would cost you around £35.
whiskytale: You have an important dinner function tonight. In fact you are the host and been planning this months ahead. You are expecting your guests any moment now. Although you have hosted events such as this before, you cannot help but feel nervous with a few dignitaries attending. You need something to quiet your nerves. Your wife is busy in the kitchen supervising the food preparation and your children are nowhere to be seen. Then, you feel something brush against your legs and it’s none other than your family dog. She is not really seeking attention; in fact she just happens to want to be by your side. You get down on both your knees, pat and softly talk to her, telling her how nervous you are and how important tonight is. She just stands there and hums lightly as if to gesture she understands. Her soft and gentle fur warms you and your nerves eases. The moment is just like having a dram of the Balvenie 12yo. It is a gentle and subtly comforting whisky, just right for the time where you feel you need to trim the edge away before taking a step.
Balvenie Doublewood 17 year old 43%
Compared to its younger sibling, this Balvenie spent an additional 5 years for a total 17 years in an American white oak that previously held bourbon before finishing in sherry casks for a further few months. You expect the slightly longer spirit maturation in American white oak to open up more vanilla notes and it does. The influence of the sherry casks is less however. The palate has more spicy vanilla tones too with oaky texture but not as sugar-coated like the 12yo. The finish is smooth, more grounded with the alcohol becoming less prominent. A step up in price though, the Balvenie 17yo Doublewood would cost you around £80.
whiskytale: It’s time to receive your guests as they arrive one after the other. As they enter, you greet and escort them into the ballroom. Your hired music entertainment for the evening, a local orchestra is playing background classical tunes. Once you are sure most of your guests are here, you and your wife make your way to the ballroom. Just before you enter, the music lead notices you and nods. They stop playing and your guests hush. The toastmaster announces your entrance as you both walk in and everyone claps. You thank everyone for attending and then say a few words about the auction tonight, to raise money for charity. To get everyone into the mood, you instruct the orchestra to play what you consider to be one of the most inspirational classical pieces, Concerto No. 3 in F Major Autumn by the composer Vivaldi. Shortly after, the waiters steps out of the kitchen with canopies and drinks. About an hour into the evening, you pause a moment to observe your now lively guests and decide the time is just right for the auction to begin. To create a moment such as this is like serving the Balvenie 17yo with your guests. It’s has polite sweetness to entice and accompanied with just the right amount of spiciness to nudge you on your feet creating a buoyant atmosphere.
Balvenie Caribbean Cask 43%
Stepping out of the previous two ranges, this new Balvenie first released in 2012 has spent 14 years in American white oak that previously held ex-bourbon before finishing in rum casks for a further 3 to 5 months. Compared to the previous two core ranges, this spirit has the aroma of sweet-molasses, vanilla and toffee. The palate once again captures the vanilla and mild-spiciness from the American oak but with augmented sugary sweetness from the rum casks. The finish is gentle, warm with mild lingering bitterness. For the rum casks fans out there, this delicious Balvenie will cost you around £40.
whiskytale: The dignitaries for the evening come from far abroad. However a few may not be accustomed to the culture and etiquette of your country and may feel a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, as host it is your responsibility to ensure all your guests experience the same level of enjoyment. With you are a few dedicated linguistics who their talents do not lie in just languages, they are skilled in relaxing social barriers. As you observe from a distance, at times it is slightly puzzling when your guests from abroad with their linguistic guides are seem to be having a more delightful time than the rest. This can be associated when one drinks the Balvenie Carribean Casks. Initially, the whisky helps diminish doubt when outside your comfort zone. And then the sweet molasses helps uplifts your mood so as to create the feeling of poise with the potential to take you over the top if you choose to ignore caution.
Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel First Fill Cask #12578 47.8%
No finishes here, this is straight 12yo maturation in a first filled American oak that previously held bourbon. The aroma is lighter with vanilla and honey. The palate is dry and spicy, almost cereal like with honey and vanilla. You get quite a rush through the throat finish with lingering numbing sensation in the tongue of what remains of the alcohol. Bottled unchillfiltered from a single cask, this whisky will cost you around £52.
whiskytale: Midway through evening, the auction is paused and dinner served. The event is going well with some interesting sales record broken and you can’t but feel proud. From experience, auctions can get a little intense and it is important to unwind the atmosphere a little. This is where your musical entertainer for the evening plays his part. He is a trained pianist and story-teller bard. He calls your guests to gather around the grand piano at the corner of the room. He then plays the piano followed by a few short stories in turn that has a hilarity connotation to it. Your guests listen intently to his singing and the piano, and laugh at his stories. The Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel is the whisky to best describe this moment with your guests. It has sweet vanilla to loosen the tension followed by the rush of spiciness which helps awaken your spirit so you can go back to completing the task you have set forth to.
Balvenie Portwood 21yo 40%
Finally the high-end core range Balvenie that has spent its better 21 years of its life in an American white oak that previously held bourbon before finishing in port pipes for a further few months. With a rich darker colour, the aroma is buzzing with wine character including mint and herbs, raisins and fruit cake. The palate is delicate, mildly spicy with berries and honey floral notes. The finish feels dark and cocoa like, albeit subtly bitter but interestingly enough maintains a rather graceful presence. To indulge in this unique and elegant Balvenie Portwood finish will set you back around £100.
whiskytale: The auction is almost drawing to an end with the more exquisite items being brought out. However, throughout the evening you cannot quite help but notice an elderly lady that has been rather quiet the entire evening. You stride towards her and ask if she needs anything. She says she’s an honorary guest because her late grandfather was the owner of one of the rare item in the auction. She continues to tell the story of how her grandfather came to be in possession of the item. It’s a touching story and you feel privileged to be a part of it. When the item is finally brought out, you nod at the auction master for a pause followed by ringing of your glass to draw the attention of the guests. With the lady beside you, you reiterate her story. As your eyes pierce through the room, you can see and feel the sentimental reaction from everyone in the room. This moment is how it feels when drinking with the Balvenie Portwood 21yo. The whisky is bursting with rich flavours accompanied with distinctive evocative notes. Drinking the Balvenie Portwood is to create a memory of that exceptional night of why you were there.