When I was getting into Scotch, The Balvenie 15-Year Single Barrel quickly became my first go-to whisky. Of course, it was a lot cheaper then than it is in today’s booming Scotch market; but even now, at about $90 a bottle, it’s still a solid buy. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Balvenie 15 is truly one of the classic Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.
The Balvenie Distillery first started their single barrel program in the early 1990s; a bold foray that pretty much started the whole trend of single cask whiskies. At that time, single cask Scotch was, as Malt Master David Stewart notes, “pretty rare and reserved for the release of very old whiskies.” Even now, The Balvenie remains the only Scotch distillery that has an ongoing single cask release of a single age as part of its range.
In 2013, The Balvenie introduced the 12-Year Single Barrel which was the second release in the single cask series. Another great whisky (perhaps one of the best 12-year Scotch whiskies on the market), which was then followed by the release of the 15-Year Single Barrel Sherry Cask earlier this year. I got to try the Sherry Cask at The Balvenie’s Rare Craft Collection tour which visited Boston in October. We actually got to try the whisky straight out of a barrel, which was a really cool experience. As expected, it was another stellar single barrel Balvenie whisky; dark and complex, soaked in Sherry, raisins, ripe fruit, chocolate and baking spices. Basically, yum.
The cool thing about The Balvenie’s single barrel program is that because these are ongoing releases, you’re always going to get something a little different with each new batch. And, because they’re hand-picking single barrels for each bottling, you truly are getting access to the liquid as the barrel meant it to be — with all of the nuances of single cask wood aging. I like that. And especially because The Balvenie takes a very hand-crafted, old school approach to their whisky-making (like for instance the fact that they still do floor malting at the distillery) you feel like you’re really getting a very authentic product.
The final single barrel release will be hitting the market this fall, and it’s perhaps the most impressive of them all (with a price to reflect): the 25-Year Traditional Oak Aged Single Barrel. This is a special whisky, hand-selected by The Balvenie’s master distiller, David Stewart. Each bottling is a limited edition of no more than 300 hand-numbered bottles. It’s non chill-filtered, bottled at 47.8%, and it will run you about $600 retail. And, thanks to some friends at The Balvenie, I was able to score an early sample to try.
On the nose, this whisky immediately lures you in with a beautiful honey and oaky aroma. It’s deep and complex, with hints of chocolate and fragrant fruity notes that come in waves around the sweet woody vanilla layers.
The palate is dry and sharp on the onset, bursting with butterscotch, toffee and honey, caked with layers of wood spice and dripping with ripe fruit and candied orange. This is not a bashful whisky; after 25 years in the barrel, it knows what it is and will surprise you around every corner. And once you think you’ve started to understand it, it builds and builds into a spice eruption and a finish that lasts forever. This is a wonderful whisky; perfectly balanced, incredibly complex, and absolutely delicious.
DI Rating: 95 points