Balvenie (Pronounced: balVEEnie)
57°27'30.726 N, 3°7'49.8252 W
Glenfiddich, Glendullan, Dufftown
Robbie Dubh sources
5 Wash Stills and 6 Spirit Stills
5,600,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
William Grant & Sons (since 1892)
Dufftown, Keith, Banffshire, AB55 4DH, Scotland
Yes, including a 10yo, a 12yo and a 15yo.
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
1) A 50yo Balvenie from 1952 was released in 2002; after half a century cask #191 still produced 83 bottles.
The recommended retail price of these bottles was a whopping 6,000 GBP. At the time, it was one of the highest price tags ever to be stuck on a bottle of single malt whisky. These days, that price almost seems modest...
2) Balvenie still has its own floor maltings, but they can only produce a fraction (circa 15%) of all the malted barley that Balvenie needs to keep production going. The distillery also has its own cooperage.
3) The first official bottling of Balvenie was released in 1973.
4) Originally, the Balvenie distillery was to be named the 'Glen Gordon' distillery.
5) Balvenie is one of almost two dozen malt whisky distilleries that were founded during the 'whisky boom' of the
late 19th century and which have managed to survive until this day. The other survivors include Aberfeldy, Ardmore, Aultmore, Benriach, Benromach, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Craigellachie, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray, Glenrothes, Glentauchers, Knockandu, Knockdhu, Longmorn, Tamdhu and Tomatin.
Balvenie 12yo 'DoubleWood' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Whoah! Big, round and fruity. Not a lot of 'definition', but very pleasant indeed. Whiff of shoe polish?
Taste: Solid and sweet with loads of floral notes in the centre. Oldfashioned fruit sweets.
Some passion fruits. Touch of smoke in the finish.
Score: 86 points - which may have been just a smidgen generous...
Balvenie 12yo 'Signature' (40%, OB, Ltd release batch #1, +/-2008)
Nose: Polished and sherried. Some subtle fruits - blueberries? Or is it a more floral sweetness?
Heather? A prototypical Speyside malt. Works very well for about 10 minutes, then it slowly dies out.
Taste: A tad weaker than I expected at first, but very well rounded. Powers up in the fruity centre.
Toffee and a touch of smoke. Very long, satisfying finish. A very well balanced whisky; good craftsmanship.
Not the sort of profile I usually go ga-ga over, but very well crafted.
Score: 83 points - although not all maniacs liked it quite as much as I did...
Balvenie 17yo 'Rum Cask Finish' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Hey - fresh and faintly chemical. Polished with light fruity notes. An explosion of complexity after a minute.
Is this a finished whisky? Peanuts? Some Asian spices. Wood. Really makes quite an impression.
Taste: A tad weak, but then a very unique, complex fruitness pops up. Very entertaining.
The long finish is a tad dry before growing fruitier. Most likely a finished whisky - but I like it.
Score: 84 points - even in a blind tasting it was fairly obviously finished.
Balvenie 17yo 'SheryOak' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: Woody and sherried - classic. Old cigar smoke? Undertones of furniture polish.
Taste: Big and woody, then smoky. A tad too extreme on the palate for me.
No sweetness or peat to balance the smoke. Strong tannins. Great style, but lacks some body.
Score: 83 points - if the emphasis hadn't been as much on the smoke I would have scored it higher.
Balvenie 1991 'PortWood' (40%, OB, Bottled 2004)
Nose: Very fruity. More sweetness after a few seconds. Lovely sherried nose. Drops off fairly quickly, though
Taste: Oooh, that's a bit disappointing. Much weaker than I expected. Fruity centre. Faint hint of liquorice?
Score: 83 points - I adore the nose and even with a slightly unsatisfactory palate it makes it into the 80's.
Balvenie 10yo 'Founders Reserve' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, 70cl)
Nose: Creamy and sweetish. Spices. Christmas cookies? A narrow spectrum. Rich. Hint of peat?
It opens up with time. Did they perhaps increase the number of young casks in recent vattings?
Taste: Flat, Gritty start. A little thin. Definitely some brine in the centre. Tongue-coating.
Bittersweet burn. Sweetish, warm finish. It slowly recovers some points after a weak start.
Score: 77 points - above average but a few steps down from earlier batches from the 1990's.
Balvenie 12yo 'Doublewood' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, 70cl)
Nose: Aaaah.... Sherry and organics. Marzipan. Furniture polish. Wood. Still going strong...
Fruit sweets. Something spicy around the corner. Never a dull moment with the Doublewood.
Taste: Woody start. Sweet, full-bodied centre. Malty. Sherried. Spicy finish. I love this stuff.
Score: 86 points - unlike many other 'standards' of the 1990's it stays in tip-top shape.
Balvenie 1989 'PortWood' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, 70cl)
Nose: Wow! Rich and balanced. Fairly similar to the Doublewood, but not as expressive.
Marzipan. Lemon? Very nice, but I can't find the port. Nothing like the 'Morangie Port.
Taste: Smooth and sweet start. Solid, fruity centre. Coffee? Not very complex.
The finish grows slightly winey and woody - maybe that's the port influence?
Score: 83 points - a recommendable malt but I would have liked to see more port.
Balvenie 15yo 1985/2002 'Single Barrel' (50.4%, OB, Cask #286, Bottle #177)
Nose: Honey sweet. Spicy. Surprisingly light and fruity. Tangerines? Organics as well.
Smoked ham? Raw string beans? Lavender? A 'wider' profile than earlier batches.
Taste: Sweet and fruity - like fruit cake. Full bodied centre. Good mouth feel.
Pleasant prickle. A very long woody finish, maybe just a tad too woody for me.
Score: 83 points - quite different from an earlier cask, but just as lovely.
Balvenie 17yo 'Islay Cask' (43%, OB, serie of 94 casks, Bottled +/- 2001, 70cl)
Nose: Soft and sweet. Honey. Toffee. Something doesn't fit. It seems a bit restrained.
The Islay part doesn't show itself for a few minutes - and when it does it hardly 'screams'.
Taste: Rough. Unbalanced. Little depth. Solid centre. Very dry, especially in the finish.
Score: 76 points - decent, but I see no justification to pay 100 Euro's for a bottle.
Balvenie 12yo 'Doublewood' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2001, 100cl)
Nose: Sweet and nutty start. Some sherry. A little alcoholic. Fruitier and woodier with time.
Seems just a little more restrained than I remember - less fresh sherry influences these days?
Taste: Fruity sweetness mixed with minty freshness. Intriguing sherry notes - plenty of them.
Very sweet, but different kinds of sweetness appearing one after another. Excellent.
Score: 85 points - still highly recommendable; it keeps in shape over the years.
Balvenie 25yo 1974/2000 'Single Barrel' (46.9%, OB, Cask #15208, 70cl)
Nose: Wonderful perspective - very subtle. Sweet with late fruits and chocolate.
Balanced without supressing any of the individual elements. A malt to get lost in.
Taste: Very soft and accessible. Extremely fruity - maybe a tad too much. Long finish.
Score: 84 points - an interesting alternative perspective on Balvenie.
Balvenie 21yo 'Port Wood' (40%, OB, Bottled 1997, 70cl)
Nose: Oomph! Very rich; smells almost like a C/S at 40%. Pipe tobacco and incense?
Sweet, but less honeyed than the younger bottlings. Amazing complexity and development.
Taste: Round and full palate. Great mouth feel. I couldn't really detect the port here, though.
Very woody, and more so after breathing. Make sure to empty the bottle quickly after opening.
Score: 87 points - this has been my #1 Balvenie for over a decade. Fabulous stuff.
Balvenie 15yo 1980/1996 'Single Barrel' (50,4%, OB, Cask #15986, Bottle #152)
Nose: Very soft, considering its strength (50.4%). This one needs just a little water.
Honeyish and woody; oilier and much lighter in character than the 12yo Doublewood.
Taste: Almost fruity at first, then a honeyish sweetness. Interesting development.
A peppery 'Allegro' followed by a never ending 'Adagio'. Best experienced neat.
Score: 84 points - recommendable, but I prefer the 12yo DW myself.
Balvenie 10yo 'Founders Reserve' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995, 70cl)
Nose: Wonderful bouquet. Honey! Minty? Somewhat dry with a hint of old raisins.
Taste: Sweet and smooth; gently flows through your mouth. Easily drinkable.
A very nice malt, but not quite as noble and complex as it's older brothers.
Score: 82 points - I could definitely recommend this to everybody.
Balvenie 12yo 'Doublewood' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995, 70cl)
Nose: More sherry and old fruit than in the 10yo. Honey. Wonderful complexity.
The complexity grows even further after adding some water. A joyride for the nose.
Taste: Sherry. Nutty sweetness. Dark chocolate, Peppermint? Complex with great development.
Amazing balance. What a wonderful all-round single malt - I could drink this all evening.
Score: 86 points - highly recommendable. And the bottle is just so beautiful...
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Balvenie Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Balvenie page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Balvenie expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
2001 - The Balvenie Islay Cask
is launched. This whisky has been aged in bourbon casks for 17 years before it's finished in an 'Islay cask'. That's supposedly a cask that has previously contained a malt whisky from Islay.
So, I guess you could call this a whisky with a whisky finish...
2005 - The Balvenie 14yo Rum Wood Finish is released; another double matured whisky in a growing list of finished whiskies released by Balvenie. Arguably their Balvenie DoubleWood has always remained their most popular 'finish'.
2008 - For a long time, the Balvenie distillery used to have four sets of two stills. In 2008 one wash still and two spirit stills were added. The stills of Balvenie are divided across two different still rooms.
2009 - It seems that rum finishes have grown increasingly popular with the people behind Balvenie; after releasing a 14yo in 2005 and a 17yo in 2008 they bottled two different 14yo's in 2009; a 'Cuban Selection' for France and a 'Golden Cask' version for the duty free market.
2010 - A 40 years old official bottling of Balvenie is released; probably the oldest official expression ever.
In the same year, a total of 182,000 cases of the Balvenie malt whisky were sold.
When the distillery was built in 1892 it was outfitted with second
hand still from Lagavulin and Glen Albyn. This might seem a bit odd
at first, but the use of second hand stills from other distilleries that
were demolished or refurbished is actually not that uncommon.
These days Balvenie has no less than eight stills (4 wash stills and
4 spirit stills); two of them were added in 1965 and one in 1971.
The Balvenie distillery in Dufftown (not to be confused with the
Balvenie castle shown in the picture at the right) was built in 1892
by W. & J. Grant, owners of the Glenfiddich distillery nearby. More
than a century later they are still 'sister stills', owned by the very
same company that originally built them; William Grant & Sons.
The official Balvenie core range
includes the standard 10 years old 'Founders Reserve', the 12
years old 'DoubleWood', the 15yo 'Single Barrel' (shown in the picture at the left) and the 21yo
'Port Wood'. Actually, that's just the 'core' core range - the 25yo 'Single Barrel' is a fairly regular
release and bottlings like the 1989 and 1991 'Port Wood' and the 17yo 'Islay Cask' were available
for a longer period of time as well. (See the Balvenie website for the details of the current range.)
Balvenie also provides a fine example of the irrelevance of the 'terroir' theories on Scotch whisky
in modern times. Balvenie and Glenfiddich are neighbours and use the very same water source.
Nevertheless, the malt whiskies they produce are quite different from each other...
As you can see at the left, the official bottlings are beautifully designed. Well, actually, official
bottlings are all you're likely to find; the 'brand' is jealously protected - just like Glenfiddich,
independent bottlings are very rare. That being said, I've tried an excellent 31yo Glenfiddich
from Cadenhead's and there are some independently owned casks of Balvenie as well.
but these are exceptions. Ordinarily, each single cask of Balvenie or Glenfiddich that is sold to
brokers or blenders is 'polluted' with a small quantity of the other whisky, making it a vatted
malt whisky. That means that it's illegal to sell this malt whisky ('Wardhead' is Glenfiddich with
a dash of Balvenie while 'Burnside' is Balvenie with a little Glenfiddich) as a single malt whisky.
I've actually tried one of these vatted malts
- although I'm not sure which one.
The 'Burn of Speyside' 6yo 1996 vatted malt whisky is sold by Van Wees Holland.
They've added a charming little story about a sunken ship (not unlike the tale of
Whisky Galore), but research by Dutch whisky writer Robin Brilleman has shown
that the incident was actually just a relatively modest 'fender bender'.
After having sampled the Burn of Speyside I can say that this 6yo old vatted malt whisky can't hold a
candle to the older, official bottlings of Balvenie - or to Glenfiddich OB's for that matter. In fact, I have
not tried a bad bottling of Balvenie yet. For a while, Balvenie's sister distillery Glenfiddich seemed on
the way up as well - but after 'peaking' around the year 2000 things took a turn for the worse again.
An old 'Over 8yo' expression of Glenfiddich which
was bottled in the 1960's appealed to me much
more than any Glenfiddich from the 1990's (except
maybe the 15yo Cask Strength) - and most of the
expressions that were bottled after the year 2000.
Anyway - that's all the information about Balvenie so far...
You'll find more history and trivia about the Balvenie distillery below.
Is the distillery or