Balvenie is situated perfectly for distillery visits.
The town of Dufftown and its surroundings are in
the Speyside region and home to seven distilleries.
The neighbours of Balvenie are Convalmore,
Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Mortlach and
Pittyvaich. Whether or not Kininvie is actually a
separate distillery as well is debatable.
The Balvenie distillery is conventiently located just
200 meters from the train station of Dufftown.
Distillery tours are available on week days, from Monday to Friday. Visits are by appointment only and visitors
can first bottle their very own bottle of Balvenie and then purchase it for £30 in Warehouse 24.
1) Balvenie still has its own floor maltings - but they can only produce a fraction
of all the malted barley that the distillery needs to keep whisky production going.
Around the year 2010 roughly 15% of Balvenie’s malt was processed on site.
2) The Balvenie distillery also has its own cooperage to produce casks.
5) The very first official bottling of Balvenie was released as recently as 1973.
3) Originally, Balvenie was to be named 'Glen Gordon' distillery.
4) 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.
6) In 2005 I was surprised to learn that not all maturing stocks of Balvenie are owned by William Grant & Sons.
As it turned out, some of the casks at their warehouses are independently owned and the owner wanted to have
them evaluated by some of the malt maniacs. Some of those casks offered unique perspectives on Balvenie.
7) The stills of Balvenie are divided across two different still rooms within the facility.
8) When ordering a Balvenie whisky in a public place, you should ask for ‘a The Balvenie, please’.
Apparently, you’re doing it wrong if you don’t include the ‘The’, now that Balvenie’s malt master has an MBE.
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 finishes released by Balvenie.
Arguably their Balvenie DoubleWood has always
remained their most popular 'finish'.
2013 - Three ‘Triple Cask’ bottlings of Balvenie are introduced; 12, 16 and 25 years old.
2008 - One still was added to the Balvenie line-up in 1965 and another one in 1971. After that, the distillery
operated with four sets of two stills for well over three decades. However, in 2008 three new stills were added
to the existing equipment; one wash still and two spirit stills. So, Balvenie now operates with eleven stills, making
it one of a minority of distilleries using an uneven number of stills.
2016 - Balvenie’s Malt Master David Stewart was presented with an MBE by Her Majesty The English Queen.
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. Given the poor value of most duty free offers,
I imagine the that sampling your first sip after a long trip could feel a bit like a ‘golden shower’.
2010 - A 40 years old official bottling of Balvenie is released; probably the oldest official expression ever.
In the same year, a grand total of 182,000 cases of the Balvenie malt whisky were sold.
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, Limited 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 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 17yo 'Rum Cask Finish' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Hey - fresh and faintly chemical. Polished with light fruity notes. 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 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 many years now. Fabulous stuff.
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 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 in the 2000s.
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 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 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; this has remained a reliable standard over the years.
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 Double Wood myself.
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...
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Balvenie malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Balvenie I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Balvenie.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
When the Balvenie distillery was built in 1892,
it was outfitted with second hand stills from
the Lagavulin and Glen Albyn distilleries.
Being owned by the same company that
originally built the distillery is quite unique in
Scotland. Most malt whisky distilleries have been
bought and sold multiple times and most of the
companies that were active in the past have
now merged into international conglomerates.
Balvenie regularly releases fresh vintages like the 1991 'Port Wood' and
the 17yo 'Islay Cask' expression was added to the regular line-up as well.
The fact that the brand is aimed primarily at relevant novices in the malt
whisky world is illustrated by the fact that W. Grant & Sons decided to
change the name of that bottling to “Peated Cask” later.
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. For example, in
2010 Bruichladdich installed the old Lomond still from the Inverleven distillery.
Since the early 1990’s the pillars of the official Balvenie core range included the standard 10 years old 'Founders
Reserve', the 12 years old 'DoubleWood' and the 15yo 'Single Barrel' (shown in the picture at the left). Later on
fancier expressions were added, like the 21yo 'Port Wood' and a 25yo 'Single Barrel' of various vintages.
I've actually tried one of these vatted malts - although I'm not sure which one.
The 'Burn of Speyside' 6yo 1996 was sold in Holland by whisky importer Van Wees early in the third millennium,
with a charming little story about a ship loaded with whisky that sank in one of Holland’s many canals. That story
makes is sound a bit like the plot of the film ‘Whisky Galore’ - but like many whisky tales it’s largely fictional.
Research by Dutch whisky writer Robin Brilleman has shown that there actually was an incident with a cargo
ship at one point - but it was just a relatively modest 'fender bender'. What’s more, they STILL used the very
same story to sell (failry young) bottles of Burnside of Warhead more than a decade later.
The distillery also provides a fine example of the irrelevance of theories
about Scotch whisky regions and the 'terroir' influence of micro-climates
on Scotch malt 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 the pictures show, the official bottlings of Balvenie are beautifully
designed. And in fact, official bottlings are all you're likely to find;
the 'brand' is jealously protected and independent bottlings are rare.
The same is true for its sister distillery, although I've tried a really
excellent 31yo expression of Glenfiddich from Cadenhead's.
Ordinarily, each single cask of Balvenie or Glenfiddich that is sold
to whisky brokers or blenders is 'polluted' with a small quantity of the
other whisky, making it a vatted malt - a.k.a. a ‘blended malt whisky’.
That means that it's illegal to sell this malt whisky as a single malt.
Nevertheless, so much of the stuff is sold within the industry that they
had to invent names for it. 'Wardhead' is Glenfiddich with a dash of
Balvenie while 'Burnside' is Balvenie with a little Glenfiddich.
So, don’t believe every whisky story you are told by the people trying to sell whisky - or at least not all of it... ;-)
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 the owners of the nearby Glenfiddich distillery.
More than a century later they are still 'sister stills', owned by William Grant & Sons.