The Balvenie is one of a handful of single malts that have enough richness and amplitude to appeal to Bourbon drinkers. They produce a range of whiskies that are splendid examples of Speyside malts, and take their place among the best in Scotland.
Speyside has more distilleries than any
other region in Scotland, and produces over 40 different malts. These range
from the most popular Scotch whiskies in the world (Glenlivet and Glenfiddich)
to some of the most prized (The Macallan). Dufftown is located on the River
Fiddich, and is home to six major distilleries; the town is fond of describing
itself as “The Whisky Capital of the World,” although I can think of a few
locales in Kentucky that might take issue with that. The most traditional of those
distilleries is The Balvenie.
Whisky is made the old-fashioned way at The Balvenie. The barley is grown on the distillery’s 1000-acre farm, steeped in spring water, and germinated on the malting floor---the only one left in the Scottish Highlands. From there it’s transferred to the kiln, and ultimately to the still. The Balvenie employs its own coppersmith and coopers, who spend four years in apprenticeship; this is nothing compared to the Malt Master, David Stewart, who has logged five decades on the premises.
Tasted side by side, the new 12 Year Single Barrel and the well-established 15
Year Single Barrel (both around $80) display a distinct family resemblance. The
12 Year is rich and fat on entry, but this is followed by a rush of spice and
white pepper in the mid palate; a few drops of water tame the spirit’s raw
power and bring it into balance. The 15 Year is leaner, with nicely focused
notes of spice and dried flowers in the middle. A touch of water rounds it out,
but also enhances the peppery quality on the finish.
There are two Doublewood malts---aged first in American oak barrels, then finished in European Sherry casks. The Doublewood 12 Year-Old ($55) is sweet and plump, with scents of menthol, dried fruits and sea air; water mellows out the spirit even further. The newly created Doublewood 17 ($145) is more angular in the mouth, although the same combination of spice and honeyed sweetness emerges in the mid palate; the extra time in wood gives the spirit a restrained elegance that is very appealing. A few drops of water fatten it up nicely.
Caribbean Cask ($75), launched in 2014, combines whisky aged for 14 years in traditional barrels and finished in rum casks. The high-toned, spicy nose gives off whiffs of cinnamon and tropical fruit, along with marked evidence of oak. Sweet and fruity on entry, it turns spicy in the mid palate and brings back echoes of tropical fruit on the long finish---a very poised and stylish whisky.
PortWood 21 Year Old ($210),
finished in a Port pipe that previously held 40 year-old tawny, was a fitting
conclusion to the evening. The meaty nose blends earth notes and suggestions of
black fruits. Intense and candied on entry, the palate reveals flavors of dried
fruit, citrus, menthol and spice: a remarkable dram, and proof that you don’t
have to be a Scotch drinker to love Scotch.