Thursday, 21 February 2013

Shirt Bar Scotch Club - The Balvenie (February 2013) (#101drams)


After hosting tastings for Woodford Reserve in November and Glenfiddich in December, Shirt Bar were back at it this week, with a tasting of The Balvenie range selling out in record time.


For those who weren't already familiar with The Balvenie, it became pretty clear that this is a unique, and very hand-crafted dram.The tasting, run by Owen from William Grant & Sons followed the usual format of a presentation (covering the distillery and production) proceeded by the actual tasting. Being The Balvenie though, the presentation went into quite a bit of detail about what makes the distillery so unique in comparison to other Scottish distilleries - what's known as The Balvenie's "Rare Crafts", i.e:

  • The use of own-grown Barley
  • Manual malting on the distillery's own floor
  • A full-time, in-house coppersmith employed to maintain the stills (who has been with the distillery for 24 years!)
  • The cooperage
  • The famous Malt Master, David Stewart

It was also interesting to learn that David Stewart invented the process of "finishing" whisky, which now seems to be done by almost every second distillery in one form or another (e.g. finishing a whisky in a different cask for the last part of the aging process). 

The four tastings on offer make up the core range in Australia, being:
  • The Balvenie Doublewood (12yo)
  • The Balvenie Single Barrel (15yo)
  • The Balvenie Port Wood (21yo)
  • The Balvenie Thirty (30yo)

Starting with the youngest, we dove straight into the 12yo Doublewood. The nose here was all about sweet notes - raisins/sultanas, floral fruitiness. I noticed some slight spice notes too. The palate for me was nutty, still with some of the sweetness from the nose. Not overly complex, but it was hard to miss how smooth this was for a 12yo. I love Glenfiddich 12yo, but this was far, far smoother. So far so good, and we still had a combined 66 years to go! A medium finish rounded things up - spice still evidence, but all the fruit notes gone. Some caramel/vanilla notes stuck around.

Next was the 15yo Single Barrel. My best mate who usually attends Scotch Club was eagerly awaiting this, as he seemed to remember the 15yo being one of his all-time favourite drams from a previous tasting. It didn't disappoint him, and nor did it disappoint me! A sweet vanilla nose made way for a big, honeyed mouth feel with a clearly higher ABV than the 12yo (47.8% vs 40%). I was loving this. Being a single barrel whisky, I asked if there was much variation from cask to cask. As expected there can be some, but given the expertise of The Balvenie's malt master David Stewart, we were told the variation is minimal. The finish was much longer than the 12yo, with the vanilla remaining. Warming and enjoyable to the very end.

Next was the 21yo Portwood - Owen's personal favourite. Whilst this was a great dram, it wasn't my favourite - I preferred the 15yo. There was more fruit on the nose and more spice on the palate here for me, with a nutty, but (in my opinion) shorter finish than the 15yo. A great dram, but I'd take the 15yo.


Finally, the 30yo Thirty. I snuck a nose of this earlier in the night and had been looking forward to it ever since. It was the first dram I'd had since the Glenfiddich 40yo that had those real leather, oaky notes I love so much. A second nose didn't disappoint - big leathery oaky notes, and incredibly smooth. A little trick I learned at a tequila tasting once was when nosing a spirit - blow hot air into the glass beforehand. It removes the harsh alcoholic vapours and leaves the pure scent. Despite being a higher (47.3%) ABV, there was no need with this. The nose was just so incredibly smooth. I'd buy this just on the nose alone (though probably on my next overseas trip, rather than at the $499 it costs in Australia...)

The palate for me was the best bits of each of the previous three - fruit, spice, oak, but so much more complex than the others. The finish was more of the same and went on forever, with a slight sweetness.

On that note, another Scotch Club sadly came to a close, with another #101dram ticked off the list. Now to hunt down the 17yo Doublewood and the TUN1401...

Cheers,
 - Martin.

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