Consistency is a big thing in whisky. The majority of bottlings are blended from a large selection of casks which are chosen to create a vatting as close as possible to the previous vatting, and the ones 10 or 20 years ago. Winemakers tend to state vintages on their bottles, so you can anticipate variation between different harvesting years. Whisky producers, however, seek to create a product with a recognisable brand, with the intent to sell it for 10, 20, 30 years or even longer. Glenfiddich 12 for example is Glenfiddich 12, no matter what year it was distilled.
Some distilleries have more success than others in this regard. It makes sense that the larger the distillery, the more casks it will have to choose from and the greater the chances of being able to blend together the same dram over and over again. It’s important for loyal customers to know that the quality of their whisky will be maintained every time they buy a bottle, and a change in flavour might be subjectively taken for a drop in quality. After all, people generally don’t like unexpected change!
This is all well and good for the casual whisky drinker who wants a reliable bottle to buy every Christmas, but for those of us who have a more explorative interest in whisky it’s exciting to venture outside of known, consistent bottlings and take some chances on one-off single casks or limited releases.
Single casks in particular can be fascinating, as they lay the spirit bare, flaws and all, with no opportunity to blend out imperfections or add complexity by introducing a percentage of older aged whisky.
Balvenie is one of the most recognisable brands in scotch whisky, and their 12 year DoubleWood is one of the longest running core-range bottlings out there with it’s 25 year run being celebrated in 2018. That’s an awful lot of casks and vattings.
On the other end of the spectrum, Balvenie also do a series of Single Barrel releases including a 25 year old, a 15 year old bourbon cask and 15 year sherry cask, and the 12 year old which is the subject of this review. They’re from casks which are selected with some consistency in mind, however there will be interesting differences between all of them.
At around £50 a bottle, 47.8%abv and non-chill filtered it’s really good value for money and gets you a very unique experience. The colour is a light gold which is attractive, but pale enough to reassure that they haven’t gone overboard with artificial colouring. It doesn’t state natural colour on the label however.
Drawn from a single ex-bourbon barrel, the nose of cask number 6561 is very honey forward with faint lemon and grapefruit, sweet pastry and cookie dough. It’s a great nose, with white wine and gooseberries to add complexity.
Palate-wise there’s vanilla custard, more honey, kifi fruit and pineapple with subtle banana and a spicy bitter note. Overall it resolves to feature strong milky coffee, thanks to the fairly oily mouthfeel.
The finish is medium-long and does become slightly bitter. It’s a little off balance but bear in mind that this is a single cask therefore no blending has taken place, and it’s more than excusable considering the quality of the rest of the experience.
Overall a really interesting look behind-the-scenes at Balvenie for a reasonable price. I’ll be replacing this once it’s gone and look forward to comparing between two or three different casks!