My last encounter with The Balvenie was at Whisky Live 2014. I found all The Balvenie whiskies that I tasted to be delectable, and I’ve been lusting for more ever since. There’s something about the distillery’s character that I find completely irresistible – perhaps it’s the delicate flavours that tingle the tongue with every sip. There’s so much creativity with their offerings – experiments with different cask maturations. Rum, multiple barrels and now, even port. Best of all, they still have age statements on their main life of whiskies!
The Balvenie itself was named after the eponymous Balvenie Castle, which is now a romantic ruin in Dufftown, Speyside. Curiously enough, the same castle also gives its name to another distillery- Mortlach, which takes the castle’s former name. Set up in 1892 by William Grant to relieve some of the production demand on its sister distillery Glenfiddich next door, it is still owned by the Grant family today.
Yet, for all the talk about it being sister to Glenfiddich (the world’s actual top selling brand of single malts), the two distilleries’ characters are totally different. This is even more surprising given that the two distilleries use the same barley malts, water, and are located pretty much next to each other. Where Glenfiddich is grass and green apples, The Balvenie is all about the honey, wood and spice – a masterful use of oak casks. Where Glenfiddich is the Toyota of single malts, The Balvenie would be a Mercedes; an even greater focus on quality, but no boutique distillery either. The Balvenie supplies more than 5.5 million litres of spirit annually, putting it in the top 10 scotch whisky producers in the world – a far cry from the second fiddle it played to its more famous sister.
Nowhere is the quality more evident than in this 21 year old expression. Matured for about 20 years in American Oak casks before being transferred to a port pipe and brought up to the full 21 years of aging, it is quite different from other most other sherry and bourbon oak dominated single malts. Yet, as a lover of port wine, I find the thought of mellowing the fruitiness of port with whisky oak and vanilla particularly enticing.
Nose: A powerful whiff of honey, oak, vanilla, a little smoke, nuts and nutmeg. So intense that it really benefits from the addition of water to mellow and open up the aromas, which also brings out some light floral notes. The whole effect is intoxicating.
Taste: Complex and layered. The first taste is of sweet honey and nuts. The port shows its influence, with red fruit, cherries and sultanas coming up. Then, it lightens up and presents a hint of flowers- honeysuckle and elderflower perhaps? Finally, spice comes in to complete the transition from sweet to dry. Silky and light texture, not too heavy in the mouth, but substantial enough to make its presence known. Marvellous.
Finish: Long and light. Honeyed oak notes. slightly bitter nuts. walnuts. I’m still enjoying faint, pleasant notes on the tongue an hour after the first tasting.
Overall, The Balvenie 21 year old Portwood is delightfully complex, yet delicate and well-balanced. It was easy to drink, and one can certainly gulp it down effortlessly. Yet, it was a great deal of fun exploring its amber depths like an epicurean aquanaut, and that’s how it should be enjoyed- letting the waves of flavour slowly lap over the tongue, bringing a new note of pleasure each time. Savour it, slowly.
Final Verdict: I would heartily recommend it to anyone who can enjoy scotch. Simply a must have.
You can get a bottle for about $200 at the Duty Free at Changi Airport or a bit higher at whisky specialist stores.