In the same vein as the previous review, here's another whisky which has been finished in casks which previously held heavily peated malt!
The Balvenie (pronounced bell-venny) is a huge distillery, with an annual production capacity of around 5.5 million litres of spirit. It is also one of the highest profile distilleries in the industry, although overshadowed by it's (bigger) sister distillery, and neighbour, Glenfiddich. Both are located in Dufftown, Speyside, and are owned by William Grant & Sons, an independent distilling company which is still run by the descendants of the original founder and namesake, William Grant.
Balvenie are a step apart from (and above, in my opinion) their bigger neighbour though, for a few significant reasons. They grow their own barley, and malt that barley at the distillery using traditional floor maltings, they have a team of coopers on site to maintain and build their casks, and they use a small amount of peat in the drying of that local barley.
The distillery actually produced an experimental run of heavily-peated malt back in 2001, which hasn't yet been released, and when that spirit was transferred to new casks, the now empty casks were using to finish / double mature a batch of un-peated 17yo whisky, which had been maturing in ex-bourbon casks. This spirit was then married (blended and matured together) with more un-peated 17yo Balvenie, which had been matured in New American Oak casks. Confusing? Yep. Anyway, this process gave us the 'peated cask' bottling I'm reviewing a sample of here, which was initially released back in 2010.
Interestingly, Balvenie have also released an 'Islay cask' bottling in the past, which was 17yo whisky finished in casks which had previously held Laphroaig whisky. While that one was apparently quite peaty, this 'peated cask' isn't going to be a peat monster, by any stretch. The house style of the standard bottling's is quite sweet, light and fruity, so let's see how it's held up to a little bit of peat.
Released in 2010. Aged for around 16 years in ex-bourbon casks, then transferred to casks which previously held experimental heavily-peated Balvenie, then married (blended) with un-peated Balvenie from new casks (phew), before being bottled at 17 years of age. Chill filtered, and added caramel colouring.
Nose: Slightly peaty, a sour & astringent peat, but fades quickly. Honey sweetness, slightly lactic, and sour cereals - bran flakes with Greek yoghurt! Weird, but the nose knows what it knows! Toasted barley, under-ripe tropical fruit, and sweat. Not overly unpleasant though.
Texture: Light-to-medium, unremarkable.
Taste: A little hot for a 17yo at only 43%! Slightly phenolic, a little honeyed barley, some toasted grains, a hint of stewed or dried fruits. Not much going on here, and seems a little rough.
Finish: Short-to-medium, slightly bitter. A hint of smoke, some of that sour cereal from the nose, dried fruit.
Score: 2 out of 5.
Notes: Really uninteresting, and frankly boring. The nose is interesting, and a little weird, but the taste, finish and mouth-feel are a disappointment. Had to make sure it wasn't my palate (with some Benromach), it wasn't. The standard Balvenie 12 is a decent starter whisky for beginners, and I would prefer it over this one I think, even as a peat-freak!
Really quite disappointing. Perhaps the standard spirit is too soft to handle a 'peated cask', and it just gives up? I'm glad I tried it though, I was curious, and now I know! I would still like to taste that original heavily peated Balvenie that was the previous occupant of the casks used here, just to see what happened. Although, it's already 14 years old, and has been transferred to different casks at least once, so perhaps they're trying to bring down the peat level. Hopefully they release it sooner rather than later.
On a lighter note, it was World Whisky Day yesterday, so I hope you all celebrated appropriately! I myself shared my time between Macallan Amber, Laphroaig Triple Wood, and Caol Ila 12yo, and a movie with the wife & some friends. Not a bad way to spend an evening. Not bad at all...