There’s a lot of whisky out there. A LOT. Millions of casks maturing all over Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the US and around the rest of the world, to say nothing of everything already in bottles in liquor stores and personal collections. There’s something very special about the consistency of all of that whisky. It’s amazing that these different producers can get so much consistency out of something so organic. And every once in a while it’s nice to find something that breaks the norm. Every once in a while you come across something that really stands out. Something really extraordinary. That’s exactly what I was treated to recently.
These unique bottles aren’t for everyone. They’re not meant for the masses. I hate to say it, but there are few people that I would even share such a whisky with – that I think are ready to appreciate a whisky like this. Rare does not begin to describe the lengths that some people have to go through to get these uber-exclusive bottles. When I’m invited to taste something that extraordinary it really is a special occasion. One to behold. Recently a friend (Jamie) and her boyfriend (Damien) went on a European whirlwind vacation that included Munich for Oktoberfest, London for a football (soccer) match and yes – a few weeks at distilleries in Scotland. One of the whiskies they brought back was a cask sample from the Balvenie distillery.
Balvenie is a distillery in Scotland’s Speyside region, where roughly half of the country’s distilleries operate. Specifically, it’s one of the Seven Stills of Dufftown which is now up to nine – the others being Mortlach, Glenfiddich, Convalmore*, Parkmore*, Glendullan, Dufftown, Pittyvaich* and Kininvie* (those with a * aren’t currently producing). Balveine is also one of the few distilleries that still uses their own malting floor. Along with many other Scottish distilleries (and now others around the world), Balvenie has become known for bottling uniquely ‘finished’ whiskies; whiskies that were once in one type of cask but moved to another for a time before bottling. Their ‘Double Wood’ and ‘Portwood’ are popular, while their ‘Caribbean Cask’ gets high marks from critics.
Jamie and Damien made few purchases throughout the trip but had a great experience at the Balvenie distillery and came away with a 200ml cask sample bottle. Cask samples are rarely sold directly; they’re usually used for testing purposes when a batch goes into bottling. Cask #4686 is in warehouse #24; an underground dunnage warehouse (which is to day mud floor and casks on wooden rails) at the Balvenie distillery. It’s a sherry butt and has been maturing for 15 years, currently at 59.5%ABV.
Balvenie Cask 4686 – 59.5%ABV – 15 year
- Appearance: Dark. Oh so dark. Not as ruby as I’d thought, but lovely the same.
- Aroma: Knock-Your-Socks-Off-Sherry. Lots of winey, rich chocolate and trademark-sherry-sulfer-ness.
- Flavor: Oh boy that’s hot. Nearly 60%? Jeez… I don’t really expect tingly lips from a Speyside – I reserve that for salty whiskies, but this one has it. Very, very sweet. Candied ginger, caramel syrup, burnt scones with honey but there’s something earthy in there – herbal. Bell peppers?
- Body: Pretty darn thin; to be expected from something at that heat.
- Finish: Short. Almost evaporates off your tongue.
- Diluted: Oh, there’s the mouth feel! So much creamier. More spicy – like cayenne pepper.
This is the kind of whisky that you need to be able to appreciate in its essence to be able to appreciate how it will marry with other casks in a bottling run. It’s like making sure the flavor of the olive oil in the water used to cook the pasta is right for the finished flavors of the Penne A La Vodka, but not for every day use. Come on and join me in a dram!
About the Author:
The Whisky Guy is an educator, host, blogger and more, having worked in the whisk(e)y industry for over 10 years. He can be reached through the Contact page and you can find out more by visiting the About page. He always supports enjoying whisk(e)y responsibly.