When I first heard that Balvenie were to release another version of the Single Barrel, this time a 12 year old, I got rather excited. Having always been a fan of the Single Barrel 15 year old, this newest expression was sure to get my lips smacking.
Single cask whiskies are a perfect time-shot of maturation, with each cask delivering a different and unique character to the whisky resting within and with no other casks married into batches, finding them is a rare treat. I say rare, because normally single cask expressions are limited in number. By their very nature, there is only as much as the cask can hold and once gone, never to be replicated. Normally it’s the selection of a malt master who will tend to discover a certain cask, resting and maturing at just the right pace which seems to be delivering a certain style, still in keeping with that of the distillery but a perfectly unique example. So when Balvenie decided to set aside casks to mature their whisky, releasing these after 15 years as single cask bottles it was a great opportunity for many more people that usual to sample some great drams. With each bottle being numbered and dated you could actually work out the age as not all seemed to be right for release at 15 years and if you do a little maths you can find examples of Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year old actually at 16 & 17 years and older.
This new 12 year old has been rested in First Fill casks of ex-bourbon. That may sound a little strange, calling a cask first fill if it’s actually second hand, but in the scotch industry we refer to cask use when it is used here. So an ex-bourbon cask is “first filled” with scotch, use it again and it becomes a refill cask. If the whisky was matured in a brand new cask, with no previous contents then it is know as “virgin cask” such as used by Deanston but few distillers use these as the powerful notes can sometimes be overpowering.
The Balvenie Single Barrel 12yr
Bottle number: Unknown (trade sample)
47.8% abv Non Chill Filtered
Appearance: Warm rose gold
Nose: As you would expect from Balvenie, the signature notes of honey, dried citrus peels and light spice are immediate. But there is a hit of sliced pear and vanilla ice cream which seems to dry out the nose somewhat, which isn’t surprising considering the 47.8% abv. Apple blossom emerges to give a floral element and ties everything up in a well structured bouquet.
Palate: Rich and honey sweet with perfect grip of cinnamon spice. The fruity notes of dried peel and a hint of pineapple roll through the palate with a pear tarte tatin sweetness. A malty backbone with deep woody vanilla holds it all together.
Finish: Sweet spicy honey all the way with a dry oak tail.
Summary: Although bold at this level of ABV, I didn’t think the addition of water was required and that shows how well integrated the spirit and cask has become. Big, it certainly is but what impressed me is the integration of flavour as they raised and dipped around a thick mouth-feel. There is a lot going on, but thankfully all in the same direction rather than challenging the palate too much. Well worth seeking this one out and with an RRP of just under £50 I think Balvenie will need to lay a few more casks down.