As significant dates go, a 50th anniversary is pretty special. A few months ago, The Balvenie's Malt Master, David Stewart celebrated his 50th year of working for the company. Hard to imagine in this day and age of fast paced jobs, head huntings and ambition that anyone could stay with the same company for their entire working life. But as we all know, the whisky business is unique in its approach.
In the same way that great whisky takes time to mature, to grow and develop its own personality, the makers of these revered liquids nurture their own talents. David Stewart has been responsible for a number of masterpieces in his time at The Balvenie - most notably the idea of cask finishing, subsequently creating The Balvenie DoubleWood. 12 year old DoubleWood has been on our list of cabinet staples since we started this website; it was Joel's first foray into single malt and one of the first discoveries I made after having my senses blasted to bits by the first taste of heavily peated whiskies.
It seems fitting then, that after 50 years Stewart has made a welcome return to the principle of DoubleWood, creating a brand new 17 year old expression. Like its younger brother, the 17 year old whisky has been matured for the large proportion of its life in American oak barrels, finally being transferred to larger European oak sherry casks. The Balvenie have always remained relatively tight-lipped about the exact length of time this 'finishing' process takes - and to be fair, we really don't care how long it takes - so long as the process works!
So how does the 17 year old stack up? To use a music analogy - when bands have phenomenal success with their first record, the pressure to produce a huge hit the second time round is enormous - will this sophomore release capture that same sense of excitement, which David Stewart first pioneered?
The Balvenie - DoubleWood - 17 Years Old - 43% - RRP £75
Nose: A wonderful note of syrup-covered soft fruit hits first - think strawberries, blueberries and gooseberry, mixed with golden syrup, rich honey and brown sugar - with aromas like this, it could rot your teeth from 20 yards away! Given time, the vanilla notes emerge with fresh cherries, some kirsch notes and a hint of woody spice. Superbly balanced and unquestionably a Balvenie.
Palate: Spices galore (clove, cinnamon and a touch of chilli) mix with fresh apple juice, brown sugar, fat juicy raisins and sweet malt. Absolutely wonderful stuff - as drinkable as the 12 year old, but with more refinement, complexity and wisdom.
Finish: Some citrus notes develop late on the palate, with a darker malt note, (extract) rich bittersweet cocoa and freshly roasted coffee beans.
Overall: There's only one big disappointment about this whisky. And that's that when David Stewart finally decides hang up his blending coat, one wonders just where the distillery will be without his undisputed talents to make whiskies as great this - will this be the last one from the Stewart stable?
We hope not. Based on the qualities of this release, William Grant & Sons should think about investing in a way to cryogenically freeze him. Balvenie DoubleWood 30, 40 and 50 year olds anyone??