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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Single Life - The Balvenie 12 Years Old Single Barrel Single Malt Scotch Whisky

There is a lot of talk in the whisky business about single casks. One off, limited edition offerings which give a snapshot of 550 litres of spirit from one day at a distillery, left to its own devices to mature away. Once deemed ready, it is removed, bottled and sold, usually for a higher margin than those other whiskies either sent off to join a blend, or those chosen to stay as part of a single malt release from said operator.

However, putting together a blend is not easy work, as we recently discovered when constructing out limited edition offering for our A – Z of whiskies, Cutty Sark (available here for £34.95). The previous two releases we did, from Arran and BenRiach, were both single cask offerings and, it has to be said, choosing them was a much easier task than the time we spent in the blending room, learning from Master Blender Kirsteen Campbell.

Making up over 90% of the global Scotch whisky market, blends are works of art, skilfully constructed from a multitude of different whiskies. Single casks, however are almost a freak of nature, chosen as they are for the exceptional quality and bottled in naturally limited quantities, due to the very nature of the size of the cask (minus the Angels’ share, of course).

As such, single casks tend to be the domain of either the independent bottler who has stocks of whisky lying around, or as one-off special releases from the distillery owners themselves, often carrying a hefty price tag.

But there is one distillery that should be praised for releasing a consistent stream of single casks. Nestled away in the heart of Speyside, on the road out of Dufftown towards Craigellachie, sits The Balvenie.

Having recently enhanced both their core range (adding the 17 Year Old Double Wood which we reviewed here) and their offerings in Duty Free (which I saw last week in Edinburgh Airport on their first day of release- and very nice they look too, being ‘triple casks’, a marrage of three styles of cask), they’ve also turned their eyes to their single barrel offering, expanding the range from just one at 15 years old to two, adding a lower age version, at 12 years old.

The original 15 years old is taken from a refill ex-bourbon cask, where as this new 12 years old is given a lift by the use of whisky exclusively from first fill bourbon barrels. Numbered and labelled, there are due to be no more than 300 bottles drawn from any one cask. Unlike the 15 years old, it will not carry a date of distillation and bottling, which is a shame.

Now, a distillery releasing single casks is nothing new. But a distillery doing single casks as part of a core range is fairly unusual. Even more remarkably, a distillery offering these out at prices such as £57 for the 15 years old and £44 for the 12 years old really is madness.

The Balvenie – 12 Years Old – Single Barrel – First Fill American Oak – 47.8% abv

Note: this is a single cask, therefore the tasting notes will be for this specific bottling (300 only or less) but will provide an overall direction of where this whisky will sit in the core range from The Balvenie.

Nose: Over ripe bananas, runny honey, heather, malted milk biscuits and a hint of toasted pine nuts and basil. Vanilla and apricot are found, too with some pear drops. Very fruity and light.

Palate: The apricots really spring through at the front of the palate with some fantastic red and green apples, the pear drops again, then rich runny honey and all underpinned with a fantastic oily nature. Very delicious.

Finish: Fairly short, with some spices (cinnamon baked apple) and a big hit of vanilla.

Overall: This is a very good whisky. As per the note at the top, each batch will change and vary slightly. The 5cl we have was provided by the PR company and doesn’t carry the batch number on it, so we can’t tell you which one it was, which is a real shame as it means both you, dear reader, and I are unable to head out to buy this particular batch... boooo.

This is a fantastic new offering from The Balvenie. With a line up that now seems to run as a 1, 2, 3 (1- single barrels / 2- double wood releases with two wood style influences / 3- the ‘triple cask’ duty free offerings, giving three styles of cask influence), their range is really developing very nicely. 

Having released a younger edition of the single barrel from a first fill American oak cask, I only hope they look to do an older one, maybe from a barrel made closer to this small island. But who knows. For the time being, I just wish this 5cl sample was 14 times bigger...