It must be said that the Grants of Dufftown are a very impressive family. Over the last 130 years, they have built and operated no less than 1 grain (Girvan in 1963) and 5 malt (Glenfiddich in 1886, Balvenie in 1892, Ladyburn in 1966, Kininvie in 1990 and Ailsa Bay in 2007) distilleries with a tremendous amount of success.
The family also produces the world renowned Grants brand of blended whisky and it utilises whisky from all Grant-owned distilleries with the exception of Ladyburn, which was closed in 1975 and dismantled 5 years later.
While Glenfiddich is the largest and best established distillery within the William Grant & Sons portfolio at 14 million litres of spirit on an annual basis, Balvenie, which produces slightly less than half of Glenfiddich’s total (6.8 million litres per annum) tends to allow for more experimentation when it comes to cask maturation and finishes.
Balvenie distillery was founded in 1892 by William Grant, who originally intended for the distillery to be named as Glen Gordon. Part of the distillery equipment was brought in from Lagavulin and Glen Albyn distilleries and the first distillation to run down the line took place in May of 1893.
The distillery was periodically expanded over the years, but its purpose was to produce bulk whisky for the Grants brand of blended whisky as well as several other blends. It was only in 1973 that the first official bottling of The Balvenie was released.
Interesting fact: Kininvie distillery was built on the same premises as Balvenie in 1990 and was also initially used to produce bulk whisky for Grants blends, but was eventually also released for sale as a single malt.
The distillery has been experimenting with a multitude of cask maturations and finishes, with notable products being the Caribbean Cask (Balvenie that has been finished in Caribbean rum casks), Peated Cask (Balvenie that has been finished in casks which once held peated whisky) and a 17 Years Old expression which was finished in a Madeira cask.
In terms of equipment, the distillery presently sports an 11 tonne full lauter mash tun, 9 wooden washbacks, 5 stainless steel washbacks, 5 wash stills and 6 spirit stills. This gives the distillery the ability to produce up to 6.8 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis, which puts it at peak production capacity at the moment.
Balvenie is also one of a handful of distilleries which actively malts its own barley and the malting floors at the distillery currently produce 15% of the distillery’s barley requirement. There is also a coppersmith and cooperage on-site, allowing for the distillery to attend to its needs in an efficient manner.
Interesting fact: William Grant & Sons purchased the buildings of the former Convalmore distillery in 1990 from DCL (which later became Diageo). As it is located next door to Balvenie distillery, the latter (along with Glenfiddich) uses the buildings and warehouses for storage and maturation purposes. However, the rights to the Convalmore brand as well as the distillery stock is still held by Diageo.
The distillery releases a wide range of bottlings and the core range tends to change from time to time. Some of the staples include the Doublewood 12 Years Old, Doublewood 17 Years Old, Caribbean Cask 14 Years Old, Portwood 21 Years Old, 30 Years Old, 40 Years Old and two 50 Years Old expressions which were released in 2014 to commemorate master distiller David Stewart’s 50 years as Malt Master.
The distillery has also released a plethora of limited bottlings, including the wildly successful Balvenie Tun series. It contains a mix of whiskies from casks dating back as far as the 1960s and 1970s, which are then married in a 2000-8000 litre oak vessel (depending on the series) known as a Tun for a number of months before being bottled. No whiskies within the tun are younger than 21 years old.
The distillery also has a travel retail Triple Cask series consisting of three expressions (12 Years Old, 16 Years Old and 25 Years Old) which are vattings of first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, refill American oak casks and first-fill ex-sherry butts.
The whisky from Balvenie distillery is also used alongside that of Glenfiddich and Kininvie to shape the character of the award-winning blended malt, Monkey Shoulder, which is produced by William Grant & Sons.
This week’s review focuses on the Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask, which was introduced in 2014 in order to replace the discontinued 15 Years Old Single Barrel Bourbon Cask expression.
Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask (47.8% abv)
Nose: Initial entry presents dense and rich sherry along with a pronounced demerara sugar note. Raisins, prunes, apricots and lively wood spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves intermingle well with one another and despite the sherried nature of this dram, it does not seem to be as sweet on the nose as one would otherwise expect. (21/25)
Palate: Complex, rich sherry coupled with the fruits and wood spices which have transferred from the nose to the palate. Once again, this dram doesn’t seem as sweet as one would otherwise expect and there is a certain level of complexity to it.
With time, the demerara sugar notes from the nose also transfer onto the palate and there is a bit of cigar smoke and some chewy malt present. (23/25)
Finish: Medium on the finish, with the wood spices, dense sherry, oak and fruits being the dominant players. The fruitiness does fade after sometime, leaving the spices and the oak to spar with one another to the very end. (21/25)
Balance: A rather well-balanced and well-crafted dram which exhibits a little bit of everything in terms of sweetness, fruitiness, spiciness and oakiness. It does become slightly more spicy towards the end, but all aspects are well represented and the quality of the sherry cask used during the maturation phase is evident. (22/25)
The Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask can be purchased on Master of Malt for £66.66 ex VAT and on The Whisky Exchange for £68.46 ex VAT, so there are small savings to be made if you are looking to make a group purchase (which would be more worthwhile due to the prohibitive shipping costs associated with purchasing a single bottle).
Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.
More reviews: https://www.thesinglecask.sg/blogs/news