Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review - The Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3

The DCS Compendium is a super premium series of single cask whiskies from The Balvenie.  The series is formed of 25 single cask bottlings, which are split in to five chapters and released annually over five years, and is named after The Balvenie's long serving David C. Stewart.  He has worked for owners William Grant & Sons for 53 years and has hand selected each cask involved in the DCS Compendium, which designed to chart his knowledge and skills of David Stewart over five decades. 

Each of the five chapters are based on one of five themes of The Balvenie. The Distillery Style and The Influence Of Oak were released as Chapters 1 and 2 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. This Chapter 3 shows the Secrets Of The Stock Model, while Expecting The Unexpected & Malt Master's Indulgence will form Chapters 4 and 5. Each chapter features a bottling from each decade of Stewart's employment.  The collection is accompanied by a commemorative book written by Sam Simmons, The Balvenie's Global Brand Ambassador.

The Balvenie distillery is located in the town of Dufftown in Speyside. It was founded in 1892 by William Grant and built next to its sister distillery of Glenfiddich, and it remains under the family's ownership. It has an annual production capacity of 5.6 million litres and is regarded as one of the most traditional distilleries in Scotland, as all stages of the whisky making process happen on site in one form or another - this includes growing barley, malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, coopering and maturation.

The Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3 is on sale via selected specialist whisky worldwide and will cost £57,000 for the set of five whiskies. Each bottling will also be available individually in very limited quantities.

Our tasting notes

Chapter 3 - 2004 Vintage
This re-fill European oak ex-Oloroso sherry butt (cask #741) was filled on 19 January 2004 and bottled as a 13 years old and 58.2% ABV on 19 June 2017.

The colour is deep amber and the nose is packed with a mix of sweet and savoury aromas - think of raisins, fruit cake, milk chocolate, walnuts and hints of treacle, cocoa powder and leather. On the palate this whisky feels thick and luscious with a slight peppery edge. There are notes of liquid raisins, Christmas cake, dates, sultanasm caramelised apples and candied orange peel. Underneath, the savoury notes add depth - imagine walnuts, almonds, bitter chocolate, dried tobacco leaf and hints of menthol and clove. The finish becomes drier with a nutty and earthy edge, especially once the sweeter elements fade.

Chapter 3 - 1993 Vintage
This re-fill American oak hogshead (cask #11621) was filled on 6 December 1993 and bottled at 23 years of age and 51.9% ABV on 19 June 2017.

The colour is lemon yellow and the lightest of this year's set. The nose has immediate aromas of honeycomb, vanilla and cinder toffee with a distinct background maltiness. These are backed up by hints of cookie dough, dried apricots and some dusty/earthy wood spices. On the palate this whisky follows a similar pattern to that experienced on the nose - early notes of honey, vanilla, toffee and apricot jam give way to dusty wood spices (think of cinnamon especially) and bittersweet malt. Underneath are further notes such as green apples, orange zest, golden syrup and a hint of custard powder. The apple particularly comes through on the finish.

Chapter 3 - 1981 Vintage
This re-fill American oak hogshead (cask #7824) was filled on 29 October 1981 and bottled as a 35 years old and 43.8% ABV on 19 June 2017.

The colour is golden yellow and the nose has a wonderful mix of dried and cooked fruit aromas - imagine sultanas, pineapple and peach along with baked apples and stewed pears. There are also aromas of oak shavings, beeswax furniture polish and earthy spices. On the palate there immediate sweet notes of golden syrup, cooked apples and vanilla custard. The combination is reminiscent of a tarte tatin. The whisky feels slightly oily and waxy also. Underneath are further notes of honey, baking spices (especially cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger powder) and hints of dried grass, soft peat smoke and dried mango. The combination is sublime.

Chapter 3 - 1973 Vintage
This re-fill European oak ex-Oloroso sherry butt (cask #8556) was filled on 7 June 1973 and bottled a 43 years old and 46.6% ABV on 2 June 2017.

The colour is deep amber and the nose is packed with sweet dried fruit aromas - think of raisins, sultanas and dates with a hint of candied orange peel. These are supported by further aromas of toffee, caramel and dark chocolate with some dusty/earthy wood spices. On the palate this whisky feels silky and velvety with an interesting mix of initial flavour notes - imagine hard toffee sweets, raisins, dried pineapple, milky coffee and cocoa powder. These are backed up with dry and warming wood spices (especially cinnamon and all-spice), some pleasant wood tannins and hints of liquorice, leather and dried tobacco/cigar leaf.

Chapter 3 - 1961 Vintage
This is the oldest ever Balvenie to be released by William Grant & Sons. The cask is a rare European oak hogshead (cask #4193) and was filled on 14 June 1961. It was bottled on 12 June 2017 as a 55 years old and at 41.7% ABV.

The colour is a deep golden yellow and the nose seems surprisingly fresh for such an old whisky. Aromas of heather, honey and lavender rise initially and are followed by dried mango and apple, golden syrup and background earthy wood spices. On the palate this whisky has a creamy and oily, almost mouthwatering, feel with plenty of early toffee and golden syrup notes. Then come further notes of warming oak and wood spices (especially cinnamon, liquorice root, clove and all-spice), fresh blackcurrants, dried tropical fruits (imagine pineapple, peach and mango) and that lavender from the nose. The finish is especially drying and pleasantly full of the warming wood spices.

The DCS line-up at the sampling event in The Lanesborough, London.

What's the verdict?
Chapter 3 of the Balvenie DCS Compendium is an extraordinary set of whiskies and includes, from memory, the most expensive single malt that we have ever sampled - the individual bottle of the 1961 Vintage is £37,000. Because of this, these whiskies are not designed for most people but for those with plenty of money or investment possibilities. We were delighted to be able to sample such prestigious malts and felt we had to write about them, despite not being 'Whisky For Everyone' ... however, they are whisky for someone.