Thursday, June 9, 2011

New releases > Balvenie Signature Batch No.4

balvenie signature batch no.4This is the latest release in the Balvenie Signature single malt range. Balvenie was founded in 1892 by William Grant, who wanted to build a new facility in the Speyside region next to his Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown. Grant decided to renovate nearby Balvenie House and its outbuildings. Balvenie has a current annual production capacity of 5.5 million litres a year and is often described as 'the complete distillery', due to the fact that every process of production takes place on the site - they grow some of the barley on land next to the distillery (the only distillery to do this), have an active malting floor and their own cooperage. Balvenie has been one of the world's best selling single malt whiskies for a number of years and consistently remains in the top 10.

The first batch of the Signature was released in 2008 to mark the 45th anniversary of Dave Stewart, the Balvenie's legendary Master Blender, working at the distillery. A new batch has been released roughly once a year since, with this one being the fourth. The whisky is named as such, because it is felt to represent the perfect 'signature' flavour and aroma profiles of Balvenie. All releases of the Signature, including this one, have been bottled at 12 years of age and using a combination of three different types of casking for maturation. These are ex-sherry casks and two types of ex-bourbon cask - first fill (ie, used for maturing bourbon but the first time it's been used for whisky) and re-fill (ie. used for maturing bourbon and then for whisky at least once). Batch No.4 is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost around £35.

At the recent Whisky Den event run by Balvenie in London, we had the opportunity to sample the new Signature Batch No.4. Also, we were lucky to get a unique insight in to the casking used in the maturation of the whisky as they had each of the three cask types on display, plus the opportunity to taste a sample from each original cask. This was fascinating as we saw how the three individual elements, plus the skill of the blender, came together to produce the final whisky. In the short video below, Eddie Ludlow of The Whisky Lounge explains about each of the three casks to our friend Chris. We hope you enjoy it and that it explains the process a little more.

Our tasting notes
The colour of Batch No.4 is a rich gold with some dark amber tones. The nose is rich and warming with a number of very pleasant aromas evident. Initially there is plenty of dried fruit (think of raisins, sultanas and dates) and an equal amount of caramel and toffee. Underneath are lovely aromas of vanilla, honey, almond and a pinch of baking spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg especially). There is also a whiff of orange oil/essence. On the palate, this is again rich and feels velvety and creamy. The dried fruit, in particular the raisins and sultanas, and the sweet toffee are prominent but the other characteristics work their way through these with time - distinct malted barley, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, bitter orange peel, oak, dark chocolate and a hint of burnt sugar (or is it distant peat smoke?). The combination is excellent and very well balanced. The finish begins sweetly with the fruit, toffee and honey leading the way before it turns drier with the oak, woody spices and some bittersweet cereals taking over.

At the Whisky Den event, Matt met up with Sam Simmons, the Global Brand Ambassador for Balvenie who some of you may know as Dr. Whisky, and they sampled the Signature Batch No.4 together. It was the first time that Sam had tasted it at the 40% ABV bottling strength, so watch the short video below to see his and Matt's thoughts. Enjoy ...

What's the verdict?
This is a delicious whisky that is rich, reassuring and very easy to drink. It combines lovely sweet elements with spicier and drier ones, which add a great depth and complexity to the aroma and flavour profiles. It would be great as an after dinner dram, possibly with some cold meat, medium-strong cheese or a cigar. Despite its complexity, we think Signature Batch No.4 is easily accessible to most and as a result it would be an ideal choice for a whisky beginner. It also reminds us as to why Balvenie was one of the first whiskies to get us seriously interested in whisky, as it offers so much.

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