Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review - The Balvenie Stories Range

The Balvenie Stories range is a new set of single malts and is designed to show the tales of character, endeavour and craftsmanship created at the distillery's home in Dufftown, Speyside. The three whiskies - The Sweet Toast of American Oak 12 years old, The Week of Peat 14 years old and A Day of Dark Barley 26 years old - were each created by different people. These were Kelsey McKechnie (Apprentice Malt Master), Ian Millar (former Distillery Manager) and David Stewart MBE (Malt Master).

The Sweet Toast of American Oak 12 years old saw McKechnie experimenting with virgin white American oak casks that were twice toasted, while The Week of Peat 14 years old pays homage to Millar who introduced the short run of peated malt production in the early 2000s. A Day of Dark Barley 26 years old tells the story of when Stewart experimented with heavily roasted malt for a short period back in 1992. The artwork on the packaging has been designed by British printmaker Andy Lovell. The three whiskies will be available worldwide in selected retailers.

"Stories are the lifeblood of the distillery. They make up the fabric of who we are and what we do. The Balvenie Stories collection tells these tales in liquid form, giving whisky drinkers a glimpse into the unique and very human nature of how we produce our whisky. "
David Stewart MBE.

The Balvenie distillery is located in the town of Dufftown, the 'whisky capital' of Speyside. It was founded in 1892 by William Grant and built next to its sister distillery of Glenfiddich, remaining under the family's ownership. Balvenie has an annual production capacity of 5.6 million litres and is one of the most few distilleries in Scotland where 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.

Our tasting notes

Balvenie 'The Sweet Toast of Oak' 12 years old
43% ABV/ £45

The colour is pale yellow and the nose has an immediate sweetness to it - think of vanilla, honeycomb and white chocolate. There are also aromas of malted barley, candied lemon rind and dessicated coconut. A pinch of powdered baking spices, especially cinnamon and ginger, plus a hint of cocoa round things off.

On the palate this whisky again begins sweetly. There are plenty of vanilla, toffee and honey notes, which tend towards golden syrup after time. There are also notes of creamy coconut and white chocolate, along with something reminiscent of marshmallow or cream soda. Then come notes to add balance in the form of some candied citrus (especially lemon, but also lime), plus the malt and dried baking spices from the nose. The spices in particular feel more robust and influential than before and seem to increase with time. This results in a warming and slightly dry finish, especially once the sweet and confected characteristics has gone.

Balvenie 'The Week of Peat' 14 years old
48.3% ABV/ £65

The colour is golden yellow and the nose is filled with sweet peat aromas. The smokiness has a soft, earthy and almost mossy edge to it. Alongside this further sweetness is added with aromas of heather honey, icing sugar and butterscotch. Hints of hard boiled apple sweets, unripe green banana and cocoa powder add further interest.

On the palate it is the sweeter characteristics that hit first. Initial notes of toffee, butterscotch and honey are joined by juicy sultanas, raisins and vanilla fudge. Then the peat smoke arrives and this is again soft and sweet with a distinct earthy and vegetal note present. Underneath are further notes of candied lemon and orange, milk chocolate and some warming wood spices - imagine cinnamon, all-spice, mace and pinches of clove and white pepper. The finish is of decent length and it is the smoke that lingers longest. This remains sweet for a while before becoming drier and more ashy. The sweet elements, especially the honey, slowly fade to give the wood spices more power.

Balvenie 'A Day of Dark Barley' 26 years old
47.8% ABV/ £600

The colour is deep golden yellow and the nose has a boldness and vibrancy. Initial aromas of dark chocolate, robust malted barley and moscavado sugar combine along with further aromas of heather honey, dried tropical fruits (especially pineapple and mango) and subtle wood spices - think of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

On the palate this whisky starts off with savoury notes to the fore - imagine the woody spices from the nose combined with dried tobacco leaf, cocoa powder and leather. Then comes a wave of sweetness in the form of rich toffee, dried fruits (the pineapple and mango again, plus sultanas and candied orange), heather honey, stewed apple and milk chocolate. Hints of vanilla, gingerbread and coffee grounds add even further depth, as does a hint of black treacle and menthol. The finish is long and elegant with the sweet and fruity notes slowly fading as the drying spices and savoury characteristics hold firm. Delicious.

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