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The Balvenie Distillery was founded by the legendary figure of William Grant. Born in 1839 in his father’s house in Dufftown, Grant worked the family farm as a youngster but later trained as a clerk and took employment as bookkeeper at Mortlach distillery. There he would learn every aspect of the distilling process before eventually being promoted to manager.
During his time with Mortlach however, William dreamt of setting out on his own and in 1886, after twenty years with the company he bought land near Balvenie Castle and laid the foundation stone for his very own distillery. So successful was his Glenfiddich whisky, he began to construct a second distillery within Balvenie new house in 1892. The project took fifteen months to complete with the first distillation taking place on 1st May 1893.
William Grant died in 1923 at the age of 83, leaving behind a distilling empire that retains its position at the forefront of the scotch whisky industry today, more than 130 years after he laid the first stone. Glenfiddich is the best selling single malt brand in the world and Balvenie among the fastest growing.
The Balvenie single malt was bottled as early as the 1920’s but the current range as we know it was born in 1993 when the 12 year old “Double Wood” was released for the first time. Now seen as a classic malt, this bottling was among the first to utilise what would become known as “finishing”. Back then the Balvenie was under the watchful eye of David Stewart, who encouraged such experimentation. The process would involve ageing in ex-bourbon barrels, before transferring the liquid to a second cask that previously held sherry or port in order to add additional complexities to the flavour profile. For his work in the whisky industry Stewart was awarded an MBE in 2016.
2018 saw Balvenie celebrate 25 years since the DoubleWood concept was born and to mark the occasion they released a special edition, 25 year old version of this whisky. Bottled at 43%, the spirit was distilled in 1993, the same year the first 12 year old DoubleWood appeared. Released late 2018, the Balvenie DoubleWood 25th anniversary bottling retailed for £400.
*Thanks to my friend and Quaich Podcast co-host Micky Plummer for the sample.
Smell: Excellent nose. Rich caramel and toffee. Dark honey and maple syrup. Bourbon and buttered rum. Sultanas and currants. Cinnamon, clove and perhaps a little ginger. Vanilla pods. Well aged oak though by no means is the dram dominated by wood. I was a bit reluctant to put water in it but a single drop brought out notes of apple and pear and even a little sawdust.
Taste: Big woody arrival. Lots of tannin and dry spices. Texture is thick and luscious despite the 43% bottling strength. Stewed apples and cinnamon. Toffee. Burnt caramel. Currants. High cocoa content dark chocolate. Unusually, water seems to release more spice which lingers long on the palate. Fantastic depth.
Thoughts: It’s almost pointless discussing value for money where celebratory bottlings like this are concerned because there’s no level of quality that would justify the price. Sometimes a bottle like this catches your eye though and it’s hard to say why, exactly. You know it isn’t “worth it” but want it anyway. Maybe the brand holds sentimental value, maybe it coincides with a celebration in your own life. That’s OK, so long as no-one is buying things they can’t afford. All we can ask in such circumstances is for our massive outlay to be rewarded with a dram of the very finest quality and I think that is what’s going on here. On paper I would have liked to see this produced at a more impressive strength than 43% but in practice, the whisky is really quite exceptional, regardless. Maybe it would have been better at a higher strength, but maybe not. The main goal for Balvenie was to ensure that those who forked out for a bottle got something delicious to sip on, and it’s very much job done where that’s concerned.
A wonderful whisky that stays just on the right side of the cask, never becoming over-oaked. Best of all, and in keeping with the “Double Wood” name, both bourbon and sherry play their role in the overall experience. A dram of exceptional flavour and balance.
As a limited edition release, the Balvenie DoubleWood 25th anniversary bottling isn’t around anymore, except perhaps in auctions. You can however peruse a selection of Balvenie offerings at Master of Malt here.
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For more on Balvenie, visit here.