Review: Balvenie 12 Year Old Signature Single Malt Scotch Whisky / by Jason Hambrey

12 Years; Oloroso Sherry Casks, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, Refill Casks
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Balvenie (Dufftown, Scotland)

It is quite remarkable how quickly the whisky world is changing, with brands releasing more and more “no-age-statement” whiskies and getting rid of or limiting their other stock. With whisky consumers broadly running after all things new, it is amazing how many new releases are coming out of distilleries that have been producing more or less the same line of products for many years.

This whisky is now out of regular production (though it was released in separate batches), though part of their core range in 2013 – there is now a Balvenie triple cask which is the same age and uses the same casks. This whisky is matured in three separate casks: oloroso sherry butts which typically impart dried fruit and spice, fresh bourbon barrels which tend to add vanilla and honey, and refill barrels (i.e. barrels the Balvenie has already used before) which really help to enforce distillery character. Originally, the signature brand was developed to celebrate David Stewart’s 45 years in the Scotch whisky industry, and each cask was hand selected by him.

Review (2015)

  • Batch: 5

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: White grape, dried apricot, peaches, vanila, a good dose of floral honey, and oak easily come out at first. The sherry is lightly present as well, and incredibly well integrated into the whisky amidst the floral honey and malt background. As I sits, I notice more dried fruit aromas along the lines of dried apricot and prunes along with creamy toffee. Light, yet still quite rich.

Taste: White grape juice, lots of malt, raisins, with a nice wave at the end of vanilla-laden oak carrying it through to the finish where some spices start to emerge along with a resurgence of barley. There is a multitude of other things as well, from coconut to apricot to various manifestations of barley. Initially I was a little disappointed with the simplicity on the palate – but as I drank more the complexity combined with the drinkability was quite incredible. There is a lightly tannic woodiness present as well which I find often in the Balvenie, but which I am still seeking good words to describe…also this is balanced well enough with the right mix to just allow it to slip down a little too easily. Well done.

Finish: Clove, honey, white pepper, and raisins with some very slight tannins and drying of the mouth and the lightest note of bitterness. At times the pepper combined with the dryness produce a light and empty spicy edge, which doesn’t really do it too many favors. But, as indicated by my score – this is still quite nice.

This is a nice example, in my view, of good integration of various casks with the spirit which is being used. It’s too bad that the taste was a bit simple after a beautifully integrated nose. With Balvenie’s, I find, the complexity from the spirit takes some time to develop at which time with the older expressions you get incredibly brooding malts. These take their good time to fully make themselves known in the glass (if you are willing to afford them) but playing with the casks this way at a younger age certainly helps do that trick quite well. In this one, the sherry cask seems to have the most say.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average based on $80.