Balvenie

Review: Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
Ex-Bourbon Casks
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

Traditionally, and still performed in some distilleries, the barley germinates on a floor into malt. While it does so, it must be continually “turned” or shovelled over so that it doesn’t grow into a solid carpet of barley plants. “Monkey Shoulder” refers to a condition that some men picked up after long shifts turning the barley by hand, where the work caused one of their arms to hang down a bit like a monkey. It is a blend of three speyside single malts, Kininvie (rarely seen as a single malt), Balvenie, and Glenfiddich – all owned by William Grant and Sons. All of the whiskies going into this blend is matured in ex-bourbon casks, and each batch is made from 27 casks.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: 27

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Baked apples with a brilliant buttery toffee base. Quite fruity, too, with notes of green pear and some fresh orange- overall it’s well integrated into the rest with good balance. It has some of that rich corn character found in some bourbons. There is really nice subtlety here, especially if it is sought out – bits of vanilla, light baking spices (cinnamon particularly), barley earthiness, and light brown sugar.

Taste: More malt driven than I expected from the nose, and quite malt-centric. The malt is soft at first before drifting to some more earthy components and some pear. It develops fairly slowly, which works well. The toffee and the fruit are still present, but it is the grain which dominates here. At times, it tastes young, which detracts.

Finish: A light peppery spicy feel on the finish, with the lightest touch of bitterness which isn’t the most pleasant. The barley notes remain central on the finish and the earthiness from the grain is very present, with some apple and pear too. A bit of a mishmash – lots of flavour, but it’s not particularly well put together.

I was hoping that some of the subtlety on the nose would be more present on the taste, but the malt blend seems to go downhill after the nose. I do quite like the embracing of the barley, and how it is presented on the palate.

Value: Average, at $46.


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

ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years; Oloroso Sherry Casks, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, Refill Casks
Recipe
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.


Review: Balvenie 15 Year Old Single Barrel (Sherry Cask) Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
47.8%
Aging
15 Years; Sherry Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Balvenie (Dufftown, Scotland)

Another Balvenie single barrel, again non-chill filtered and released at a nice 47.8%.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

A lot of licorice alongside some oak, apple, and dried tropical fruit chutney (dried papaya, mango, alongside some cinnamon and clove), mangosteen, and some lighter apple. It’s a lot of licorice – I don’t like licorice bombs very much. And some nice sherry tones – with some of that sherry spiciness and fruitiness. Quite complex on that nose…the palate is full of licorice, dark chocolate chips, anise, honey, malt, licorice, and some buttery oak. Finishes with spice and vanilla – quite creamy, in fact, and the balance is good between the oak, the malt that emerges, the cinnamon and clove, and the pear. I like the finish more than the other elements here. And terrific spice. The nose, for me, is too licorice laden and I don’t love it- but the rest is quite enjoyable. If for a bit less licorice on the nose, this one would be rated even higher. Great strength for this whisky.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, based on $183.


Review: Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Barrel (First Fill Bourbon) Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
47.8%
Aging
12 Years; First Fill Bourbon Barrels
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Balvenie (Dufftown, Scotland)

One of the more highly acclaimed Balvenies from their core range - matured wholly in first fill bourbon casks for 12 years, and then being released with no chill-filtering and a higher alcohol percentage (47.8%) than the rest of their core range. Each barrel yields less than 300 bottles, resulting in batches which consist of less than 300 bottles.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

The nose certainly shows bourbon! Oak, tropical fruit- dried mango, passionfruit – raisins, pear, cinnamon, clove, and some buttery custard, banana cream pie – along with some sour corn, almost like a sour bourbon. A bit confectionary -  even more so as it sits. The palate shows more tropical fruit, a lot of pear, watermelon, and a nice underlaying of fruitcake spices, though without the dried fruit. The finish is fairly sweet and a touch tannic, and is sweet and creamy – with some nice malt, honey, hay, green tea, and tingly spice. The tannins give a bit of dry-ness on the finish which I quite appreciate. The ABV of this is very nice – I think it might be rather sweet and flat otherwise.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, based on $155. I should note that the Balvenie has had a price explosion here in Canada, with this bottling going from $125 to $155 in a short few months. At $125, the value score of this whisky is 25/100


Review: Balvenie Carribbean Cask 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
14 Years; Finished in Caribbean Rum Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Balvenie (Dufftown, Scotland)

One of the few rum-finished whiskies in Scotch - aged 14 years in refill cask before being finished for less than a year in rum casks.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L6A 6299 2202 08:33

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Oak comes off at first, with some rich malt, molasses, toffee, anise candies, vanilla extract, and a good dose of spice as well – fruitcake. The palate is quite buttery, and lightly sour, with a nice middle which is full of sugarcane, brown sugar, and finishes with some green apple, clove, and cinnamon. The rum influence is there – but it’s not overt, and it doesn’t take over (which is nice). A very nice presentation of malt, as well. A fairly sweet dram, at times, perhaps, a bit too sweet. I am glad for a bit of tannic influence at the end – otherwise I think it would just be all too syrupy. The end has some sugarcane, oak, and rich malt. A nice layering of flavour – a malt that makes me want a cigar to accompany it with.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, at $140. I should note, here, that the Balvenie has recently gone under a price explosion in Canada - with this bottling going from $115 to $140 in the past few months. This made my value score plummet, but it was already a bit low even before the increment.


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

ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years; Refill and First-Fill Sherry Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Balvenie (Dufftown, Scotland)

The base of the Balvenie range, being matured in 2 casks and aged for 12 years...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Easy and soft on the nose, with vanilla, pear, honey, and a good dose of malt. There is a bit of tropical fruit as well – passionfruit. Some brown sugar, cookie dough, white raisins. Smells, and tastes, a touch sour. There’s not a huge sherry influence – otherwise, from time to time, a bit of sherry funkiness. The taste is buttery, full of malt, with some grassy spiciness and honey as well. The finish is full of malt, honey, and vanilla.

This is a fairly simple, but very easy and approachable malt. I also find that, on a clean palate, I enjoy this more – it can tend to become a bit dense and woody if this follows a lot of bigger whisky or cocktails.

Value: Low to Average, at $90. A number of people really like this but it’s never quite stood out to me enough.