While I was quickly researching this, I was surprised to learn that this expression is now retired (don't worry, as of now there are 988 bottles still left at the LCBO), given it was part of their core range. Who knows why?Since Master Blender David Stewart created this to celebrate his 45 years in the whisky industry, perhaps it was just time to move on?
Or perhaps retiring their small batch whiskies are part of the distillery's carefully-crafted brand image, in contrast to their sister distillery, the mammoth Glenfiddich. Six years after creating Glenfiddich, William Grant converted neighbouring Balvenie Castle into a distillery in order to meet the demands of blenders for "Glenlivet-style" malt (Glenlivet had been damaged by a fire and was closed at the time). It didn't start marketing single malts until 1973, and despite its image as a "boutique" distillery, it produces 1.25 million gallons of whisky a year and has quite a significant place in the single malt scotch market. It also employs its own cooperage and coppersmith (though they don't tell you that those services also support Glenfiddich - in keeping with that carefully crafted brand image.)
I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery in May 2012 and it was wonderful to feel the barley malting under my bare feet, walk the beautiful grounds and taste the full range - Doublewood 12, Signature 12, Single Barrel 15, Portwood 21, Peated Cask 17 and the Balvenie 30 - each paired with a different dessert created specifically for this tasting by the chef from the Glenfiddich Cafe next door (the dessert with the Signature was a vanilla nutmeg pannacotta with strawberry and aniseed syrup). Needless to say, it was all delicious but way over the top - and I basically had to be rolled out the door...
The Signature bottlings are produced in small, numbered batches (this bottle comes from Batch #5, presumably the final batch) and is matured in three types of casks: oloroso sherry butts, first-fill bourbon and refill bourbon barrels, each hand-selected by David Stewart.
The colour is a shimmering amber. On the nose, quite malty, with lots of vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and honey - exactly what I think of when I think of Balvenie. Orange marmalade, and a hint of pipe tobacco. Water seems to make everything a little more delicate.
The palate also has some of those orange notes, with a little more caramel and mint. The influence of the sherry cask comes through with the fruitiness, though there is a slight hint of sulphur. Full, syrupy mouthfeel. As with the nose, water seems to simply dilute everything.
The finish is long and dry, and a little dusty - an interesting contrast to the palate, yet still well-balanced. Although I generally find Balvenies a little sweet to my tastes, this is one of my favourites - not an everyday dram but an excellent example of the distillery character. If you have not yet tried a Balvenie, this is your jumping off point, so pick one up - especially since it is now retired.