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Balvenie 15 Year Old

First-taste review

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@WhiskyBeeReview by @WhiskyBee

30th Aug 2012

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  • Nose
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  • Taste
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  • Finish
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  • Balance
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  • Overall
    81

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I figured I had to get around to Balvenie sooner or later, although I regarded it as something of a risk. "Get a good one and it's great, but it's a very inconsistent label," seemed the consensus. So in choosing my first Balvenie, I settled on a well-regarded expression, with the knowledge that I was tossing the dice with a single-cask bottling. (In this case, bottle #48 from cask #6328; distilled 15/3/96, bottled 11/10/11.)

This is a first-taste review of a bottle that's been in my cabinet for a couple of weeks. If I have some second thoughts after the bottle settles down, I'll add them to the comments section.

First nose, neat (about five minutes out of the bottle): Sweet, boozy, and rather one-dimensional. Rough stuff, this.

First taste, neat: Well, this is different. Until the finish, all I get is...nothing! Did I pick up my water glass by mistake? A very neutral arrival and development, followed by a 47.8% booze burn.

All right, let's add a splash of water, cover it, and let it settle a while. After 20 minutes:

Nose: More neutrality. It hasn't opened up -- it's gone to sleep. I'm getting some faint traces of apple about an inch above my Glencairn, but I have to stick my nose in the glass to get some vanilla notes. Anything else is obscured by the alcohol. I'm giving it every chance, but it's not working for me at this stage. Another few minutes allows more vanilla to emerge, but there's just no complexity here.

Taste: Now we're getting somewhere. I don't know that I've ever experienced such a wide quality gap between the nose and the tongue. Arrival and development are very nice, with vanilla dominating. Traces of caramel, smoke, pepper, and ginger. Finish is dramatically different between two sips about four minutes apart. Pepper and bitterness dominate at first, then vanilla and caramel take over. A medium-length finish either way.

So my first Balvenie experience has left me a bit underwhelmed. It's not unpleasant; I'll finish the bottle eventually, and perhaps more will be revealed as the level goes down. A C-level whisky is, to me, across-the-board bland, so this one rates a B-minus on the basis of a few pleasant things on the palate. Again, I have no basis for comparison against other Balvenies. This is just one semi-informed enthusiast's review of one particular bottle.

Kudos to whomever's in charge of Balvenie's marketing. I can speak only for the Chicago area, but Balvenie is always the most prominently and handsomely displayed single-malt on the shelves. You may not find more than one or two Ardbegs or Lagavulins, but by golly, they've always got a full line of Balvenies in the wooden trays with the little metal-plaque descriptors. What's a single-malt novice to think other than "THIS is the one to try!"? My limited experience tells me they could do worse, but my greater experience would compel me to suggest "Save your money and just get some good ol' Highland Park 12."

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3 comments

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@WhiskyBee. I think you have nailed it. I finished up my bottle recently after having it around for almost a year. I have seen some very good reviews but I never really warmed up to this one either, and it wasn't cheap. Always had a predominance of vanilla in both the nose and the palate and even with a good dash of water it never really opened up. I expected the usual Balvenie, honey sweetness, but actually found it slightly bitter. I prefer the Double Wood and the Signature 12, and the excellent, but much more expensive 21 yr old Portwood.

10 years ago 0

@Lars
Lars commented

I've had a variety of Balvenie's and except for the 17 yr peated I have not really enjoyed them. The 17 yr was a gift otherwise I would not have tried it. I have to agree with you for a middle of the road whisky it gets some great press.

10 years ago 0

@WhiskyBee
WhiskyBee commented

Quick addendum: "wooden trays" = plinth. I learned what a plinth was when visiting the Statue of Liberty years ago. Had no idea the term also applied to those whisky-display thingies. Guess I've been more concerned with drinking whisky than displaying it.

10 years ago 0

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