Quite a few of these Single Barrels have been released. We will taste four of them along side each other. The older distillates were bottled at a higher ABV than the younger ones. Balvenie started bottling the 15 Year Old Single Barrel at 47,8% ABV in 2002. That means this is not cask strength, of course. Note than the difference between these distillates is more than a decade.
a. Cask 5803, 04/07/1981, bottled 20/08/1997, 50,4% ABV b. Cask 121, distilled 20/01/1982, bottled 26/06/1998, 50,4% ABV c. Cask 106, distilled 27/02/1991, bottled 27/07/2006, 47,8% ABV d. Cask 8748, distilled 28/09/1993, bottled 12/11/2008, 47,8% ABV
To make what follows a little easier to read, let us simply call the samples a, b, c and d.
Remarkably none of the four show the explicit fruitiness that you would expect from Balvenie. Sure, it has fruit left and right, primarily white, but the typical oranges are nowhere to be found on the nose. Two barrels even show heavy herbal and grassy notes, completely unexpected.
a. Grassy on fresh dandelions, heather, vanille, honey, Apple, pear. Some oak and pepper. b. Sweet, on vanilla, toasted bread, banana, burnt sugar, with a hint of smoke. c. Very sweet on butterscotch and toffee. Very soft and almost devoid of spices. Herbal on dried grass. d. Grainy on malt, slightly spirity. Reminds me of lager beer. Fresh wood shavings.
On the nose, sample b, the distillate from 1982, is my favourite.
All of them are creamy on the palate, but the attack differs quite a bit. Those with the higher ABV are more feisty (doh!), but all four are completely different.
a. Feisty on honey, white fruit and quite a bit of pepper. b. Nicely fruity, this one. Citrus, apricots and plums. Some brown sugar. Smoke. c. Just like on the nose, some butterscotch and toffee. Werthers Originals on spices. d. Rather spirity. A little white fruit and vanilla, quite some tannins.
Again sample b takes the First prize. Sample d, which I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt on the nose, quickly sinks to the bottom of this list.
All four Single Barrels have a pretty long finish, although one is better than the other, of course. Only sample d, the misfit in this line-up, has a shorter finish than the others.
a. Long, on white fruit and pepper. Slightly drying like tea. b. Long and fruity on citrus and some liquorice. c. Long on a strange salty tang towards the end. Interesting. d. Medium long on white fruit and oak. Completely in line with the nose.
Cask 121 from 1982, bottled in 1998, is by far the best in this line-up, while cask 8748 from 1993, bottled in 2008, was my least favourite. Having said that, even sample d is still a fine dram, despite the somewhat spirit character. It would not be fair to give them an average score of 83,5, so let me just put out the four scores.
a 83/100, b 87/100, c 84/100, d 80/100