First Impression: A Duet of Balvenie Single Casks

Over the past couple of years, I have had the fortune to taste a few non-commercially available whiskies, and some of the best ones have been Balvenie single cask samples, including this cask 8720 and this cask 100. Thank you again Ms. Laura Hay and Mr. James Buntin again for sharing those delightful drams with me.

I was once again lucky enough to try two Balvenie single casks a couple of months ago when Mr. David Stewart MBE, one of the few master blenders in the industry, toured to Sydney.

  
Mr. Stewart brought with him two single casks from the Speyside distillery, both were distilled in 1990, one aged in an american oak bourbon cask and the other in a sherry cask. I suppose most of the attendees would agree that the highlight of the event was to have David in our presence speaking about his beloved distillery, but these two offerings certainly added to the wonderful evening.

  

Cask 7354 was aged in a bourbon cask that was bottled at a somewhat unusually low ABV at 47.8%.

Beeswax and harvest time barley richness form the essential aromas on the nose. Well polished sandalwood with a tan leather note that has been smoothened out by silky vanilla. There is a pinch of white pepper to go with the crisp dried fruit peels.

A clean seamless entry of mellow vanilla initially on the palate; it’s very Balvenie-esque with those vanilla and honey characters, well complimented by the tropical fruitiness that enters the stage on the mid-palate. A delightful white peach note develops before the buttery malt comes back for a delicious finish.

 Some distilleries appear to fare better when using certain types of casks. To me, this is what I think Balvenie excels in, getting those sweet and delicate distillery characters accentuated through maturation in bourbon casks. And from the couple of times I have interacted with David, it seems that he favours the use of bourbon casks as well.

  

Now cask 464 falls on the other spectrum of what Balvenie offers, aged in a sherry cask and bottled at a whooping 62.6%, it’s not something you will ordinarily see on any shelf. It was definitely a dram that drew anticipation from the crowd and it was definitely a treat. 

Slightly dusty and quite leathery on the nose, it has this heaviness from a damp European oak sherry cask. Chinese style five spice cured beef slices alongside muscat raisins and dark ripen strawberries, laced with a hint of burning incense wood.

Crushed strawberry reduce and raisins expanding upon contact with the tastebuds into a satisfying serve of thick red cherry pie. The spices are heartwarming and powerful; dark chocolate coated cherry ripe swirling as the cask shows its prowess through a rather woody presence.

The finishing appears to be quite soft as compared to the palate, red tea stirred with one sugar, served with a slice of milk chocolate with drops of cherry essence.

This youthful sherry cask can be quite a curveball if tasted at a blind tasting, the sherry seems to have dominated the narrative and it’s not as gentle as what one’d expect from Balvenie.. but it’s a tasty sherried whisky nonetheless.

Nicholas