Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Whisky Review: Balvenie 15 Year Single Barrel Revisited

Balvenie's 15 Year Single Barrel was hands down one of its most popular releases among whisky geeks during its heyday. It offered a complex and nuanced single malt with enough variation to keep people interested, all at an extremely respectable price. However, its swan song played some years ago when the distillery decided to swap it out for a much more expensive sherry single cask release that lost some of the delicacy found in the bourbon casks. While the 12 Year Single Barrel stepped in to fill the breach in their lineup, it was clear that they didn't have the depth of stocks that they once had.

This whisky was aged in a single ex-bourbon cask, then bottled at 47.8% without coloring or chill filtration. This miniature does not have the details of the full bottles, but it was purchased as part of a set in 2011.

Balvenie 15 Year Single Barrel

Nose: balanced malt and toasty/dank American oak, corn, a little savory. After adding a few drops of water the oak becomes simpler but more dominant, some musty floral notes emerge alongside a bit of red wine/sherry.

Taste: malt and oak sweetness up front with a vinous edge, fading into more American oak with a peppery kick to it and a bit of alcohol heat near the back, thick berry overtones from the middle back. After dilution the opening sweetness is even thicker, the berry notes become stronger and spread out, the pepper and heat mostly fade, and the oak is more tannic at the back.

Finish: moderately tannic oak, sweet malt, dry black pepper, dusty/musty

I think this miniature has suffered a bit from a weak seal in its cap, which led to a noticeably reduced fill volume over the years that I've had it. This was most evident in the aromas, which were more muted than I remember them being when I first tried one of these miniatures five years ago.

With that said, I can still see why this particular cask was chosen for the miniature range. The simplicity, while not overly engaging, is enjoyable without being challenging. It's clearly older than the Doublewood miniature that accompanied it, which would help to guide people up the range towards the 21 Year Portwood. And the hints of something more might be enough to get people to go buy fully bottles of the Single Barrel that could offer a more nuanced experience. While I never got to try any of those, I can see why so many were sad when this left the market. It's a good whisky that used to come at a fairly reasonable price. Its passing was a sign of the changing nature of the whisky world.

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