the Balvenie – rarities nosing and tasting

We had the pleasure to be more or less invited to join a tasting of rare and exclusive Balvenies. This tasting with thirty-some people would consist of 6 whiskies, of which 2 were bottlings from recent distillates and four were older distillates bottled by independent bottlers in the late 80’s, begin 90’s.

Organiser was collector John de Vries and our host of the evening was Ronald Bijl, collector and walking whisky database. Tony van Rooyen was present amongst the guests – he was unable to host the evening in his function as Dutch the Balvenie ambassador, since most of the bottlings that were presented were not in his portfolio.

At a Chinese (!) restaurant in Utrecht Lunetten, we were welcomed with a dram of one of the current the Balvenie – 12yo – single barrel, in this case a US import version of 75cl, from cask number 12690 – bottle number 55 – filled at 47,8%. A nice dram, which has the familiar mouthfeel and palate from most of the current releases of the Balvenie. 

nose: soft fruit, spice, raisin, fruitcake, peach, caramel, eastern spices, sweet, warm, chocolate, vanilla and some soft wood notes
palate: soft stone fruits, honey, soft, sweet, warm, chocolate, fruit, good woodnotes, toffee, creamy, citrus
finish: medium length, balanced. With time wood notes linger a bit too much and nose becomes more a mix of perfume a bit

Next bottle that got opened was a 75cl, 15 year old Dun Eideann bottling of the Balvenie distilled on the 19th December 1974 that had matured in casks 18103-18130 and was bottled in July 1990 at 43%, into bottle number 2890 of 3000.

She had a rough start, which was troubled by a stubborn cork that decided to disintegrate on the moment of opening. After having removed (most of the) cork and poured the dram, most people did not get much out of it – clearly we had to leave this for a while and give a go a little later.

nose: citrus, wine-gum, pomelo, many citrus notes, fresh, sweet, vanilla, fruit, honey, coriander, mint. Becomes more sweet, warm and fruity when warming up, more custard, vanilla, raisin, and nutty.  After a longer time the nose becomes a bit sawdust like
palate: soft, fruit, but very soft and bit weak, giving the idea of too many refill casks. Vanilla, caramel, fruit, sweet, soft stone-fruit, fudge, custard, citrus, cream
finish: medium long, needs time. Too gentle…

Not a real cracker, but while we were waiting we were poured the next dram. This would be a 75cl Signatory bottling from the Balvenie, distilled on 19 December 1974 that had matured in casks 18103-18130 and was bottled in July 1990 at 52,1%, into bottle 1522 of 2500.

For people taking notes; yes this bottling has the same distill date, has matured in the same series of casks, and has been bottled in the same month as the previous dram. It turns out (read: Ronald had delved, dug and found out) that the Dun Eideann bottles are (were?) a series of bottlings that are bottled by the Signatory and on rare occasions they would do splits like this into different bottles, with different strengths.

In our opinion, it is rare to find these two bottlings in the same collection, and maybe even more rare to find them opened on the same evening and have their strengths measured against each other – for the lucky few present.

nose: sweet, vanilla, raisin, custard, gummy-bears, pepper, sweet fruit, honey, walnuts, fudge, chocolate
palate: citrus, chocolade, fruit, sweet, honey, with a bit woody note. Soft fruit, red apple, banana, vanilla, raisin, caramel
finish: medium long, woody, but honey sweet like.  Pine, citrus and mint notes. With water, a bit dry cacao on the palate with orange, pineapple, and more sweet tropical notes sweetness. On the nose more grassy with sweet fruits with water.

It was funny to see these two bottlings with a similar base, have such different results, only having the difference of being bottled at cask strength or not: a rather bland and not overly interesting result versus a true cracker.

Next in this already likeable lineup was Wilson & Morgan’s take on a 14 years old Balvenie – Glenlivet, bottled at 46%. From the W.M. Cadehead bottle code “93/291”, one can derive that this was most likely bottled in 1993 on the 291st day, so the spirit was most likely distilled somewhere in 1979.

nose: Soft and spice, needs time to open up. Caramel, vanilla, fruit, soft stone fruits, red apple… Was first very medicinal and metallic on the nose. After warming up it became more balanced.
palate: Fruit, gooseberry, red fruits, vanilla, raisin, fudge, bit salty chocolate, chili pepper, bit spice and creamy
finish: Medium length finish with soft honey and sweet fruit notes.

Good, but not a tough as we would have liked her to be. She could probably have done with a little more bite, in the form of a higher abv.

The fifth bottle on the tables was one of the current 16 year old triple cask releases from the current the Balvenie travel retail series. This has matured in three different casks; a first fill ex-Bourbon, a re-fill ex-Bourbon and an ex-Sherry cask. To our understanding the whisky was fully matured in these cask types for 16 years before they got married in a marrying tun.

nose: First this one felt a bit dusty, but with a bit warming up and time it became more sweeter. A mix of fruit and nuts. Some dates and vanilla, sweet but with a bit wet wood, and eastern spices
palate: Sweet, honey, heather, red summer fruits, vanilla, date, plums, nut bread, citrus, chocolate, and fruit
finish: Medium length finish, with citrus, orange, and chocolate. Likable, but nothing fancy, at least not among the other contestants of the evening

Last, but certainly not least was a for us still unknown bottler; Robert Watson with a Balvenie distilled in Januari 1975, bottled in May 1985 – straight from the cask at 57,5%, once again in a 75cl bottle.

nose: Sweet/sour atjar, grass, spring onion, farm notes, cinnamon, backing spices, sulfur
palate: Fruit, sweet, soft, backing spices, citrus, lime, mint.
finish: Soft, not long finish. Nose and palate on this Balvenie are completely different from each other.

It did not give us the idea that it is the Balvenie. If someone would have told us this was something from Glen Keith we would have believed it to be true. We liked to see that already in 1985 the print on the label stated:

“Sip it neat, but if you feel it requires dilution then only a wee drop of fresh cold water please”

We have had a lot of fun this evening. Getting invited to this was sort of a surprise at first, but we gladly accepted the invitation. Big thank you’s go out to John and Ronald for their whiskies and entertainment. Looking forward to the next event either of them has planned, and be sure to reserve us a spot, because we will be attending…

Cheers, Ansgar & Thomas.

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