The Balvenie Single Barrel, Sherry Cask, Aged 15 Years, 47.8% ABV

Color: a deep amber, almost red.

Nose: dried fruit and gentle spice, followed by soft oak and malt.

Palate: drying yet still fresh dates and green Chardonnay raisins, yielding to soft oak and spice.

Finish: Surprisingly short in length with low intensity spice (allspice or cardamom rather than cinnamon or clove) and gentle European oak (less bold sweetness of vanilla, caramel and honey than American white oak barrels).

This expression of the Balvenie is the relatively newer 15 year old release from this innovative Speyside distillery owned by William Grant & Sons. This expression aged 15 years entirely in sherry butts replaced the rich bourbon casked 15 years aged whisky that thrilled my taste buds for nearly a decade before it was discontinued a few years ago. This whisky is full, yet subtle in every way. There is minimal to no alcohol burn, surprising given its nearly 48% alcohol content. A few drops of water eradicates the minimal alcohol appreciated when drinking the amber nectar neat. While the sherry cask influence is unmistakeable, this is not a big sherry bomb. It is pleasantly soft in every way. Dates often come across as the dried fruit in sherry casked whiskies and this is no exception, but not the super sweet, crystallized date of an aged tawny port as can be appreciated in a number of other Highland and Speyside drams (e.g., many Dalmore and Macallan expressions). Even the oak is gentle in this 15 years aged whisky. Although the Balvenie typically uses 10% peated barley in its mash, no peat is readily appreciable to me.

I see this as a delicious, smooth and easy drinking whisky with plenty of flavor and complexity without being over the top with respect to any one characteristic. The only relative negative to this whisky is the price, which is in the $115 to $130 range for 750 ml in the PA, NJ, DE region, but even this critique is modest as the price isn’t disproportionate given the present pricing in the industry.

Well done, as usual, Mr. Stewart. Slainte!