Many of us are familiar with The Balvenie – the Speyside Scotch in the off-white tubes with the somewhat unexciting labels. The Balvenie distillery was first opened in the 1890’s by William Grant & Sons, owners of the (then and now) nearby Glenfiddich distillery. The Balvenie remains part of the William Grant & Sons family today.
The Balvenie is well noted for softer flavors of flower and honey. But all Balvenie is not created the same.
The Balvenie is one of the few scotch distilleries with its own malting floor. While that might seem like just trivia, it plays importantly to this review. While The Balvenie only malts a fraction of its yearly needs in-house, for one week of the year, known as “Peat Week,” The Balvenie converts its malting operation to Highland peat-dried malts. According to The Balvenie, “Instead of coastal elements of iodine, salt and medicinal characteristics so commonly associated with Islay peat, Highland peat imparts earthy, woody smoke notes. This means that even though Peat Week is made using heavily peated malt (30ppm) it has an unexpected sweetness deeply rooted in the Speyside regional character.”
This year’s release of The Balvenie Peat Week 2003 Vintage is a 14 year peated scotch. I recently picked up a bottle, and with friend of Flight Club Charlie King, sat down and sampled it along with the 17 Year Peated Cask from The Balvenie. Unlike the Peat Week release, the Peated Cask release is not a peated barley, but instead uses a standard The Balvenie scotch, and finishes the whisky in a cask formerly holding peated scotch.
The Balvenie Peated Cask 17 Year (86 Proof)
Nose: Rich in traditional Balvenie honey; tropical fruit, with coconut and pineapple almost like a pina coloda; flamed orange peel; hay; apple cider vinegar; malt; smoked walnuts; baking spice. (3.5/5)
Palate: Creamy. Honey; citrus and tropical fruit; chocolaty old oak character with a touch of funk and dust; apple cider vinegar that dissipates with time in the glass. This has a very Lagavulin-like profile, with pronounced yet soft smoke. Some of the same fruit/spice/nut from the nose continue, but the added flavors here create a different experience. (3.5/5)
Finish: Rich tobacco and smoke; some residual tropical fruit and baking spice; malt. Somewhat short at first, but this finish does lengthen with time in the glass. (2.5/5)
Overall: Often when a nose, palate and finish don’t match or necessarily flow into one another, you are left with a disjointed experience. Not here. Each experience is unique and enjoyable, but each complements the other well. (3/5)
Value: At $120, I expected a bit more. The age shows well, as does the peat influence, but the two combined doesn’t scream “buy me again at $120.” (2.5/5)
“Each experience is unique and enjoyable, but each complements the other well.”
The Balvenie Peat Week 2003 (96.6 Proof) (14 Year):
Nose: Fresh baked buttered biscuits; honey; floral; malt; tropical fruit (pineapple and mango); apple and pear cider; toasted oak; rich peat with dry earth; a bit of resinous wood. (3.5/5)
Palate: Briny; honey; vanilla and caramel; more mango (albeit dried this time); apple skins; peat and ash that hits just as the finish begins. (3/5)
Finish: Sweet and savory; vanilla cream and apple, mango, under-ripe banana, and pineapple, transitioning to cheap light vanilla flavored spent cigar. The finish dramatically deteriorates at the end with the lasting cheap cigar ash flavors. (2/5).
Overall: Although this is a bit of an up-then-down ride, I find myself returning to my glass. Overall, I’m satisfied, as each note transitions well to the next. (3/5)
Value: A Scotch with the rich honey and gentle notes of Speyside contrasted with earthy peatiness is fairly unique. I’d prefer this to be closer to $70 like other The Balvenie, but I’m not unsatisfied at $100. (3/5)
“A Scotch with the rich honey and gentle notes of Speyside contrasted with earthy peatiness is fairly unique.”
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.