The Balvenie distillery is located in the burgh of Dufftown in Moray, Scotland — in the Speyside region at the north end of the country — and produces some of the most popular whisky on the planet. Both The Balvenie‘s delectable and pricey 21 Year Old Portwood and their more affordable DoubleWood are highly respected, much-enjoyed single malts. But if you’re in the market for something a bit different, their newly released 15 Year Single Barrel Sherry Cask is richly rewarding aesthetically and on the palate.
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This rendition of their 15 Year Old is a significant departure from their previous oak-matured version and a well-executed replacement that bears more character than its forbearer thanks to 15 years of aging in Oloroso Sherry casks. Oloroso Sherry is essentially a fortified Spanish wine whose character stems from years of aging in these toasted casks, which are heated just before the wine makes its way inside. These sherry casks do something truly wonderful to Balvenie’s whisky during its 15 years of mellowing. The wine left in the pores of the wood, along with the toasting, gives the whisky a deep, rich mahogany brown coloring and more body than oak-casked whisky; next to a glass of DoubleWood, it’s easily more visually tantalizing.
Speaking of different, each Oloroso cask will impart unique flavors but likely won’t deviate too much from the base characteristics of the sherry casks — toastiness, dried fruit, spice and sugar. Each barrel holds no more than 650 bottles, and each bottle is numbered by hand along with the barrel number from which it came, authenticating the craft. (Our dram was poured from bottle #77 of cask #755.)
Pop the wood-topped cork and before the 15 Year hits the glass, the aromas of dry fruit, singed orange peel, spice and toasted sugar are unmistakeable. The more it’s exposed to the air (and without even a small cut with water), the more prominent the nose. Sipped, the 15 Year Single Barrel landed with a wave of orange peel, cinnamon, toasted sugar and dried fruit. There’s even a bit of brine mid-palate and a sherry finish so long it remains on the tongue for a half minute after sipping.
The whisky’s balance is remarkable, with a beautiful progression of flavors from front to back. This second bottling in The Balvenie’s Single Barrel line is a spectacular whisky iteration, easily eclipsing the first release from oak casks. It’s the perfect complex whisky for after-dinner relaxation at the end of a busy day — at a reasonable price of around $100. If you can find a bottle, that is. Word on the street is that it’s sold out nearly everywhere. Now that’s cause for drinking.