Whisky Advocate

Review: The Balvenie Madeira Cask 17 yr. old

July 24th, 2009

The Balvenie, Madeira Cask, 17 year old, 43%, $120
A harmonious marriage of fruit and spice. More balanced than last year’s sweet Rum Cask release. In fact, this is one of the most deftly balanced whiskies I’ve tasted this year. Bramble, ripe nectarine, caramel apple, honeyed vanilla, and golden raisin, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Soft (for Balvenie), lingering, warm, dried spice finish. (Available in the U.S. beginning September.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 90

21 Responses to “Review: The Balvenie Madeira Cask 17 yr. old”

  1. Shaun Farrier says:


    Sounds like an interesting dram for sure, and one that I’d like to try. I enjoyed their 17yo Sherry Wood, New Oak, and even their Islay Cask.

    I just can’t get over the new pricing for these bottles. $120 seems aweful steep to me, and considerably more than the other limited ‘bottlings’ I mentioned above.

  2. Red_Arremer says:

    Is this a finish or a full term like the sherry oak?

  3. Neil Fusillo says:

    I have to agree with Shaun.

    $120 is certainly pricey for their 17. I picked up the 17 rum cask for FAR less than $120.

    I do love my collection of Balvenies, but if they keep upping their prices, they’re going to wind up just pushing me to another good whisky. There are plenty to choose from.

  4. H.Diaz says:

    At $80, Highland Park 18 is hard to beat and looking better and better, compared to some of these new boutique whiskies.

    Talisker 18 too, at $65, but haven’t seen it for the last year or so here in Texas.

    As much as I’ve enjoyed Balvenie over the years, primarily the 10, 12 and 15, I agree with Neil, there is much to choose from in this price range, including the Balvenie 21.

  5. John Hansell says:

    Red, I am out of town and don’t have the notes with me, but I believe it’s a finish.

    Yes, the price has gone up. But I also expect the other good values in that age bracket (e.g. Talisker 18) to go up too, sadly.

  6. Jon W says:

    Not much to add here other than I agree with everyone else on the points that
    a) this is an interesting release
    b) the pricing is disappointing

    I skipped the Rum Cask last year because of the ~33% markup (and because I was able to sample it at one of John’s tasting and validate that it wasn’t worth the $$). But I am foreseeing myself shelling out for this one (see the power your reviews have, John!).

    I do love the SherryOak, currently have 1/2 a bottle left with some backups. I also have an unopened bottle of the New Wood (heard it’s not on par with others, so it’ll remain eye candy on my shelf for a while). Sadly missed the boat on the Islay Cask.

    As a general point, yes, the direction prices are heading in is scary. I price some stuff for a living and I completely understand the need to take in enough revenue to cover their costs and to generate a return, but I can’t imagine that gouging your best customers is a good long term strategy. But then maybe we’re not their best customers or maybe markups on their high end stuff is just a precursor to markups on the lower end stuff or maybe they’re trying to push us down to the lower end stuff where the real money is… Don’t really know, just thoughts. Oh man, this could make a great case study…

    Sorry for the digression. I suppose I’ve read to many Harvey Fry posts (meant as a compliment, Harvey).

  7. Louis says:


    You are 100% on target. And now to add a little bit more fuel to the fire. Last year, prices were going up due to the weak dollar and high energy costs. Now the dollar is strong, and energy is cheaper. And there is a lot less demand from Asia, which is equally affected by the recession.

    This is where they talk about ‘price rationalisation’ or some other nonsense. The good news is that the bottles may sit on the shelf for a long time, and some stores are going to include it in their clearance sale so they can free up the capital to buy things that will move faster.



  8. Paul says:

    The Balvenie is my favorite distillery! You’ve got to love that they grow their own barley. Regardless, the annual 17yr Limited Editions keeps things interesting. However, it seems that the price point is growing needlessly high. I just bought a bottle of the 17yr Sherry Oak on sale for $55. That’s not just “finished”; it is aged for a full 17 years in Oloroso sherry casks (although one more year wouldn’t have hurt). So, I’m guessing that one took a little more planning and cost more to produce, no?
    Anyway, I like most of The Balvenie malts, and it sounds like this is an improvement over the disappointing Rum Cask finishing from last year. Now that was an overpriced bottle! Which brings me to me next question: Can we get John to review more affordable, readily available, Scotch? Such as The Glenlivet 18yr, The Balvenie 12yr Double Wood, Oban 14yr, Cragganmore 12yr and all of the other Scotches that aren’t distillers editions or special bottlings. I can’t afford to spend over a $100 on every bottle of Scotch I buy. Thanks for you insight.

  9. John Hansell says:

    Good discussions about pricing, guys.

    Paul, The reason I don’t review Glenlivet 18 or Balvenie DoubleWood is because they’ve been on the market for many years. I think that most people would rather see me focus on new releases and offer some guidance there. And, unfortunately, a lot of these new releases are expensive. Still, I’ll try to throw some less expensive whiskies into the mix. Thanks for the comment.

  10. B.J. Reed says:

    I to love Balvanie and have most,if not all, of the 17 YO’s – I will taste this one when it comes into the Dell and then make a decision if its worth the price.

  11. Charlie says:

    Now, I know nothing about pricing theory or strategy, but bottles are WORTH what people will pay for them. And yes, that is annoying to most of us whisky lovers, but we are all a little bit to blame if we have ever bought a Johnnie Walker Blue Label as a gift, bought a Feis Isle botting and sold it on eBay, or did anything at all to get our friends interested in Scotch whisky, a limited resource that we are now sharing with more and more people.

    Balvenie 17yo Madiera Cask (it is a finish, Red) is £62
    So let’s put that into context before we blame Balvenie for high whisky prices.

    Bruichladdich sells UNAGED spirit for more than half the price of this bottle. They sell 7 year old whisky for £62.
    The no age statement Glenmorangie Astar demands £52
    Macallan 18 gets £70 per bottle and Bowmore sells 13yo whisky for £150

    Sukhinder sells Balvenie 17yo Sherry Oak for £80, Islay Cask 17yo for £125…

    A fair price is a fair market price, I suppose. And while I know that this, for me, means Balvenie Single Barrel 15yo remains the best deal in ‘limited release’ whisky, I will probably have to buy two of these Madiera casks just to drink and to complete my collection. Grrr…

    And Paul, where the hell did you find Sherry Oak for 55 dollars? Help a brother out!!!

  12. John Hansell says:

    Charlie, yes, there certainly are whiskies that, on a relative basis, are more expensive. And like I was trying to say above, it’s not just Balvenie raising prices. This is pretty much across the board with the entire industry to one degree or another. I think that this new Madeira Cask is worth the price.

    (And Red, as Charlie noted above, I’m back in my office and read through my literature on this new Balvenie and it is indeed a finish.)

  13. Peter says:

    Prices are high to be sure. I THINK that some/a lot of it might be local/state taxes. A bottle of Macallan 18 is about $150 in Oregon but only $115 in idaho. Just a thought. I had The Balvenie 17 new oak a bit ago in Boston. Great flavor. Anyone see it in Oregon?

  14. […] Hansell says that the Balvenie 17 Madeira Cask is the “most deftly balanced whiskies” he has […]

  15. H.Diaz says:

    John, like Paul #8, I too will enjoy it when “you throw some less expensive whiskies into the mix.”

    Although I agree that many of your readers would rather see you focus on new releases, some of us would like to read about more readily available and more easily attainable whiskies.

    Many of your readers may see these whiskies as the Budwesier of whiskies, meaning every one knows about them but prefer the latest and the greatest, whatever the price.

    But some of us are still working their way through the countless, even if ubiquitous, brands of whiskies and could use some guidance there.

    After all, more and more readers are beginning this long and never ending ride.

    Muchas thank yous, HD.

  16. John Hansell says:

    H. Diaz. Point taken. Will work on that. Thanks!

  17. […] the Madeira cask, which we hope malt enthusiasts will enjoy discovering in the glass.” In his Malt Advocate review, John Hansell rated the Madeira Cask 90 points, calling it “one of the most deftly-balanced […]

  18. […] What Does John Know (Malt Advocate): – John was impressed by the balance of this whisky and awarded it a very impressive 90 points. I probably could have just copied and pasted his notes to represent my own findings. […]

  19. igor says:

    After trying Blue Label, Balvenie 21yr, Macallan 12yr and few others, I have to say that I love the Balvenie 17yr Madeira. It’s simply great. Just bought a bottle and feel really bad that they stopped making it. Thinking of buying 2 more. It has that Scotch taste, BUT it’s not that hard to make you shivver. It’s not blend like Johnie blue label, and yet it is very smooth. Perfect !

  20. Curt Sayler says:

    Just found this 17-year Balvenie at my local bottle shop, small place, and his distributor talked him into buying two for the price of one. He had it on the shelf for $59.99 and I actually thought about it for a week. Luckily I went back and got both. Looking forward to trying it!

  21. rwbenjey says:

    I grabbed a bottle of this the other day; it’s astounding.

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