Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Speyside Single Malt of the Year
Another rich year in Speyside made this a particularly tricky choice, but I chose this Balvenie not just for its quality but for what it says about the whisky industry today and as a tribute to the 50 years that Balvenie’s malt master, David Stewart, has given to it.
Balvenie remains one of the great enigmas of single malt, in that it is known, but unknown. You can’t call it a cult anymore, but neither can you say it is mainstream. It does its own thing, walks its own path. It absorbs all types of wood and retains its individuality, it has power but is never aggressive. It is identifiable but hard to pin down.
This was the fifth release from an ongoing series of vattings by David, in which he takes a selection of casks of different ages and types and marries them together in Tun 1401. This particular example saw four sherry butts from the 70s being mingled with five hogsheads ranging in age from 1966 to 1991.
The result was a single malt of obvious maturity; it had the aroma of fruits at the moment of decay, where rancio is beginning to appear, where Balvenie’s honey (manuka in this case) mixes with the darkest of fruits and notes of cigar.
And there was no age statement. It spoke of how blending works, of different characters being brought together to produce a dazzling result, of how the fragrant and light has its counterpoint in the raisined and tannic, of how it is flavor that matters and not a number on the label.
No Age will become increasingly important, and if they’re of this standard then they should be welcomed. And, my dears, at £161 this was a steal. — Dave Broom
Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Islay Single Malt of the Year will be announced tomorrow.