At the start of September, I was invited to the Stirlingshire countryside to witness the unveiling of not one, but two new releases of The Balvenie. Cromlix – better known as Andy’s Murray’s hotel – provided the perfect backdrop for the launch, with Dr Sam Simmons, global brand ambassador at The Balvenie, our host for the evening.
Once we had settled in, the self-proclaimed Dr Whisky introduced us to the latest (and most expensive) members of the family – The Balvenie Fifty. Although older whiskies are becoming increasingly common, as distilleries look for a way to cash-in on demand for luxury goods in emerging markets, a release such as this is still something to get excited about, especially after discovering the unique story the two whiskies had to tell.
The spirit for the two bottlings had been distilled and placed into European hogsheads casks on the same day in May 1963. They then lay next to each other in the distillery’s Banffshire warehouses for 50 years, before David Stewart, malt master at The Balvenie, decided that they were ready to unleash upon the world. Despite their similar ‘upbringing’ though, these two casks have produced two distinctly different whiskies.
As David explains “The effect of maturation on the final character of a whisky is widely known and becoming better understood, yet it still has an air of mystery around it. It’s rare that one fifty year old whisky has aged beautifully over time, but for two that were distilled on the very same day to mature into such exceptional expressions is something very special.”
Cask 4567 has all the characteristics you would expect from a whisky matured in a European oak cask – a dark, reddish hue, with a taste of rich dark fruits, including cherries and blackberries. There’s also a sweetness to it, although I couldn’t help feeling the whisky’s age was reflected in its finish, which was lacking slightly.
On the other hand Cask 4570 was markedly different, with a light golden colour; a surprisingly light shade for a whisky which was pushing half a century. The taste was also much cleaner than the first dram, with fresher flavours such as apple and vanilla, with a slight zing of citrus to finish. Both expressions are a real departure for The Balvenie, with the casks clearly playing a massive part in creating the final flavours.
Each whisky is beautifully presented in two very special wooden cases, which have been handmade by Scottish craftsman Sam Chinnery. Each consist of 49 layers of wood and a closing layer of brass, and just like the whiskies, one box is darker in colour than the other.
Due to their great age, and the fact that each cask has only produced around 130 bottles, each whisky is currently retailing for £26,500 – slightly outside of Santa’s price range this Christmas! However, the entire evening captured what The Balvenie do best – bringing together the best ingredients and the most knowledgeable people to make great whisky. And as a whisky lover, what more can a boy ask for?