The Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel

David Stewart

Many, many years ago, the Balvenie 15yo Single Barrel was one of the first whiskies I truly adored. The cask strength nature of the liquid endeared me to many things about this whisky. I loved the intensity of the aromas, I loved the richness of the flavours and I loved the ‘straight from the cask’ ideology. What I didn’t love was the price. Back then, I was a penniless undergrad barely able to cobble together a couple of quid for a pint of cat piss lager in the local student union and so a £60ish bottle of whisky was a once-in-a-blue-moon treat. Today’s hard-up students no longer have this quandary. The Balvenie have recently released a 12yo single barrel expression. Matured exclusively in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel for 12 years, the liquid is then course-filtered (to make sure you don’t end up with a mouth full of splinters) and bottled with no more than 300 bottles coming from a single cask. There’s no monkeying about – no chill-filtration, no addition of caramel colouring and no watering it down to 40ish% ABV; my sample sits at 47.8% ABV. Each bottle comes with the cask and bottle number, but unlike my beloved 15yo single barrel, there’s no distillation or bottling date which is a pity – as a self-confessed whisky geek I quite like knowing all of these (mostly irrelevant) details.

The legendary David Stewart himself said,“There are very subtle differences from cask to cask and it gave me great satisfaction to sample these casks to find the finest ones. Each cask is unique and that is what makes each bottle of the Single Barrel First Fill 12 Year Old exceptional.” The sample I have before me doesn’t come with a cask number or anything so my notes may differ from yours a little bit depending on which cask you taste. Well, that’s my excuse for writing dodgy tasting notes anyway…

Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel
Less than 300 bottles per cask
47.8% ABV
£44.50 from here

Nose: Rather floral with some confectionary sweetness. Lime zest, vanilla slices and pick n mix sweets. Pear juice and peach slices with custard. Then the tingly spice comes through with cinnamon swirls and some fresh pine wood.

Palate: Loads of honey on lightly toasted bread, vanilla fudge and a touch of coconut. Quite appley too – baked apples with sugar. As with the nose the spices take their time to emerge before faint oak and cocoa appear.

Finish: A citrus sweetness hangs about with some tingling wood spice.

Overall: Very much a Balvenie’s Balvenie, if you see what I mean. This whisky stays absolutely true to the distillery character yet offers something a bit lighter than the 15yo single barrel but also something with a bit more oomph than the standard 12yo Doublewood. So how does it fare for a single barrel Balvenie for under £50? Very well indeed. Complex enough to intrigue veteran cask strength whisky drinkers but also delicate enough to be a cask strength whisky to introduce to friends who might only have tried 40/43% ABV stuff so far. As ever, David hasn’t let us down.



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