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Friday, February 5, 2016

Single Malt Report: Balvenie 12 year old Signature (Batch #5, 40%abv edition)

On Wednesday I reported on Balvenie's late 10 year old Founder's Reserve.  Today, I'm reviewing Founder's's replacement, the 12 year old Signature.

Like Founder's (and unlike Doublewood), Signature was a blend of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casksm but it's NOT an ex-sherry finished product.  It came into the market in 2008 as Founder's was being phased out.  In 2012, the Signature was then phased out entirely.  Perhaps it was due to an aged stock shortage (2011 was a big year in volume sales for the industry) or the distillery wanted to prevent confusion between their two 12 year old whiskies.  In any case, out it went, never to be replaced by another married-rather-than-finished product.

On a side note, Balvenie's official site has an "Archive" page devoted to their former whiskies.  You'll recognize many of those products.  There's a Founder's Reserve page in there too.  But there is, conspicuously, no listing of the Signature.  This is especially weird because I remember their "Our Range" page listing the Signature even after it had been phased out.  You may start your conspiracy theories......now.

Today's sample was purchased from Master of Malt in the spring of 2013, thus it's the UK's 40%abv edition.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, married
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling year: 2011
Chillfiltered? Likely
Color added? Probably a little bit
Note: I tasted the Founder's Reserve and Signature side-by-side.

The Signature's color is noticeably darker than the Reserve's.  More age?  More sherry casks?  More e150a?

Lots of toasted grains arrive first in the nose.  Then caramel, strawberry candy, and salty seaweed.  There's cat fur (though that note has been questioned before), orange oil, and saltines.  After 20 minutes, a youthful cinnamon bark note shows up, and maybe some furniture polish.

Some surprising thickness to the palate, considering its ABV.  It's all honey, caramel sauce, and vanilla at first.  With air, the caramel sauce becomes toffee pudding.  Then there's toasted marshmallow and hints of circus peanuts and zesty oak spice.

That oak spice stays through the finish.  Vanilla, malt, and small moments of toffee and circus peanuts.  A decent length to it all.

The Signature felt bolder and fuller than the Founder's Reserve at times, but perhaps that's because more oak pokes through.  It feels a little heavier, despite the lower ABV.  But at the same time, this 12yo had more young notes than the 10yo.  I still liked it a lot, and at 43% it probably could be as good or better than the Doublewood.  It's yet another very nice drink from Mr. Stewart's lab.  Goodness, I remember when Founder's Reserve, Signature, and Doublewood could all still be found on LA's shelves in early 2011 for $45 or less.  Now we just have Doublewood pushing $60.

Availability - Secondary market, or perhaps on a lucky dusty hunt
Pricing - ???
Rating - 84 (the 43%abv edition may be a few points higher)


  1. I am pretty sure Signature was renamed and moved to travel retail. The Balvenie's Triple Cask line sounds suspiciously like Signature's cask marrying process.

    1. That is a pretty darn good theory. They throw some nth-fill ex-bourbons into the batch, bottle it at 40%abv, and hike up the price per liter. It did show up in travel retail a year or two later after Signature was retired. Seems silly that everything in their regular range, but their single barrels, are getting finishes. Plain ol' Balvenie is good stuff and very easy to sell.

    2. This is only a theory but I think the success of the Doublewood has made Balvenie only focus on wood finishes (IIRC David Stewart actually beat Lumsden to wood finishes because Doublewood debuted before Glenmorangie's Extra Matured range). But the Single Barrels also proved popular enough that Balvenie is keeping them around (but I've heard rumors the 15 year Sherry Cask is getting discontinued).

    3. Ha! Or, Ha :(. Were people really snapping up those 15yos at $110+ a pop? Or maybe the 17yo Doublewood is getting super popular.

      One thing that I forgot to comment on, on one of your comments, is that blending is a real (and valued) art form. David Stewart had it down. The Tun 1401s were sort of a late career masterpiece, but the guy did steady impressive work for decades. Even with Grant's, it was still better than many blends twice its price the last time I had it three years ago.

    4. Like all the hard working master blenders/distillers in the entire industry, David Stewart definitely has my respect. In fact, I deeply regret not buying a bottle of Tun 1401 Batch 5 when I saw one at Beltramo's. They were asking $350 which I thought was a bit steep. But with the crazy prices any of the Tuns are going right now, $350 is nothing.

    5. Yeah, I saw Batch 9 selling for $350 locally when it first came out. I passed it up. Even for Tun 1401s I won't spend that kind of money because A.) I don't have that kind money, and B.) I don't value whisky that highly, financially.

  2. $60? Wat?


    It's even cheaper at Trader Joe's.

    1. Hey Zach. Yeah K&L and TJ's are sweethearts when it comes to Doublewood and a few other whiskies. But the exception doesn't equal the rule. If one was to take the CA stores which list on winesearcher and add in BevMo, about 75% of the California retailers are selling Doublewood at $55 or higher. Meanwhile, California is one of the best places to get Doublewood. The national average right now is over $58 and if one removes California from the mix it pushes the national average close to $65 (and that's using an average of over 500 stores). That's my math. In the meantime, yes, get your Doublewood at TJs while you can.

    2. The 17 year Doublewood is going for $140 a bottle at BevMo so I was really happy to discover K&L selling at $125 (which is the average MSRP). Still expensive but I wanted to give the 17 a try.

    3. My experience with it was that it was a half step better than the 12. Thought it was good but not worth $100 when it came out. The current national average of price of nearly $150 is unfortunate. Hope you have a better experience with it than I did!