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Monday, February 8, 2016

Single Malt Report: Balvenie 15 year old Single Barrel (ex-bourbon, #11161)

Each successive one of these Balvenie Bye-Byes was removed from the range more recently that the one before.  And each is older than the previous.  Today's will look more familiar than the others to many scotch fans.
Actual bottle reviewed!
But wait, you say, the 15 year old Single Sherry Cask is on the shelves everywhere.  And, yes, I say, this the 15 year old Single Barrel when it was pulled only from former bourbon casks.  In 2014 (give or take a couple months), this expression (I'm not a fan of that word) was replaced by two(!) other expressions: the 12 year old Single First Fill Bourbon Barrel and the 15 year old Single Sherry Barrel.  The 12yo entered the market at the same price point as the old 15yo, and the new 15yo Sherry was $20-$30 more expensive.

I have to say I've always appreciated this Single Barrel series.  It's a little nerdier than most official single malt bottlings.  There's actual information on the label, each barrel is different, some are occasionally older than 15 years, and the ABV is higher than most OBs.  The current 12yo, 15yo Sherry, and 25yo Single Barrel releases are still cool in theory, it's their prices that keep me away.

This past November, I found this particular bottle selling near its original 2013 price.  So I scooped it up for an OC Scotch Club event, the same event which had the a'bunadh #50.  They're cool events, you should go to them.  There were two other bottles of this Single Barrel on the shelf, but I left them for others.  And they vanished before the next month.  Here's my review from the bottle:

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 15 years (September 23, 1997 to February 13, 2013)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrel
Alcohol by Volume: 47.8%
Barrel #: 11161
Bottle #: 103
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Not much if any

The nose is straightforward: oats, barley, lemons, and tangerines.  Smaller notes of fennel seeds, soil, roses, and raspberries appear here and there.

The palate is richly malty.  Ovaltine, milk chocolate, and hard toffee.  Then citrus peels and toasted marshmallows.  It's almost smoky at times and has a little bit of a buzzy chili pepper heat.

The decent length finish has that milk chocolate note and little bit of the toasted marshmallow.  But its biggest note is citrus tanginess (think lemons and limes).  Some rose petals and black pepper too.

Let's see what happens when it's dropped down to Balvenie's usual ABV...

WITH WATER (~43%abv)
The grains remain in the nose and most of the fruit departs.  It gets a little fudgier, like vanilla fudge.  There's some ultra minerally white wine and a hint of grapefruit.

The palate still has the Ovaltine and toffee, but the whole thing feels jumbled, like a deck of cards that's been mushed together, some cards face up, some down, some bent in half.  It's a little bit drying, some salt in the back, some heat.  Maybe some limes.

Limes, malt, black pepper, and a sudden bitterness show up in the finish.

With the oak playing a quiet supporting role, the malt really gets a chance to shine here.  Like most Balvenies this whisky isn't complex, it's just a very good drink.  The nose has more character than the palate and the finish is very pleasant.  I recommend this one be served neatly, since water seems to muddle the best parts.  The more added, the bigger the mess.  The higher ABV serves it well.

As part of the joys and frustrations with single barrel releases, different barrels will have different characteristics and qualities -- see my other Balvenie 15yo SB reviews here and here.  I do think that most of their 15yo ex-bourbon Single Barrels will tend to fall in the 80s scores or B grades, so if you do find one of these former SBs you'll have to gauge whether you're willing to pay the asking price (see below) for that level of whisky.

Availability - Some bottles are lingering on the shelves at random retailers
Pricing - anywhere from $85 to $135
Rating - 87 (neat only)


  1. According to my math this is a little over 16 years old but grabbing one of the over 15 Single Barrels is definitely a treat.

    1. Yes, good math. More than 16.5 yrs in fact. I'll update my numbers.

  2. You got your dates mixed up. On the bottle it's September 23, 1997 to February 13th, 2013. That's 15 years, four months, and 21 days.

    1. Fixed again. Thank you, sir. Apologies all around.

    2. Scotland should just write their dates in Month-Day-Year like normal people in the US, Belize, and Micronesia. In case anyone is wondering, yes, I am being facetious.

      Incidentally, I'm a bit surprised that only three countries in the world follow this format. Sounds like something to add to the future Jeopardy answers.