...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Balvenie Bye-Bye: Balvenie "over 8 years" old Pure Malt (early '80s UK bottling?)

Corporate shenanigans and recent price increases aside, Balvenie makes a reliable single malt.  From their 12yo Doublewood to the 21yo Portwood, I've rarely found a disappointing whisky.  And their Tun 1401s are some of my all time favorites.  While they have an extensive (by today's standards) age-stated range, there have been a number of products that have gotten axed over the years.

Over the next two weeks I'll be tasting five former Balvenie products.  Some of these can still be found if you're either lucky or willing to pay a premium in the secondary market.  In fact, the final two (next week's two) are lingering here and there at some retailers.


Balvenie's malt whisky was first bottled in the early 1970s.  Some (or all) of its first bottlings looked like this:
It has the Glenfiddich/Grant's triangular bottle shape with the Glenfiddich green glass.  But to set it apart from the other William Grant products, it was given a faux leather black label with gold colored lettering and design.  Yeah, it's kind of a weird bottle.  But it was the '70s.

Yet, was this specific bottle really from the decade of Quadrophenia, Sticky Fingers, and Tubular Bells?  I'm not so sure.  Let's take a closer look at the label.

With the alcohol content not listed with a "proof" designation and the size measured in metric, no UPC code or health warning, it would make this a mid-to-late-'80s bottling......if it was released in America.  But was it released in the US?  With the "º" and "GL" and "cL" notations and no importer information, it looks an awful lot like a UK bottling.  But it's 750mL, so it has to be a US bottle, right?  Nope.  According to two good whisky forums, it wasn't until 1992 that the EU standardized their bottles at 700mL.  Buuuuuuut, according to those same sources, UK standard size bottles were shown as "26 2/3 fl. oz." until 1/1/1980 when they became 750mL (or 75cL).  Thus I'm going with the assumption that this was an early 1980s UK release.  (If you have other theories or actual facts, please let me know in the comments below!)

I only have access to this whisky thanks(!) to my buddy JLR from the Orangest part of the OC.  His friend found the bottle in his father-in-law's garage, but no one knew where the bottle actually came from.  I do like a mystery dusty.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 8 years
Maturation: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottling year: possibly the early 1980s
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? Not much, if so

The nose begins with shoe polish + eucalyptus, and lots of it.  Then leather and new car.  Lemon ammonia.  It takes around 10 minutes for it open up further.  Then comes vanilla, raspberry jam, and burnt butter.  And a nice creamy caramel dulce de leche sort of thing.

The palate is difficult at first, all metallic and bitter.  Moldy basement.  Then some vanilla, sugar, bandages, and salty broth.  After 20+ minutes a sweet malty note peeks out.  There's an acidic astringency to it that sometimes kinda works.

The finish is not short.  At first the bitterness is woody, then gradually it turns into black bitter coffee.  It's also at turns salty, sugary, earthy, and peppery, ultimately leaving behind a chemical aftertaste.

Unlike the current Balvenie output, this whisky is not a crowdpleaser.  Nothing about it shouts overproduction nor reveals too much woodwork.  But that doesn't necessarily mean it's great.  The nose is a hoot, sometimes full of old bottle weirdness, sometimes quite decent.  The palate is bumpier than a New York highway in March.  The finish tastes like a New York highway in March.

Most of the online reviews of this whisky have been pretty brutal, but the whiskybase scores are very high.  My opinion falls somewhere in between, with the finish dragging it down a bit.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 74