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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Single Malt Report: Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 2

The last of the Balvenie Bye-Bye series is one of the Tuns.  When I first scheduled this series a couple months ago, I had thought the Tun 1509s were gone from the US.  Upon arrival they'd instantly vaporized in California, with the only lingering bottles now selling in the $500-$600 range (by retailers intending to battle the secondary market I suppose).  To me, when a whisky reaches that point it's as good as gone.  But then I noticed last week that Tun 1509 is still available in a number of saner states, often selling near its original $300 price.  In fact, winesearcher shows that the average US price for Batch 1 has dropped since its October 2014 release, from $400 to $361.  And if one were to ignore the California opportunists, the average price would drop below $350.  What a bargain!
Anyway, if you don't know the story behind the Tun 1509s, here it goes.  Once upon a time there were nine batches of Balvenie Tun 1401, the supreme example used without irony by industry apologists to try to prove non-age-statement (NAS) whiskies were good.  (Part of the reason the Tun 1401s were "good" was because all of the casks in the mix were over 25 years old, with many being well over 30 years old; meanwhile the vast majority of NAS whiskies are closer to 5 years old.)  A couple years ago, Balvenie stopped putting casks to marry in Tun 1401 and built a larger tun, #1509.  With a larger tun, the new batches would be four times the size of the 1401 batches.  Cheaper casks too, with a lower ratio of ex-sherry butts.  And since we didn't actually know the age of the casks in the mix, the more cynical of us started to wonder if the whisky was also younger than the 1401s.  This feeling was then backed up by reviews on reddit, whiskyfun, and whiskynotes.  So what's the tally here?  More bottles per batch, made from cheaper casks holding likely younger whisky, and a higher MSRP.  If this surprises you, then you must be new to scotch whisky.

I was a very big fan of the Tun 1401 series.  To me, they were blending masterpieces.  Though I was able to try four of the batches, I was never able to purchase a bottle for myself.  And that's a bummer.  But you know what?  It's just whisky, man.  Tun Money can buy a lot of things.

For an OC Scotch Club event, we were able to obtain a bottle of the second batch of Tun 1509 for $300ish.  It turned out to be very popular, surprise surprise.  Luckily I was able to pour a sample for myself before the bottle was emptied.  Let's see how it do.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Type: Single Malt
Age: damfino
Maturation: "23 American oak hogsheads and barrels + 7 European oak sherry butts + 2 sherry hogsheads"
Alcohol by Volume: 50.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? Hopefully not

The nose starts off with fresh fruit, think peaches and apricots. Dark berry syrup and orange oil. Then it's reminiscent of the excellent apricot rugelach my wife made in December. Sugar cookies, a smoked vanilla bean, and creme brûlée. Then lychee black tea, a hint of aloe, and a little bit of grapey sherry.

Right off the bat, the palate is quieter and narrower than the nose, mostly toasted grains and toasted oak.  With 20+ minutes it develops lots of tiny notes of berries and stone fruit, then bigger notes of almond torte and honey.  A mild sweetness rests in the middle, with a mild spicy undertow.

The almond torte turns into a berry fruit tart in the finish. Then a note somewhere between vanilla ice cream and creme brûlée.  Honey, soft tingly baking spices, and a slight oversteeped bitter tea note.

WITH WATER (~42-43%abv)
The nose becomes hushed.  Creamy and sugary, a hint of florals.  Vanilla, almond extract, and lime juice.

The palate leads with aromatic wood spices, vanilla, and caramel. You know, wood stuff. Then smaller notes of malt, toffee, and floral honey.

The wood spice and malt sit further apart in the finish, along with vanilla and floral honey.

A good, sometimes very good whisky. Best on the nose, and best when served neatly. The oak is always present, but doesn't get loud until the finish.

I'm giving it a good score below, as you can see, but I feel so unenthusiastic about this whisky because of its predecessors. The fact that I even thought to add water to it was a bad sign, as I had never thought to hydrate a 1401. But I'll push aside history here and try to quantify things.

Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 2 is a half step better than the Doublewood 17yo, which itself is a half step better than the Doublewood 12yo.  Or with approximate grades and national prices:
Balvenie Doublewood 12yo: B-/B -- $58
Balvenie Doublewood 17yo: B -- $148
Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 2: B/B+ -- $390

Ignoring the price, I can say this is good, sometimes very good whisky.  And ignoring its older siblings, I can say this is good, sometimes very good whisky.  But I can't ignore those things.  As a short term financial decision, I'd say this was a success.  But as far as the product goes, I don't see this as a step forward for Balvenie.

Availability - It can be found, just not on the West Coast. Look East.
Pricing - anywhere from $350 to $600
Rating - 88