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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Balvenie 14 year old 2003 Peat Week

There have been a number of recent tastings that did not go according to plan. Some were positive, most were not. Luckily I don't own any bottles of the disappointments, so the surprises weren't so heartbreaking. Here's one that was a surprise.

I haven't reviewed a Balvenie since February of last year. Though I find Balvenie's single malts to be consistently pleasing and well made, I don't have a single Balvenie bottle in my collection. This situation would be different had they priced the 15yo single sherry cask like its predecessor, the 15yo single bourbon barrel, but they didn't. The 15yo sherry cask is good, but not $120 good. The reliable 12yo Doublewood is priced north of $50 here in Ohio, and I don't value it at that level either.

In Europe, the Peat Week releases have been priced about 20% lower than the much more prevalent sherry cask bottlings. Yes, I realize those are "single" sherry casks, but there are hundreds (or thousands, or at least a constant supply) of them. Anyway, enough about those damned sherry casks. That Balvenie review posted 14 months ago was of Peat Week 2002. Today I'm reviewing Peat Week 2003. To quote last year's review with some edits:
For each of the past 17 years Balvenie distillery has devoted one week to heavily peated still runs. The malt used for this distillation is peated to around 30ppm with Highland peat. In 2018, they bottled this whisky with an actual two-digit age statement, no chill filtration and a respectable ABV — an almost revolutionary act by an official producer.
I stand by that last statement, though peated Speyside single malts are no longer unique. The good news is that malt dried with Highland peat produces different characteristics than malt dried with Islay peat. So different peaty experiences have been coming to the market during this past decade. That can be good. Let's see how this particular whisky panned out.

Distillery: Balvenie
Ownership: William Grant & Sons
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: 14 years old (2003-2018)
Maturation: American oak
Limited bottling: ???????? bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 48.3%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: Probably
(from a purchased sample)

An aggressive Islay-style band-aid peat bursts forth from the nose at first. Beneath that is a very milky vanilla note. Then cut grass, apple peels, wet snuffed cigarettes and lumber. The palate is also mostly peat and smoke at the start. It transitions to an aggressive sweetness loaded with lime candy, ginger ale and vanilla. And, just, sugar. A hint of manure floats around in there. The finish is very sweet and tart with salty smoke, ginger ale and chlorine.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes farmier, but also picks up more vanilla and an apple cider vinegar note. The palate gets bitterer and bitterer. Then comes some sulphur, limes and sugar. LOTS of sugar. And sheep shit. It finishes with smoke, sugar and limes.

With its loud peat, louder sweetness and blankets of vanilla, this comes across as an aggressively engineered whisky. It could have used some more sheep shit.

Sad Cynic says, "The market doesn't need any more of this sort of whisky."
Happy Cynic says, "Balvenie has been spending big bucks to market themselves as a craft whisky, when all they really needed to do was make a craft whisky."

The whisky also doesn't work on the rocks, nor as hot whisky, in case you're curious. I was. Now I'm not. If you are ever given the choice between Balvenie 2002 Peat Week and Balvenie 2003 Peat Week, I'd recommend you choose Benromach 10.

Availability - Europe and USA
Pricing - Europe: $65-$85, US: $90-$120
Rating - 76