Speaking of whiskeys as I was, or rather, whiskies, I received yesterday the awards listing for the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a young but plucky competition organized by long-time spirits pro F.Paul Pacult and former Wine Enthusiast exec David Talbot. And there, featured among the five Chairman’s Trophy winners in the Scottish whisky classes – cask-strength, Speyside, islands, Islay and blended — stood a spirit I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, the The Balvenie Peated Cask 17 Years Old Single Malt.
A unique whisky, this Balvenie is the result of several oddball experiments effected by David Stewart, veteran Malt Master at the distillery. As wandering Balvenie ambassador Samuel Simmons put it to me, after Stewart handed over the reins of Master Blender for Balvenie owner Grant’s to Brian Kinsman, we was able to turn his attention full time to the Balvenie distillery. This resulted first in the the 12 year old Balvenie Signature, and then in this most unusual offering. (And, more recently, in a third whisky, as noted below.)
The Peated Cask is not a peated whisky, but rather an aged Balvenie that was tranferred for a short aging period to barrels that had previously held a strongly peated, experimental whisky. The result is a spirit that is not Ardbeg-blow-your-socks-off smoky, but rather a marriage of peatiness absorbed from the wood and the typically Balvenie-esque aromas and flavours of honeyed malt, buttery florals and soft fruit, accented by a black peppery spicy note and a lengthy, smoky finish. A lovely marriage of island strength and Speyside subtelty.
The more recent Balvenie release from the evidently brilliant mind of Mr. Stewart is the 14 year old Caribbean Cask, which I was told by Simmons is the result of Stewart’s minor obsession with rum. In this instance, the Malt Master matured his own blend of rum from points unspecified in the Caribbean and then used the barrels to finish a mature Balvenie for a further 4 to 6 months. This time the mix takes a decided dark fruit turn, with honey and toffee notes blending with notes of muddled plum and currant, raisin and fig. On the palate, all the spiciness of the rum asserts itself in a mix of cinnamon and allspice, nutmeg and clove, with even a hint of coconut coming along for the ride, all ending in a languorous and creamy finish. This one I went out and bought mere moments after my tasting session.
If you’ve missed either of these limited edition lovelies, there should still be time to pick yourself up a bottle or two. Even on St. Patrick’s Day.