Friday, July 31, 2009
Balvenie 17yo Islay Cask
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Okay, not technically an Islay whisky, but as a part of an Islay-themed week here on the Malt Mission I thought I had better get some notes for this drop out there while I can as I am fortunate enough to have a near empty bottle sitting in my living room.
Originally released in 2001, The Balvenie 17yo Islay Cask was the first of a string of 17 year old experiments from Balvenie Malt Master, David Stewart. It would be 4 years before the next in the series was released, just enough time for this drop to generate a sort of cult following and for all available bottles to be snapped up. It wasn't until the 2007 release of The Balvenie 17yo Sherry Cask that interest in the 17yo series from Balvenie really began to simmer again. The polarized responses to 2008's 17yo Rum Cask only continued this interest and with this year's 17yo Madiera Cask (available in September) already receiving whisky-nerd online buzz, I know I better stock our stalls at whisky fairs with a few extra bottles.
This seems a good time to remind folks that I do work for William Grant & Sons, family distillers and owners of The Balvenie. To some readers I am perhaps no longer 'independent,' John Glaser gave me a big drunk hug when I took this position 15 months ago and said "sellout" in my ear, but I have done everything possible (and been allowed by my employer to do everything possible) to keep Dr. Whisky independent and free to express honest opinions of our own and competitors' whiskies. And I feel that I do. But I leave that verdict to you, I just thought it fair to remind you that I work for this whisky company.
That being said, as a whisky lover I have collected all of the Balvenie 17yo variants (before and after I began work with WGS) and have always respected the distillery as one of Speyside's, indeed, Scotland's best. This Islay Cask that Michael Jackson called "a picnic on the cliffs... reminiscent of the days Speysiders were peatier," won me over back in 2004 and is similar in concept to another whisky from William Grant & Sons tasted back at Malt Mission #177.
For more distillery info and to see all Balvenies had on the mission, click HERE.
Sweet, vegetal, oaky, and intriguing. Yellow plums, fresh corn, soy beans, salted butter, and cigarette filters.
Palate hints more at this drop's heritage with depth of age, creamy oak and luscious honey. Jammy and buttery before bursting with a puff of smoke and confusing the heck out of you. Endless finish of fresh fruits, cooked parsnip sweetness, and chimney smoke all in elegant harmony.
Not immensely complex, but a true drinking delight. An experiment that went right, as far as I am concerned. Beautiful whisky whose origin would puzzle even the most experienced malthead as s/he happily drinks the stuff. Yet more evidence of what an intergral part the casks (and their previous occupants) play in the final character of a given whisky. I have had similar Balvenies in the Single Barrel 15yo line that must have been filled into ex-Islay casks. Too bad it is nearly impossible to find this bottling anymore. Casks like this (ex-Islay) are in the system everywhere tho and I look forward to Balvenie, or any other typically unpeated-style distillery, releasing more of these onto the world.
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