Autumn is by no means the only time to savor single malt scotch whiskey, and yet the seasonal changes that occur each September tend to initiate a shift from vivacious summertime spirits to sturdier tipples for many. As such, we’re now on year seven of our September Scotch series and our first story is dedicated to a triad from the ever-impressive Speyside scotch producer The Balvenie. Though the DoubleWood 12 (which first debuted in 1993) and beloved Caribbean Cask 14 (introduced around 2011) might be the two most accessibly covetable creations by The Balvenie malt master David Stewart MBE (who joined the Dufftown, Scotland-based brand in 1962), it’s this year’s Rare Marriages Single Malt Scotch Whisky collection that reinforces his unmatched vision.
Age statements are a magnet for whisky collectors and a distant dream for fledgling fans. Rare Marriages will not disappoint either. Revitalized versions of two bottlings with mighty age statements—The Balvenie Thirty and The Balvenie Forty—compose the collection, along with the all-new Balvenie Twenty-Five. To craft all three, Stewart first envisioned each tasting profile and then carefully parsed through the luxury brand’s prestigious stock to bring it all to fruition.
As the name implies, the hand-selected single malt whisky within The Balvenie Twenty-Five aged for 25 years in two casks, one constructed from American oak and the other from European oak. This liquid was then “married” in The Balvenie’s oak tuns. As a result, the smooth yet potent 48% ABV whisky noses of honey and raw sugar and tastes of creamy vanilla and baking spaces underscored by apple and pear. Its ombré packaging nods to the marrying process of the two barrels—and the rings of white gold foil reflect the years of maturation.
Perhaps the star of the show, The Balvenie Thirty also represents the marriage between American oak and European oak maturation. Slightly lower in ABV (though still high at 44.2%), this single malt yields bolder notes of vanilla, caramel and honey. On the palate, however, there’s a transformative expression of chocolate and ripe stone fruit. A touch of spice concludes each sip. To match the luxurious liquid, the leather packaging incorporates embossed details and white gold foil.
In an industry where age statements start at 12 (though whisky needs only to age for three in Scotland to be called scotch), 40 years is a very long time for a single malt to mature. Often, liquid left in wood for this long adopts too much of the vanillin (the chemical compound from oak that lends a vanilla flavor) from its cask. And yet Stewart’s expertise translates to The Balvenie Forty being an outright pleasure—with those oaky vanilla notes countered by flavors of ginger, spice and sherry. To honor the sheer rarity of this 46% ABV liquid, The Balvenie houses the bottle in a stained oak container.
Surprising for such age statements, The Balvenie’s signature sweet Speyside notes are discernible in all three single malts. This character shines through the complexity that’s been imparted by age. Despite their allure, however, few will be able to try The Balvenie Rare Marriages range. In accordance with their rarity, the pricing for these three liquids rises from $799 for the Twenty-Five to $2,400 for the Thirty to $6,750 for the Forty. How fascinating is it, though, that Stewart has had an eagle-eye view of all three products, having joined The Balvenie long before even the eldest of these age statements was distilled.
Images courtesy of Collis Torrington