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Batch 121: Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3

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Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3 review

Distillers are all too aware of the importance of managing their whisky stocks. Understanding the age, maturity and flavour profile of thousands of individual casks and deciding which bottling each is best suited for, all while carefully considering stock levels for future releases, is a balancing act.

It’s an issue David Stewart, malt master at Balvenie, has become familiar with over his 50-plus years at the Speyside distillery. No wonder, then, that the third chapter in the DCS Compendium, created to celebrate his achievements, has been entitled ‘Secrets of the Stock Model’.

Five single cask vintages were chosen for the chapter, each for their relevance to the evolution of Balvenie, and a demonstration of Stewart’s knowledge of maturation and forecasting.

Scotchwhisky.com editor Becky Paskin takes a journey through them, from 2004 back to 1961 and the oldest vintage released from Balvenie to date.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Balvenie DCS Compendium 2004, 13 Years Old, Cask 741

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 2004, 13 Years Old, Cask 741
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    58.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    A confectioner’s greeting – a cloud of icing sugar dust and sticky lemon sherbets give way to the unmistakable spice of an active Sherry cask at play – sweet sultanas, treacle, rich fruit cake. A grassy, floral note peeks out behind the (not overtly) Sherried front, playfully throwing handfuls of green barley. 

    Palate

    Thick and unctuous from the start, its sweet and Sherried bravado becomes bitter, nutty and tannic in the middle – walnut skins and nutmeg – which slightly dries the sides of the mouth as a rich fruit cake intensity jostles for control. Pleasantly, it’s not overbearingly sweet as some first-fill Sherried malts can be. Baking spices pepper the tongue, as does the high alcohol content (calmed with water). Top notes of that green, citrussy, estery character persist in the background. That’s the thing with Balvenie – the cask is never allowed to dominate.

    Finish

    Burnt crackly glaze atop a malt loaf.

    Conclusion

    A rather lovely Sherried Balvenie that shows a skilful balance between distillery and cask but, at six times the cost of a 15-year-old single barrel, the price tag isn’t justified.

    Right place, right time

    Skilfully throwing barley grains into cook’s glass of Sherry from several feet away.

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1993, 23 Years Old, 11621

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1993, 23 Years Old, 11621
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Woody and damp at first – a dunnage warehouse floor, sandalwood and pencil shavings – but in time Balvenie’s fruity notes of green apple skin, lemon drops and green fruit pastilles step out of the shadows, one by one. Water releases bigger fruit aromas of pineapple and melon. A faint note of light chocolate mousse permeates the fruitiness, which in any other situation wouldn’t be complementary, but here, somehow, the synergy works. Tarte tatin made with buttery, flaky pastry nips at the heels. 

    Palate

    Surprisingly soft, given the strength. Soft oat biscuits and a dry oakiness wave hello before more biscuitiness – Rich Tea this time, a melting square of Galaxy milk chocolate and a touch of lemon zest. Now that puff pastry comes into its own, pulling along caramelised apples and a dollop of crème anglaise for the ride. The fruit – melons, crisp green apples, pineapple chunks – grow more prominent with a drop of water. 

    Finish

    Dry and oaky. 

    Conclusion

    A well-matured benchmark Balvenie, chosen to mark the launch of the classic distillery bottling, Balvenie DoubleWood.

    Right place, right time

    Tools down in the cooperage for fruit juice and biscuits.

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1981, 35 Years Old, Cask 7824

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1981, 35 Years Old, Cask 7824
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Surprisingly vibrant for its age, with freshly-cut hay and green apples at the fore, but there’s an omnipresent element of wood rot lingering as damp newspaper, the print rubbing off on your hands. Dust settles on an old oak cask. Beneath it all the ripe fruit gathers: pineapple, watermelon, candied lemon. The juxtaposition of distillery character and age, the two jostling for attention, is mesmerising. 

    Palate

    Soft, oaky vanilla and wood spice, with a surprisingly grippy texture. Again the fresh green fruit battles against richer, sweeter notes (Bramley apples and damsons vs sultanas and morello cherries) before a leathery, bitter quality moves in, casting all asunder, leaving dusty bookshelves and espresso in its wake.

    Finish

    Soft, gentle and smooth; the faint memory of an old pair of beloved leather boots.

    Conclusion

    David Stewart chose a 1981 vintage to blend into the Balvenie DoubleWood in 1993. Thankfully he spotted something remarkable about this particular cask and held back.

    Right place, right time

    Sifting through old newspapers at the library, a coffee and Danish in hand.

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1973, 43 Years Old, Cask 8556

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1973, 43 Years Old, Cask 8556
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    The most heavily Sherried of the chapter, with denser, richer fruits than the 13-year-old, which was also matured in an oloroso Sherry butt. Gutsy and thick, there’s serious depth here. Marzipan, dried sweet cherries and cinnamon-spiked molasses. Hazelnuts, honeyed figs and dark, indulgent sticky toffee pudding. Its age shows in notes of leather, polished wood and earthen floor. If I were only ever allowed to nose this dram I’d be more than happy.

    Palate

    A thick, Sherried sweetness swimming in prunes, figs, molasses and cloves, though it’s never prickly. There’s the old leather again, this time joined by meatier – yet still sweet – notes of maple-cured bacon and smoked meats. A touch of smokiness (a dying brick fireplace) lingers next to a hint of sulphur in the back. Spices dance across the tongue.

    Finish

    Gradual and long. 

    Conclusion

    An absolute delight. If you happen to have a spare £15k kicking about, you may want to consider purchasing.

    Right place, right time

    Santa’s cigarillo lay discarded in the cold hearth, his Sherry and fig rolls left untouched.

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1961, 55 Years Old, Cask 4193

    Balvenie DCS Compendium 1961, 55 Years Old, Cask 4193
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    41.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    When the malt dust clears there’s clear, sweet oloroso character, but this hogshead has not only been kind to the spirit over the years, it’s heightened qualities I’ve never known in Balvenie before. Jasmine and orange blossom, mango and fuzzy peach: an orchard on a spring day. The floral elements combine with toasted oak and hard caramel, vanilla cream and juicy sultanas. This is not just a £35,000 whisky; it’s a snapshot of Balvenie in the 1960s. A moment in time.

    Palate

    The fruit has been caramelised and encased in golden pastry: peach strudel with butterscotch sauce. A vase of freshly-picked roses stand on a table nearby. Damp wood spice – anise, nutmeg, vanilla – gives a hint of age and adds grip to the otherwise soft palate, which is watering under the influence of Juicy Fruit chewing gum (can you still buy that?). 

    Finish

    Baking spice, soft brown sugar. Dry. The rose petals and jasmine whip back around for a parting shot.

    Conclusion

    This is the reason why the craft of making whisky really lies in the blender’s skill – identifying a cask this exemplary – the oldest release from Balvenie – is what makes David Stewart a master of his craft. 

    Right place, right time

    Oh dream maker, you heart breaker.’ Another 1961 classic from Danny Williams.

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