I read yesterday that sales in global travel retail (also known as GTR, because the world is too fast moving to miss creating yet another acronym) rose by 9.3% over 2018, with wine and spirits currently accounting for 6% of all sales. That’s a lot of bottles of uneventful NAS whisky. However, taken in isolation these statistics are somewhat misleading (isn’t that often the case?) – passenger numbers are up – up to such an extent that the individual spend per person is actually falling.
More passengers doesn’t automatically equate to more whisky sales. And yet, over in Asia-Pacific, double-digit growth (14.2%) shows just how variable the market can be cross-territory. Alain Maingreaud (TFWA President) went as far as to state: “At the current rate of progress, Asia Pacific will account for more than half of the business worldwide within the next two years”.
Balvenie 12 year old Triple Cask is a travel retail expression introduced in 2013 to replace the 12 year Signature (which itself-replaced the 10 year Founders Reserve – there’s a long line of succession here). It’s part of a quad of expressions (12, 16 and 25 year old + a relatively recently added 14 year old Peated triple) which all have at their centre the same cask DNA – 1st fill sherry, 1st fill ex-bourbon and ‘traditional oak casks’ – which is a wanky way of saying refill ex-bourbon.
It should be noted that despite possessing the same age-statement as the well-known Doublewood, the Triple Cask is produced differently – rather than being a finished whisky, the three cask components are aged separately and then vatted back together in one of David Stewards large marrying tuns. As such, there’s a proportioning going on here between 1st fills and refills – and there’s no way of telling much of each you’re actually getting in a bottle.
As a travel retail release you’re getting a whole litre of the Triple Cask – it’ll set you back £66.69 from Heathrow’s World of Whiskies. Breaking it down – that’s £46.68 for an equivalent 70cl bottle and ergo a 20-25% premium over the commonly available Doublewood. The additional 1st fill ex-bourbon apparently ups the cost. E150a and chill filtration are I believe in play here, and likewise, the ABV here is nothing to get excited about – other than the 14 year old Peated Triple, all the Balvenie travel retail bottles come delivered at 40%. I’m relatively OK with that for this entry-point 12 year old…. much less so for the 25 year old which will set you back £436!
Nose: Garden fresh and rather inviting – crisp red apples alongside oven-baked apricot flans. The Balvenie backbone of orange honeyed malts is present and correct, and supported by rich sweet pastries – almost baklava with its strongly honey-forward nature (but sans the chopped nuts). In the background, lemon and menthol cough lozenges, coconut shavings and fresh sappy oak.
Taste: Gentle, but far from disagreeable. Sweet and sour pear drop candy with apple (now green), apricot and foam bananas. Again, honey and vanilla provide a familiar and solid mainstay. The development is swift and largely placid – fruits into creamy white chocolate and vanilla, then ginger and mint leaves, finishing with some fairly modern wood – pencil shavings and new park benches.
Finish: Medium, ginger and cinnamon and moving steadily into steeped tea territory –somewhat tannic and quite drying.
I find that Balvenie 12 year old Triple Cask has a fair bit more character than its equivalently aged Doublewood cousin. There’s more going on under the hood with the cask composition, and whilst the ABV is the same, there’s just a little bit more complexity wrapped up with the Balvenie’s easy-going quintessential Speyside character. However, it costs a fair bit more than the Doublewood – and glassware size comparisons aside, on a good day you could probably buy two bottles of Doublewood for one bottle of the Triple Cask. Hmmm. It’s certainly pleasant stuff, but not to my mind a travel retail slam dunk.