Since 2002, Balvenie have spent one week of each year using Highland peat to dry their barley. The result of this is now available for us all to enjoy in the form of ‘Peat Week’. Although, whilst peated to a level of 30ppm, you might consider this to be heavily peated release, the use of both highland peat (as opposed to Islay peat) and the bottling ppm of closer to 5, both indicate that rather than a punchy iodine packed peat-fest, we should be expecting something a little more delicate.
This is far from Balvenie’s first ever peated release. Indeed, if you’re travelling you’ll find a new 16 year old Triple Cask whilst you’re conducting your airport-based shopping. The 2002 Peat Week (I’m guessing we’ll have a 2003 next year, and so on..) is a single vintage release from that year's peated production, and is matured in American oak casks. It’s bottled at 48.3% ABV and is non-chill filtered. The cost per bottle is roughly £60 depending on where you like to shop.
Nose: A rather low-key and shy start, but with the expected Balvenie honeyed barley present and correct. Apples, barley water, hay and some interesting salinity (not sure where that’s from) interplay nicely with what is a very wispy sooty smoke. There’s also some mild citrus and almost yeasty-like sharpness here which are both pleasant and also freshening. The addition of water gives some more emphasises to the sooty and floral aspect of the smoke, and adds some minerality/stoniness in to the equation in the form of granite and chalk.
Taste: Bolder now with sweetness coming first and offering honey, toffee and light vanilla. This is followed up by smoke which is more assertive than on the nose – still sooty and slightly floral - but at the same time, it’s a part of the story and not the whole story by itself. There’s a lovely underlying mossiness here which plays nicely with some cask spicing that comes out near the end of the development – cloves and salt.
Finish: Medium to long and offering citrus-tinged smoked malts and again a lick of salt.
Balvenie 2002 Peat Week offers much more subtlety and sophistication than I was initially expecting. The drop off of phenols once bottled down to around 5-6ppm allows to the smoke to form a truly interesting backdrop to more typical Balvenie notes – and boy do they all play so well together. This is not a peat-led experience and its all the better for it. The balance between the elements is lovely and the end result is a super quaffable and highly likeable addition to Balvenie’s lineup of whiskies.
I think a lot of people have bought these to sit on and (allegedly) invest. I don’t see this myself as I’m 100% expecting more ‘peat week’ expressions in the future. There’s rumours of a 50 year old Peat Week coming at some point in the future – now there’s your collector’s bottle chaps. In the meantime, this 2002 is lovely, so open it up and enjoy it.