Since 2002, Balvenie have spent one week each year running peated spirit through the distillery’s stills – replicating experimental smoky runs which were conducted in the 1950s. By using highland peat to dry their barley Balvenie have achieved an end result spirit that is tangentially different to the coastal style found at Islay’s distilleries. Peated Balvenie, once consigned to the dustbin of history is now a fairly common sight – the distillery seems to be weaving the style into all of its ranges. But, the brand education behind these newer styles of peated whisky seems to be lagging behind the launches – there’s still a customer mystic which surrounds the utilisation of peat and expectations of its intensity and medicinalness.
Balvenie Peated Triple casks 14 year old joined the growing selection of smoky Balvenie releases in June 2017 as a travel retail exclusive. All four current Balvenie travel expressions (12, 14, 16 and 25) fall within their triple cask range, and all four are composed of similar cask compositions of 1st fill ex-bourbon, refill ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.
Not only is the 14 year old the only travel retail Balvenie to utilise peat, it’s also the bottling which offers the highest ABV - a respectable 48.2% - whereas the other three bottlings come at a pretty paltry 40%. The expression is available in travel retail for a shy under £70. You’ll occasionally see it for sale outside of airports at retailers – though you’ll be paying a hefty premium if you want to pick this up without an associated air flight. Similarly, outside of travel retail, you have two other 14 year old peated Balvenie bottlings to consider – Peat Week (currently a 2003 vintage) and The Week of Peat – part of the recently released ‘Stories’ range. Both of these similarly aged expressions are a touch cheaper than the triple cask variant. You can always trust a whiff of a sherry cask to add to your final sticker price.
Nose: Bacon crisps (Frazzles) and lump coal smoked meats sit with wild honey and vanilla cream. There’s little sherry influence to speak of – just an additional twist of cinnamon in the background, whilst heather, lavender and pine needles conjuror inland hillside scenes. Running throughout – maltiness, ozone, petrichor and wet soils. The addition of water adds sweetness with golden syrup, whilst also further emphasing alluvial aspects with putties and clays.
Taste: The arrival favours the underlying fruitiness of the spirit - pear juice, grapefruit segments and biting citrus peels – all wrapped up in a dry, demi-sweet, demi-vegetal smoke. Quite characterful. Moist soils, leaf mulch, fallen twigs and singed coal join swarfege and floor cleaner whilst hessian, damp cotton and felt are livened by ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reduction warps us straight into a forest – fir cones and fallen underfoot pine needles with wet hollow wood and earthy mushrooms.
Finish: Medium, dry sweet smoke sits with fading citrus and oak spices
Balvenie Peated Triple Cask 14 year old offers a distinctively inland smoky take on the Speyside stalwart’s house style. Whilst Balvenie’s underlying malt and honey tones are still present and correct, here they’re supported by a wider array of delicately smoked aromas and flavours. And, that’s an important wood to emphasise - ***Delicate*** You don’t have to look far to plenty of passing commentary (I.E. one sentence reviews) that suggests that peated Balvenie is not heavily peated. Quite! The distillery’s annual peat week has been (so far) utilised to find a balance of smoky flavours which harmonises with the spirit character, not one which pounds it with a smoky sledgehammer. If you’re looking for intense peat, you are indeed looking in the wrong place.
At time of writing, Balvenie are offering three peated expressions – all at 14 years of age. Perhaps a little confusing for many customers. To my mind, this travel retail edition offers a touch more sweetness (from the inclusion of a limited number of sherry casks), but not necessarily more balance or variance than its more commonly (and cheaper) available brothers/sisters. Certainly you could do a lot worse than picking up a bottle of this when on your travels, but, at the same time, peated Balvenie is becoming a much more common sight.