Category Archives: Balvenie

The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society hosts a VIP distillery tour of Scotland (August 12 – 19, 2011) with a Jewish twist!

Have you ever wanted to do a whisky tour of Scotland?  A VIP whisky tour of Scotland?  Perhaps (if you’re Jewish) you wanted to experience Shabbat in Scotland and maybe do kiddush over a fine single malt.  Well, this tour is for you!

Here are the details at a glance (As of May 23rd, 2011, there are only 2 seats left):

Fly into Glasgow on August 12th for an 8 day Whisky tour of Scotland with a Jewish Twist.
VIP tours and stops at the following distilleries:
  • Arran
  • Ardbeg
  • Balvenie
  • Bowmore
  • Glenglassaugh
  • Glenmorangie
  • Lagavulin
  • Laphroaig (this is not a tour but a stop at the shop & distillery)
  • Talisker
  • Plus many more surprises!

What the JSMWS will take care of:

  • Accommodation for 8 nights
  • Breakfast each morning
  • All the driving
  • Shabbatot in Glasgow at the reform synagogue (though you’re more than welcome, if you’re not Jewish and prefer not to attend services, we understand)
  • Ferry to/from Arran & Islay
  • VIP tours of several whisky distilleries (as listed above)
  • Kosher requirements
  • The entire whisky experience

All you have to take care of:

  • Flights to/from Glasgow
  • Lunch & evening meals
  • Personal purchases
  • Having a wonderful time

This 8-person, 7 day (or 8 days if you choose to stay for the Glenrothes tour which was recently added to the agenda yet not on the PDF brochure linked here and below).  Whisky tour of Scotland costs $2500 per person and is based on two people sharing accommodation.  As of May 23rd, 2011, there are only 2 seats left.

Click the image below for a more detailed brochure.

The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society’s favorite whiskies of 2010

This is quite possibly one of the toughest posts I’ll do this year.  Being that in 2010 alone I reviewed over 200 whiskies; I’d say the choosing of the 11 whiskies below was uber-hard.  Thankfully it’s the first post of the year so it’s nice to get the hard schtuff out of the way 😉

The following list is not meant to be a shopping guide for you though I highly suggest that you seek out the whiskies on this list – they really are the best of the best of all the whiskies I reviewed in 2010.  Just in case you do wish to use this list as a shopping guide, I’ve included links (where applicable) to online shops so you can purchase a bottle if you wish.

Being that I don’t currently use a rating system, you might wonder how I chose the whiskies below.  Good question.  I basically read through all of my reviews and scoured my memory banks to try and remember the experience.  Once I made my choices, if I still had some of the whisky left, I tasted it again just to make sure I’ve chosen well.

And just so you know, this is not a list of best whiskies released in 2010.  Rather, it’s a list of best whiskies I tasted in 2010.

So, what are the categories?  They are as follows:

  • Best Bourbon
  • Best Rye
  • Best American Single Malt
  • Best Scotch sherrybomb
  • Best Scotch peated whisky
  • Best Scotch Non, or lightly peated whisky
  • Best Scotch blend
  • Best Japanese blend
  • Best Japanese single malt
  • Best every (or any) day drinker
  • Best whisky of 2010 (taking ALL whisk(e)ys reviewed into consideration)

Best Bourbon – Angel’s Envy

Noses quite different than your standard bourbon.

This bourbon was extra matured in ex-port barrels.

While yet to be released, we should see this on the shelves in 2011 – expect to pay around $45 per bottle.

This was easily my favorite bourbon this year – kudos goes out to the Louisville Distilling Company for taking chances in making the first release an experimental one.

You can read the full review here.

Best Rye – Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof

I’m not sure what’s best about this rye…

Is it great because it’s always released at full proof (50% ABV)?

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that it’s less than $20 per bottle?

Could it be that, flavor-wise, it’s damned robust and lip-smacking?

At $20 a bottle (or £25 in the UK), go find out for yourself.

You can read my full review here.

Best American Single Malt – Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

If you thought America was unable to produce a kick-ass single malt, think again.

While Hudson has a solid 2nd runner up, the Stranahan’s Single Malt Colorado Whiskey is, well, amazingly balanced and damned delicious!

You can read my full review here.

You can get a bottle for $57 in the USA here or a bottle for £64 in the UK here.

Best Scotch sherrybomb – Bruichladdich, 1986, “Blacker Still”

I never formally reviewed this whisky on the blog so I’m going to do that here and now (sans pictures – to save space).

On the nose Massive amounts of chocolate, prunes and dirty, dirty smoke.  Some soapiness and sea breeze.  Balsamic vinaigrette.  Pine wreathes (welcome to the Christmas aisle at your local department store).  Think pine embers from a recently dead fire.  Wet dog.  Fresh towels.

On the mouth This dram does not believe that size doesn’t matter.  Luizianne coffee.  Bitter cherries.  Generous amounts of rich sherry.  Raisins and more cherries (the dry type).  All of the pure licorice chews from the All Sorts bag (oh, I want some All Sorts now!).  Rubber fishing boots with sea salt on them.  Toffee, more coffee, more… simply more of everything I mentioned.  Like I said, this is massive!  Did I mention the mouth feel is oily and num-num-nummy?

FinishChocolate sauce and lasting notes of prunes and pines.

In sum Man, this whisky shines like a black star! Balanced – all the flavors are perfectly integrated.  If you’re not a sherry head, this would not be up your alley.  If you are into the sherried whiskies and have the cash for a bottle, welcome to yumsville!  For holidays and all things celebratory.  Good luck finding some of this whisky though… It’s been sold out for a good long while.  You may be able to find a bottle here on occasion.

Special thanks to Rick C for the sample (yes, THE Rick from the Blind Tasting series I did earlier this year)!!

Best Scotch peated whisky – Port Ellen 1978, 24yo, 2nd release

Sadly, most people will not have a chance to taste this whisky.  In fact, this release of Port Ellen is no longer available.  You may be able to find a bottle here on occasion but be prepared to spend a few hundred Euros.

Port Ellen is a distillery located on Islay that has been moth-balled (closed & not in operation) for decades now so any whisky you find from them is going to be old & expensive.

A big thanks to Keith of Whisky Emporium for the sample!

This whisky was a pure treat to taste – You can read my full review here.

Best Scotch Single Malt  – Non or lightly peated – Glenmorangie Quarter Century

Glenmorangie Quarter Century can easily be an over looked and understated whisky.  I think the biggest issue is, because it costs so damn much($559 – $799 in the US or £190 in the UK), people will save this whisky until the end of an evening or served as the last whisky in a tasting.  That’s a BIG no-no.  The Quarter Century is way too delicate for that.  I would lead off with this whisky in a tasting or have it before dinner.  It’s a total power house in a settings such as those.

Liquid gold.

You can read my full review here.

Best Scotch blend – Compass Box Hedonism

Sadly, I did not taste or review enough blends this year.  Luckily for me, I got the chance to taste & review a few Compass Box whiskies.

Hedonism is a blend of premium grain whiskies – no malted barley whatsoever.

Complex as all heck – a joy to nose.  Buttery smooth mouth feel with notes of gingerbread and an interesting nuttiness to it.  A wonderful whisky that would also go brilliantly in a mint julep.  But, unless you’ve got money to burn, you’d be dumb to do so.  Expect to pay $89 in the US or £47 in the UK.

You can read my full review here.

Best Japanese blend – Suntory Hibiki 21yo

I was, to put it lightly, blown away by this Japanese blend.

You can read my full review here but I’ll tell you right here and now – this is an expertly crafted whisky.

A whisky that’s VERY hard to come by, the Suntory Hibiki 21 has won three gold metals, three years in a row and has just won the title of “World’s Best Blended Whisky” in 2010 by the WWA.

This is not available in the US, expect to pay £103.40 | ¥13,700 for a bottle.

Big thanks, again, goes out to Yoshi at Suntory for the sample!

Best Japanese single malt – Nikka Yoichi, 20yo, 1988 vintage

A massive, big, huge, immense THANK YOU goes out to Christopher Jew of  The Whisky Wall for a sample of this nectar.

I’ve enjoyed Japanese whiskies for a while now but it was this particular whisky that sort of stopped me in my tracks and told me that Japan is capable of pure genius when it comes to the craft of whisky making (among other things).

While this 1988 vintage is no longer available, you can get the standard 20yo Nikka Yoichi for £185 here and the 1989 vintage for £180 here.

You can read my full review here.


Best every (or any) day drinker – Glenmorangie Original 10yo

You’d think choosing THE BEST every day whisky would be easy to do but no, it isn’t.

Lot’s of factors to consider – taste, complexity, ease of drinking, ease of getting your non-whisky drinkers to appreciate it (without adding a shit ton of ice or just knocking it back) and, of course, price.

For me, my favorite every day drinker is the Glenmorangie Original 10yo.

For just under $40 in the US or £25 in the UK you can’t go wrong.

There were a few runners up, however.  All of them could have fit the bill of “Best every (or any) day drinker” but, I had to choose only one.

The runners up are:

You can read the full Glenmorangie review here (though please know that this review is a combined review of me and a few members of my society)

Best whisky of 2010 (taking ALL whisk(e)ys reviewed into consideration) – Suntory Hibiki 21yo

A lot of hemming and hawing on my part but after much consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that this whisky, the Suntory Hibiki 21yo, is the best whisky I tasted in 2010.

It truly is brilliance in a glass!  So well composed, perfectly balanced and perfectly delicious.

As mentioned above, you can read my full review here.

This is not available in the US, expect to pay £103.40 | ¥13,700 for a bottle.

Balvenie Portwood 21yr & 21yr Duty-Free – a side by side tasting.

Speyside region — 43% ABV (standard bottling) & 47.6% (duty free only bottling) – SB: $125 | £75 | €88DFO: £69 | €81

It’s no secret my love for The Balvenie runs deep.  Their whiskies can be delicate, complex, bold, intriguing, thick and rich, light and peppery, etc…  However, what you can always count on are the “classic honeyed Balvenie notes”.  Unmistakable.

You can find all of my Balvenie reviews here.

A while back Sam Simmons gave me a sample of The Balvenie 21yr Portwood Duty Free expression which is both non-chill filtered and has a higher ABV (47.6% as opposed to the standard 43% — the 43% being chill filtered, by the way).

Sam, thanks again!

I’ve been holding off on posting my thoughts on that whisky as I had not yet posted my thoughts on the standard 43% ABV Balvenie Portwood.  I now have some of that 21yr Portwood.

A big thanks goes out to Andrew Weir for that sample!

There is something so rewarding about The Balvenie Portwood.  Come on folks, this is expensive stuff.  Not an everyday drinker.  You break it out for that special, joyous occasion; or perhaps you buy it for a loved one or your boss.  So, to taste two different Portwood whiskies in one sitting… Man, I felt like I was treating myself to a world class massage — my happy ending being The Balvenie x 2!

Balvenie, me love you long time!

Time to share the experience:

On the nose 43% Classic honeyed Balvenie nose with a good deal of black pepper notes.  Something astringent here; perhaps a touch of witchhazel.  Black grapes.  Honey peppercorn salad dressing.  Poached pear and a touch of green apple.  Oranges.  A tad salty.

On the nose 47.6% Duty Free Somehow, even with the higher ABV, the nose is softer here.  Much like the off the shelf stuff but with added elements of salted toffee.  Not as peppery as the standard stuff.

On the mouth 43% Sweet blessed Benjamin, that’s good!  Big grapes.  A good deal of pepper & bite.  Hot pepper and honey.  There’s a creaminess to this whisky that somehow offsets all of the spicy bits I’m getting here.  Cool.

On the Mouth 47.6% Duty Free A world of difference in the mouth feel.  Excessively oily.  And, though I really don’t like to use this as a descriptor, Sssssmmmmooootttthhhh!  Buttery smooth.  It must be the non-chill filtering – leaving in all of those great fatty acids! Earthier in flavor, almost mushroomy but still very sweet with the grapes and the “hey-hey and the pretty lady!!” (sorry, my inner Jerry Lewis came out.  Yes, I have an inner Jerry Lewis.  You don’t??).

Deep red fruits – over ripe strawberry, strawberry & rhubarb compote.

G-d, I love this!

Finish 43% Long with hints of hazelnuts and vanilla.

Finish 47.6% Duty Free Much more nutty on the finish, lasting vanilla and more honey.

In sumIt’s amazing what 4.6% more alcohol and non-chill filtering can do!  I am not knocking the standard 43% 21yr Portwood – it’s a solid, kick-ass dram but, this duty-free stuff was on a whole other level – especially with the mouthfeel – ah’good G-d y’all!

Both are celebratory drams.  Go ahead, give yourself a happy ending and enjoy some Balvenie Portwood soon!

The Balvenie 17yr Peated Cask

Speyside – 43%ABV – $125 | £68 | €81

Last week I told you about the big Balvenie tasting I organized at my synagogue.  We had over 30 people there and Sam Simmons (aka Dr. Whisky, aka The Balvenie‘s Global Ambassador) led us through 5 of their expressions: Balvenie DoubleWood, 14yr Caribbean Cask (notes to follow), 17yr Madeira Cask, 17yr Peated Cask & their 21yr Port Wood.

Of the 30 plus people we had at the tasting, I’d say about 40% of them were women.  Why do I bring this up?  Well, I can tell you that the favorite dram of the evening was this 17yr Peated Cask and the majority of the women there LOVED this baby.

Why does this matter?  Well, the old stereotype was that women don’t like Scotch whisky (or whisk(e)y in general).  This has since become a bit of a fallacy.  The new stereotype is that women don’t like peated (or smokey) whiskies.  The tasting of this expression last week, and the women’s love for it, helped to debunk that as well.  Huzzah!

Strangely enough, after everything was said and done, and the tasting was over, there was a wee bit ‘o whisky left in each bottle.  Sam was nice enough to gift them to the society.  I gave the DoubleWood, PortWood and Madeira Cask remnants away to a few lucky society members and kept the balance of this Peated Cask Balvenie as well as the Caribbean Cask bottle (for scientific purpose, you know…).

Sam, thanks again for the tasting and for the samples!

On the nose Wow, it’s amazing what a little bit of peat does to this Balvenie!

Smoked provolone cheese.

Salty maritime notes.

A slight smokiness (like a warm campfire smoke).

Instant oatmeal with brown sugar.

Warm honey & peaches.

I want to curl up in my glass and camp out here for a while.  Really loverly schtuff!

One last whiff before I sip on this juice and I get some nice notes of oranges and burnt sugar.

On the mouthNo doubt in my mind, this is a Balvenie – classic honey notes!!

Peaches are back.

Oak is well integrated.

I’m reminded of what Sam said during the tasting – that the peat in this whisky will remind you of a toasted marshmallow (in smoky style, not flavor).  He’s spot on!  The smokiness is just around the edges but no doubt it’s a part of the whole experience.

Caramel arrives with a side of dried apples.

Did I mention the mouth feel is a chewy one?

Slightly spicy and very vanilla’ed (yes, I understand that this is not a real word.  Sue me.)

Finish Somewhat lingering with orange lollipop notes arriving after the swallow.

In sum I’m a longtime fan of the Balvenie’s yearly 17yr expressions and this one is no exception.  This could actually be my favorite of all the B17’s (as I lovingly call them – William Grant & Sons, feel free to use this term in later marketing campaigns.  Royalty free, my gift you).

So, when should you enjoy this?  This, for me, is a cold morning dram.  The slight peatiness will warm you up but the fruitiness will brighten you day.  If the morning dram is not your thing, gather with friends ’round an outside bonfire, queue up some Beach Boys and, later on, make out with your surfer girl!

As mentioned in a previous post, Jason Johnstone-Yellin of Guid Scotch Drink joined me and my society for The Balvenie tasting last week and he went home with a sample of this juice. You can read his notes here.

A cause for celebration.

Ok, before I get started, I know there are a few things I owe you:

  1. More blended whisky reviews (including some Douglas Laing Double Barrel, Compass Box and Eades Double Malt expressions)
  2. A follow up to my Skyped-in Balvenie tasting with the London Jewish Chaplaincy.
  3. Reviews on the Master of Malt 30, 40 & 50 year expressions
  4. Anything else?

So, this is what I owe you and I will get to that.  Promise.

Before I do, however, I thought I’d do a quick post which actually is a follow up to the first contest I ever did.  I gave you a chance to taste a sample of the Ardbeg Rollercoaster if you gave me a good reason to crack open my Glenmorangie Margaux Cask.

I am happy to announce that I have finally opened the Margaux Cask Glenmo!  And though I am still striving for the goal and main reason I chose to open this bottle, I have made some headway.  So, you might ask “why, if you haven’t reached you goal, did you open up that beauty?”  Well, I’ll tell you.

Reason number 1

As you may know, before I started this blog, I ran a whisky society by the same name.  I still do.

Recently we enjoyed our largest tasting event hosted by Mr. Sam Simmons (with proceeds going to my synagogue’s social justice fund).  You guessed it, Dr. Whisky.  We had just over 30 people at the event and it was a total blast!  Sam did a fantastic job!

So, are we celebrating this big tasting?  Yes.

Is it enough for “Reason number 1“?  Almost.  However, I needed more.

What better component to “Reason number 1” than to celebrate Sam’s promotion to The Balvenie’s Global Ambassador!?

Sam, congrats!  After attending your tasting event, and seeing how you wowed and taught my group about The Balvenie and Scotch whisky in general, it’s quite apparent that your promotion is a well deserved one.  Cheers brotha!

Reason number 2

Dag nambit, if I don’t LOVE the internets!!

Over a year ago I started chatting it up with Jason of (for those not familiar, formally WHISKYhost).  We would twitter quite a lot and I was, and continue to be an avid reader of Jason’s blog.  Heck, I’ve even done a couple of guest posts on his blog where I reviewed whisk(e)y infused chocolate bars: Talisker Scotch Bonbon BarsGeorge T Stagg Bourbon Bonbon Bars.

Recently, and for a variety of reasons (Sam’s Balvenie Tasting being one of them), Jason took many-many hours out of his life to fly out to Connecticut for a visit.

Even though I’ve hung out with Sam before, this statement goes for both Sam and Jason: How cool it was to finally meet someone you’ve been interwebbing with for so long!?

Jason, it was great having you as a guest and hanging out with you!  Sam, see above. 🙂

Reason number 3

Well, I still can not give this away but I will be sure to announce what this reason is when that time comes.

So, how’d the stuff taste??

Looks like I owe one more thing – tasting notes!

When we opened it, we drank to enjoy and celebrate !  Tasting notes to follow.  However, as a preview, I can tell you that it is some amazing fluid!

Sam, Jason, thank you!  Until the next time our path cross again (which I know will happen soon and repeatedly)…  I wish you both the very best!