I’ve occasionally imagine myself as a whisky blogger, fêted by the whisky-makers, reviewing a seemingly endless supply of free whiskies, sent by grateful distilleries eager to announce their latest “walnut-cask finish” whisky to the world . Sadly it ain’t going to happen. In part because there are already a number of blogs already occupying this role, but also because I find it incredibly hard to write about whisky. There is a established formula for whisky reviews describing the Colour, Nose, Taste, Finish. Filling out these tags there is sadly only a limited language to describe the nuances of whisky. Once you’ve used the adjectives vanilla, honeyed, apricot, chocolate, fruit-cake, marmalade and christmas pudding you have to either recycle these or wander off-topic into a slightly surreal world. One day, when no-one is watching, I’ll try to slip in a review that goes:
Colour: Dehydrated Cats urine orange.
Nose: Oak shaving mingled with a whiff of camp-fire-cooked sausages. Hints of Shetland Pony.
Taste: A sweet elixir formed from the teardrops of Mermaids followed by a subtle hint of South Pacific Volcanic ash.
Finish: Long and Wide, like a Longboat-full of sweaty Vikings returning home after pillaging the Monasteries of Northumbria.
OK, that was a bit off-topic. Back to the task in hand. For my birthday this year I received a bottle of Balvenie Triple Cask 12 Year Old. The Triple Cask here refers to the fact that the Whisky is matured in three different types of barrel, namely first-fill bourbon barrels, refilled ex-whisky barrels and old European-oak ex-Oloroso sherry butts. “Normal” whisky is normally only matured in old bourbon barrels (apparently bourbon barrels can only be used once, after which the get sold on to whisky distillers.) Using other types of barrels adds different “notes” to the whisky and is referred to as “finishing” … because the whisky is normally finished in these barrels and then sold. Finishing whisky is now quite a trend in the whisky industry, with Balvenie being one of the leaders in this process. Overall they have a good reputation in the whisky field, in part because their whisky making is in the hands of “Malt Master” David Stewart, a 50-year veteran of the whisky industry.
Going back to our Triple-Cask whisky the finishing process is designed to add flavours to our aged whisky. The new-fill barrels add sharp tannins, the refill whisky barrels are less strong and add a little richness and a roundness to the whisky, whilst the Oloroso-sherry butts add a sweetness to the whisky. On top of this the whisky is also left a further 6 months in marrying tuns to allow the whisky to integrate.
Now for the bad news. The 12 Year Old Triple-Cask is part of a range of whiskys (along with a 16-year and a 25-year) which are made “Exclusively for Travel Retail”. I’m not sure what scenario the words “Travel Retail” conjure up in your head, but to me it implies an average product, sold at inflated prices to a captive audience. So why the heck would I buy it ? Well there are two good things about “Travel Retail”. Firstly when you buy it you are normally getting a litre of the good stuff, rather than 700 ml and secondly, and most importantly, Mrs LearnaLittle works for an airline and we therefore have access to their staff shop. (I should add a third point here, we had a 10% off voucher and I will willingly sell my first-born child for such vouchers…). So now I think I should really get on with the review.
Colour: Rich dark amber.
Nose: Strangely sweet for a whisky, probably best described as Toffee.
Taste: Again very sweet,oranges, almost lemony, hint of chocolate.
Finish: Short and spicy, Cloves or maybe Nutmeg.
Bottom Line: (4 out of 5) A great sweet whisky. However (and I WILL start a sentence with however, even though it’s grammatically incorrect !) I’m a bit caught in two minds, if you can find this whisky at a reasonable price it’s an incredibly pleasant tipple. There’s really nothing to dislike about this whisky, but I’m still having trouble getting excited about this whisky. It’s not as exciting for me as, say, an anCnoc. Since I’m publishing this posting on Valentine’s Day I’ll leave you with the words that, sadly, quiet a few people may be hearing today… “I like you, but I don’t love you”.