The Balvenie is one of those distilleries that really evolves in flavor once their distillate reaches 25+ years of age. Younger Balvenie is certainly great whisky but there’s a clear delineation of flavor sets once these barrels reach that “old whisky” status that happens well after 20 years of aging. Older Balvenie has been present in many of my favorite whiskies of all time and I think it has a lot to do with the cask selection that goes into these well-aged products. In particular, the use of refill ex-bourbon casks makes for a nice end result for the distillery’s honeyed and fruity house style.
The Balvenie 25 Year Rare Marriages is the first in a new series of premium travel retail whiskies that will eventually also include 30 year old and 40 year old expressions. Right off the bat, I couldn’t help but wonder if this 25 Year release will mark the retirement of the 25 Year Triple Cask, a whisky that I think robs travel consumers of a quality product relative to its price tag thanks to its low bottling strength of 40% ABV. By comparison, the 25 Year Rare Marriage is bottled at 48% ABV, is non-chill filtered, and has no added caramel coloring. I knew that the whisky was comprised of both American and European oak but wasn’t sure what the proportions were. Once I saw how light the color was first-hand, I strongly suspected an emphasis on American oak.
These high aged whiskies will come with correspondingly high price tags, but I still see this series as a positive step forward for a travel retail market that in recent years became the dumping ground for low strength, unexciting products across the entire industry.
My review was written before I received clarification about the cask makeup of this expression and as it turns out, I was right on the money. This whisky was made up mostly of whisky from refill American oak ex-bourbon casks with a smaller proportion of whisky from ex-Oloroso Sherry puncheons. As the name clearly indicates, the whisky is at least 25 years old which means that as of 2021, it was distilled in 1996 or earlier.
|Nose||Sweet oak, orange peel, dried mango, pineapple, honey, hint of ginger, fresh mint, sponge cake, hint of fennel, baked apples, vanilla ice cream. With water, that orange peel evolves into orange marmalade and a slight floral note emerges alongside fresh baked pastries.|
|Taste||More ginger, vanilla, green grapes, lots of honeyed sweetness, a medley of tropical fruit in papaya, coconut, pineapple, and starfruit. The oak is nicely layered and there’s a bit of black licorice underneath it all. With water, I also find Dubble Bubble gum and a hint of strawberry.|
|Finish||Nutmeg, minty, lemon zest, caramel, and a big yet balanced oak note. Water brings out a bit more baking spice and some stewed orchard fruits. The sweetness, oak, and spice linger in a long, pleasant finish.|
|Overall Thoughts||I had a good feeling about this whisky from the moment I saw its color. That light natural hue told me that this was primarily made up of ex-bourbon cask matured Balvenie. Don’t get me wrong. I love sherried whisky as much as anyone but Balvenie’s house style does particularly well in ex-bourbon casks. I would go so far as to say that a good portion of this whisky was probably aged in refill ex-bourbon casks because the oak is absolutely present here but it never takes a leading role in terms of flavor. Everything is beautifully layered and the tropical fruits were a nice component alongside citrus, honeyed sweetness, and that delicate oak. This is a whisky truly deserving of attention.|