For those that know me well, let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. I held a lot of animosity toward the Tun 1509 series for a long time because it replaced Tun 1401—my favorite whisky of all time. What brought about this proverbial dagger to my heart? Let’s take a step back and explore.
The world of whisky changed significantly from 2010-2015. For many single malt whisky brands, these changes were a reaction to a rapidly-expanding consumer market that greatly outpaced forecasted demand. As a result, many distilleries consolidated their product lines to include fewer expressions that were often made with younger whisky and carried higher price tags.
In the case of The Balvenie, they made two significant product line changes in 2014. The first was the discontinuation of their refill bourbon cask 15 Year Single Barrel. The second was the end of Tun 1401. (If you aren’t familiar with my infatuation of Tun 1401, this should catch you right up.) The Balvenie cited limited capacity of a 2000 liter marrying tun as the driving factor behind retiring Tun 1401 and replacing it with Tun 1509. From a strategic perspective, I totally get that. Tun 1509 had an 8000 liter capacity allowing four times the volume of 1401 in every release. Tun 1401 had to rotate target markets with each new batch because there simply wasn’t enough to go around worldwide. By comparison, every Tun 1509 batch was a global release.
The other factor that I believe went into replacing 1401 with 1509 was the preservation of old stocks. When the Tun 1401 series began in 2010, this latest global whisky market boom hadn’t fully taken off yet and distilleries were more willing to part with older stocks compared to today. The entire Tun 1401 range pumped out mostly 35-40 year old barrels in every batch. That kind of hyper-aged product line simply wasn’t sustainable long-term as consumer demand skyrocketed and a long-overdue market correction resulted in rapidly-inflated prices. In other words, they couldn’t afford to keep making Tun 1401.
This finally takes us to Tun 1509 Batch 1. What should have been met with great fanfare was not particularly well-received with whisky enthusiasts when it first came out—present company included. The thought of a Tun series with younger whisky and a higher price tag wouldn’t be an easy sell for long-time fans of the brand. Looking back on it now, of course, I understand why things unfolded they way they did but at the time, it was a difficult, oaky pill to swallow.
Tun 1509 Batch 1 remains one of my favorite batches in the series by a wide margin and I think it has a lot to do with the age of the whiskies that went into the earlier releases. The Balvenie became less and less transparent about cask details as the series went on but I know enough about the early batches to say that there was still plenty of old whisky in Batch 1. The 41 casks (ex-bourbon barrels and ex-Sherry butts) that became Batch 1 ranged from 22-44 years old with a decent percentage of barrels from the 1970s and early 1980s. This is just a personal theory, but I believe a lot of the barrels that made it into Batch 1 were originally earmarked for a batch of Tun 1401 that never happened.
I can go on about the various Balvenie Tun expressions for days but I’ll save that for another time. In hindsight and without the comparison point of Tun 1401, most batches of Tun 1509 were actually pretty well done. The series recently wrapped up after the eighth and final batch and despite my early indignation, I’m going to miss it.
The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1 is bottled at a natural cask strength of 47.1% ABV (another indicator of older whisky) and like the rest of the series, is non-chill filtered.
|Nose||Orange, floral, heavy oak, dried red berries, honey, hint of old library books, leather couch, musty basement, chocolate, fig, hint of maple. More vanilla and some fruitcake with water.|
|Taste||Big oak up front, intense honeyed sweetness, more musty notes, heather, mint, orange and lemon peel citrus, a hint of almond, rosewater. With water, the sweetness intensifies and the sherry cask influence really comes forward.|
|Finish||A long finish. Baking spice, drying, oaky vanilla, candied ginger, caramel, apples underneath. With water, a bit of white pepper, anise, more red berries, and some coconut. The finish with water is easily my favorite part of this whisky.|
|Overall Thoughts||The Balvenie broke my heart when they discontinued Tun 1401 and at the time, I assumed that any Tun 1509 release would be completely inferior to the series it was replacing. As it turned out, they really came storming out of the gate with Batch 1 of 1509. The interplay between honeyed sweetness, fruit, and those lovely “old whisky” notes are present here. This is a step down from most batches of Tun 1401 but in the grand scheme of whiskies released in the past decade, this is still a prime example of excellent cask selection for a small batch product.|