Is This the Most Unique Whisky Ever?
The Balvenie fully embraces the single barrel concept.
April 26, 2017
The Bottle: The Balvenie Single Barrel 12, $129*
The concept of a truly “unique” bottle of whisky is a relatively new phenomenon. For the first few centuries of making scotch, the height of luxury was having a master blender select a number of malt whiskies and blend them into a perfectly balanced final product. Then, in the middle of the 20th century, a few distillers started to market some of those malts as worthy of recognition in their own right due to their unique character, and thus the single-malt boom was born. But there are now so many single malts that the element of uniqueness is waning. Enter the single barrel: the idea (popularized with bourbon) is that the whisky in your bottle will be drawn from one single cask, and, given storage and climate idiosyncrasies, it will be the same only as the small number of other ones drawn from that exact barrel. A few small producers have toyed with the idea on a niche scale, but it’s the heavyweight malt the Balvenie that’s really embraced the idea. Their 25-year-old expression yields just 250 hand-numbered bottles of whisky per cask (their more affordable 12-year-old ekes out about 300 per)—so you’ll be in pretty rare company. The tasting notes? Oak, butterscotch and dry toffee…but that’s just the cask we tried. Yours could be entirely different, which is the whole point.
*The 25 checks in at $1,100.
Even before whisky makers were using barrels, ale makers were using them to ferment beer, and Vancouver’s Adam Chatburn is carrying on the cask tradition with his Real Cask brewery. His casks may be steel, but it’s what goes on inside them that creates magic—namely, a natural fermentation in the manner in which it used to be done. Right. Proper. Ale. Find Real Cask’s beers at the East Village’s Callister Brewing Company.