I know you all love it when I review a whisky that you can’t buy. In this case, at least, it works out well because I don’t recommend it anyway. I should start by saying that The Balvenie is one of my favorite distilleries. The 15-year Single Barrel was the first whisky I reviewed on this site, was the third whisky I purchased in bottle form, and remains in my mind one of the best examples of the pure, raw, unadulterated taste of distilled malted barley. The Balvenie’s house style of honeyed, heather-infused malt without overwhelming cask influence is one of the best in the business, and this style is supplemented well by the wide range of available cask finishes, each of which seem to blend perfectly with the base malt. It also represents one of the best values in 12 year-old single malt, in the form of DoubleWood 12-year, which is still the first whisky I recommend to newcomers.
The 12-year Signature, an undisclosed vatting of first-fill ex-bourbon, refill ex-bourbon, and sherry (like the DoubleWood, but without the marketing and probably with a much lower percentage of sherried malt) was produced in a series of small numbered batches. It was launched as a celebration of Malt Master David Stewart’s 45th year in the whisky business.
However, I downright disliked the sample that I tasted recently (unfortunately, I don’t know the batch number). While smooth (not difficult at a dilution of 40% ABV), the best word I can find to describe this one is “bland”. Little of the honey comes through for me, nor any of the florals that I loved in the 15-year Single Barrel. The vaunted cereal notes here are about as exciting as white sandwich bread. Although some bottles can still be found, this malt appears to have been recently discontinued (“retired”) in favor of the much more popular (and much better) Balvenie DoubleWood, which I heartily recommend, and the new 12-year Single Barrel. As far as I can tell, the lowest price for this guy in the US was $56, which is about double what it should be. I love you, Balvenie, but good riddance to this one.
Nose: Yeasty baking bread – almost beery – and abounding with soft cereal notes. After a rest in the glass, it acquires some faint citrus notes – bergamot? or maybe just lemon. The usual Balvenie florals are absent.
Palate: Somewhat watery. Tame on the tongue – “smooth” is, I suppose, the word to use here – a decent balance of toffee, citrus lozenge, and fresh white dinner rolls.
Finish: Equally tame, and of short length. No bitterness, which I appreciate, and the toffee continues. Pleasant, but not exceptional.
With Water: Water increases the yeast component on the nose in exchange for… mmm, nope, that’s it. Predictably, water further dilutes that already diluted palate, but somehow activates something that increases tongue burn. It does give an additional caramel note on the finish, but at too high a cost. Skip the water.
Overall: Uhh. This costs how much? No wonder it was discontinued. With about a quarter of the character of the 12-year DoubleWood, and about a third of the complexity of the 15-year Single Barrel, this is one lame duck of a whisky. While newbies will appreciate its smoothness on the tongue and its lack of bitter notes on the finish, there is little to recommend it in terms of flavor. A pity, since Balvenie is one of my favorite distilleries. I cannot recommend this release, and it’s just as well that it’s been discontinued. Get a bottle of the DoubleWood instead.