The Balvenie distillery does a peat run for a week each year. Now we have the opportunity to try the results in the glass. Within my whisky circle, some fellow enthusiasts have dubbed this Balvenie peat weak, which is either a reflection of an aborted experiment or their preference for an overloaded and limited peated drinking experience.
Why bother deviating from the status quo? Well, Islay dominates the peat charts and peated whisky in recent times has enjoyed a remarkable revival. Peated whiskies are growing in strength and popularity almost annually. William Grant & Sons can produce peated whiskies and have done at their distilleries with releases from Glenfiddich, Ailsa Bay and now Balvenie.
The results have been to mixed to say the least with a rather splendid single cask 2003 Glenfiddich Spirit of Speyside Festival release showing what can be achieved. Mark quite enjoyed the Batch 1 Ailsa Bay whereas I found the Ailsa Bay Batch 2 too engineered and overly sweet. Each to their own and we always respect that here at MALT. The recent news that their experimental distillery within the Girvan site is to replace their debut offering didn’t come as a bitter pill to swallow. Except that its replacement dubbed 1.2 Sweet Smoke will be peatier and sweeter, but as always the proof is in the finished article.
Historians will know that mainland whiskies generally featured a degree of peat due to the abundance of this fuel source across Scotland. Kilns were fired as well as stills and the fossil fuel character, no matter how slight, was integrated into the drying barley itself. The storyline to this Balvenie is an attempt to return to the style seen 50 years ago on the site. This isn’t a gentle peat on a paper with a promised level of 30ppm or phenol parts per million if you prefer. That’s just a notch above Bowmore, a distillery that is finally finding some traction again.
It’s worth highlighting that the 30ppm figure is the level requested of the maltsters and their raw ingredient rather than the final whisky in the glass. Time is a healer and a leveller. For peat, it’s youthful pungency steps aside during its teenager rebellious years and begins to mingle with other characteristics. The further it goes on the more I liken it to providing seasoning and body to a well-aged whisky. The Inchmoan Vintage 1992 being a wonderful example of harmony and the caress peat can provide.
Going that step further, Balvenie has utilised Highland peat which seems apt for any faithful recreation. Distilled during week 37 of 2002, given its limited run and short duration, it’s fair to say this release hasn’t sparked a rush for the existing stock. This Balvenie is still available for around £59 via the Whisky Exchange. Bottled at 48.3%, this 14 year old has been aged in ex-bourbon casks and comes in the traditional Balvenie presentation style. We saved a few quid by purchasing a sample to see if this does show the mainland can do peat like they used to. I’m not expecting Glen Garioch by any stretch of the imagination, which showed the Islay distilleries how to do peat at one stage. Time then for the Balvenie that does peat for a week!
Balvenie 2002 Peat Week – review
Colour: light gold
On the nose: there is peat present but more integrated into the bodywork of the whisky itself. Barley sweets, a slight honeyed aspect and a creamy caramel. Buttery popcorn and then an odd pineapple cube note that I wasn’t anticipating. An oddity, misjudged? It seems torn. A touch of the Frazzles about this as well with the smoky attempting to come through.
In the mouth: a light earthy peat comes through with more vanilla caramel and black pepper oat cakes. The finish is very subtle and delicate. Is this truly representative of 50 years ago? More smoke especially towards the end alongside baked apples with moss and a flint interplay.
The Balvenie Peat Week is a flawed whisky, a dram unsure of which direction to forge ahead with. There’s a failure here to grasp the peat or the potential of the marriage. What remains is a very threadbare whisky that is neither here nor there. A whisky that plays to the safe nature of the brand. The Balvenie Peat Week isn’t weak just confused and lost.