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The Balvenie Tun 1509 – A New No Age Statement Hope

As one of the giants of the whisky industry, when The Balvenie announces a release, people listen. Always looking to understand the world around us, Malt took an Instagram poll of the readership’s thoughts on the distillery. The summary of the responses was along the lines of – Core range bad. Tun range good. But this oversimplifies the brand and the bottles it has released. Remember, only the dark side of the Force deals in absolutes. To assess an entire distillery, we need to dig deeper. This is a sizeable task, but I shall prevail, “for my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is”.

Core range releases have evolved in recent years away from “limited releases” to tens or hundreds of thousands of bottles. And, The Balvenie in particular, has quite an expansive range with varied reviews. The younger bottles – think the 12-year-old Doublewood, the Caribbean Cask and the Triple Casks (travel retail) – do not tend to generate a lot of excitement. However, as you venture into the premium bottlings, such as the 21-year-old Portwood and 17- and 25-year-old Doublewood, you start hearing those words of praise.

What about the story behind the Tun range? “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Actually, you only need to think back to 2010. A mixed year across the board – Vancouver and Whistler host the Winter Olympics, Mount Eyjafjallajökull erupts stranding thousands of travellers (this writer included) and Deepwater Horizon explodes in the Gulf of Mexico destroying the ecosystem – April 2010 was not a great month. But, as if almost to provide some respite to the whisky drinker, The Balvenie released Batch 1 of Tun 1401 – a “no age-statement” whisky named for the vessel where the various casks that made up its contents were married together. This travel retail exclusive evolved into nine batches that have now captured the enthusiasm of whisky drinkers across the globe.

Odds are that the majority of us will never try that first Tun 1401 bottling. But, The Balvenie have continued the tradition by introducing the Tun 1509 in 2014. Following on from the success of the Tun 1401 releases, is the release of the Tun 1509 just a cheap copy of the 1401, trying to make a quick buck off the original success? “Victory? Victory, you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun, the Clone War has!”

For the Tun 1509 series, like Star Wars, let’s start with Episodes IV and V…

Tun 1509 (Batch 4) is made up of 23 casks – 13 traditional American oak barrels and 10 European oak sherry butts. Meanwhile, Tun 1509 (Batch 5) is made up of 10 Bourbon, 8 Sherry hogsheads, 3 refill American Oak casks and 8 Sherry butts. Not much else is known about these releases, and yet they have generated their own cult following. So, is David Stewart our Yoda, looking to show us the ways of the Force and drams, alike? Or is he Emperor Palpatine, self-appointed ruler of the whisky galaxy and our palates?

At the risk of repeating myself, your overall experience will likely impact your tasting notes. I purchased the bottles on a recommendation from a friend (we went halves on these) and took the opportunity to open them up together. We sat down, started up a new TV series (some background noise) and poured out one dram from each bottle. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect… “The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is”.

The Balvenie Tun 1509 (Batch 4) – review

Expect to pay £400 from the Whisky Exchange for this experience, or £495 from Amazon if you really want to.

Colour: Salted caramel

On the nose: A melange of honey and orchard fruits (apples and pears). Some golden syrup over cereal and malt also works its way through. There is a lot of sweetness here and it strikes hard and true. Spices (cardamom mainly) work through as well, but very much sprinkled throughout.

In the mouth: Brilliant texture that fits the distillery’s profile – a soft, smooth, viscous texture that complements the honey flavours. The orchard fruits follow on from the nose – apples and pears again, toffeed now, but ripe white peaches join the harvest. The spices are more prevalent in the palate than on the nose and the presence of cardamom is amplified by the appearance of ginger. A medium to long finish that has elements of dry oak, green apple and lighter spices.

Score: 8/10

The Balvenie Tun 1509 (Batch 5) – review

This release is available from Amazon for £259.95 or from the Whisky Exchange for £235.

Colour: Rich mahogany

On the nose: Bright – flavours of chocolate, vanilla and orange coming together. Some ripe red fruits glide in as well (strawberries and raspberries). Malty scents support the base – fruity sponge cake baked to perfection. This is accompanied by earthy notes that provide even more grounding to the sweet aromas. Light honey and nectarines swirl in as well to add even more complexity.

In the mouth: The texture – creamy, velvety, smooth. It starts off soft and sweet – those vanilla sponge cake flavours kicking things off. Add in a staccato of chocolate notes. Nectarines work alongside baked apple crisp. Maple sap (that raw sweetness before it becomes delicious maple syrup) makes a cameo appearance. A lovely long finish with just the slightest touch of oak to complement a few herbal and spicy notes that make a fleeting appearance.

Score: 9/10

Conclusions

The look of disbelief on my face must have said it all. The Tun 1509 was delicious. I could hear scores of The Balvenie ambassadors booming “I find your lack of faith disturbing” in unison. The Batch 5 was lovely while the Batch 4 fell down at the last hurdle in comparison only because it felt less cohesive. The notes were individually pleasant, but the marriage that the tun aimed to achieve didn’t work perfectly. It is always going to be a challenge bringing together so many casks. If you have a sweet tooth though, this is going to hit the right spots.

At 8,850 and 8,000 bottles in each respective release, these are bottles that might, and hopefully will, get drunk and disappear. So, I would recommend you search these out before they go the way of the Tun 1401. The Batch 5 will set you back around £225, so buying a bottle will be no small decision. But to me (and I rarely say this), the Batch 5 is one of those bottles that was worth the price of admission and I truly will celebrate as the product of the marriage of science and art. Overall, the Tun 1509 does live up to expectations, although as with most multiple releases in a series, people will debate which batch is the better one.

What I would love to see for the next iteration is the age of each cask used to provide a bit more transparency. A small request and, I am probably just being picky here, hopefully one that can be accommodated.

At the end of the night, I found that I was perfectly content to sit back and enjoy the rest of a relaxing evening – no regrets, no sense of disappointment, just a happy glow. As I look longingly at both Tun 1509 bottles as if to say, “I love you” and they reply, “I know”.

Images from the whisky exchange. There are also commission links within this review, however, such things never influence our opinion.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Henry
Henry

Distilled in Canada, still maturing in London. Henry discovered his love of whisky and surfing on the beaches of Scotland. Now he's travelling as much as possible, looking for the perfect destinations to visit, drams to drink, waves to surf and sunsets to see.

  1. Avatar
    Mike says:

    So glad you did a review on these as I eye them every time I see one. I’m a fan of Balvenie and glad to see these both got great reviews!

    1. Henry
      Henry says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Mike! Happy you enjoyed – I’ll try do a bit more on The Balvenie as this seems to have stirred quite a response from a number of people.

  2. Avatar
    Billy Abbott says:

    A couple of things:
    Tun 1401 wasn’t a travel-retail exclusive: batch 1 was a distillery-only bottling that became legendary enough to warrant a wider release. Batch 2 was UK/Canada/Asia, batch 3 was USA and batch 4 was travel retail. The batches continued in that order, stopping at 9 and missing a final travel retail release.

    Back in the early days, they did list all of the vintages/ages of the casks that went into the vatting. However, as that is very much against the EU regs (you can only indicate the age of the youngest whisky in the mix), it disappeared after the first batches (definitely by #5, although if you asked nicely they’d give you a few hints), replaced with a variety of flavour profiles, cask numbers and other ways of showing the make-up of the whisky that didn’t bash against the law. So, while it might seem like a small request, it almost certainly won’t be accommodated unless they go for the Compass Box/Bruichladdich ‘ask and we’ll tell’ approach or something similar.

    The whisky is excellent, though – definitely worth more than the usual Malt 7/10. The Tun 1401s were great things, and the 1509s have been worthy successors, if not quite reaching the same heights. And now I’ll have to dig some Balvenie out of the stash to drink tonight. I’d forgotten how much I like it…

    1. Henry
      Henry says:

      Billy – thanks for the very thorough response. A lot of extra information in there, which I hope our readers pick up on! You do get a few hints on the liquid inside and agreed that they likely will not heed a “small” request for a number of reasons (such as those you have outlined). But, more importantly, as you also point out – the whisky itself is fantastic. A very worthy successor to the 1401 series and hopefully that theme was picked up (didn’t want to get too carried away with the Star Wars references). Very keen to know what bottles of The Balvenie you have stashed away in that case and hope you enjoy them!

  3. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    Great review. Out of curiosity, and understand it’s all one person’s opinion, how would you rank the 1509 batches? (Assuming you had them all?)

    1. Henry
      Henry says:

      Hi PBMichiganWolverine – I have tried them all so I do have a tentative list in my head. There will likely be a follow up piece (given all the feedback this post has received), so I don’t want to give too much away. The one thing I try to remember is that the tasting notes are rather unique and that my palate is just one opinion, so others might rank them in a very different way. What I will say – the Batch No. 5 is going to clearly be tough to beat and Batch No. 1 was also a personal favourite, so it’s close between those two.

  4. Avatar
    NOTNICE_75 says:

    “…Malt took an Instagram poll of the readership’s thoughts on the distillery. The summary of the responses was along the lines of – Core range bad. Tun range good.”

    Well that’s a shame. Are we all so far up our own arses that we can’t appreciate a good standard malt whisky anymore? Balvenie is generally a “bad” whisky? Personally, I’ve always enjoyed a nice drop of the Doublewood or Caribbean Cask – good quality, reasonable price point, a thoroughly decent dram. Perhaps I’m just too mainstream? (Though I’m always happy to quaff limited edition bottlings, ancient Bowmores, and stuff out of decanters, too…)

    1. Henry
      Henry says:

      Hi NOTNICE_75 – I do find it interesting when we see people’s thoughts out in the open – to me it’s part of the wider conversation on whisky. I also remember that this is the internet and that was the summary of the responses on the IG story (and there were many responses). I wouldn’t say we are “all so far up our own arses that we can’t appreciate a good standard malt whisky anymore” – people will like what they like and voice what opinions they have. I think the responses vs. your own opinion vs. mine vs. Jason’s vs. Mark’s vs. TV’s are also going to be different at some point. For me, the Doublewoods are generally good value for money and I am not here to lambast them. Instead, I hope to get people thinking and talking about what they drink, which hopefully increases appreciation for good whisky (both core range and limited edition). So, I understand your concern and hope that clears the air a bit!

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