We have something a little different today, with the Balvenie Craftsman’s debut release, which was entitled The Cooper. Balvenie does like to foster and cultivate a craft image. It’s their gig and angle of differentiation between what they offer compared to other distilleries.
This particular bottling was a limited edition of just 300 that were made available to members of the Balvenie Warehouse 24 club. I’m actually a member or were. I actually don’t know the status of the club, or my membership come to think of it? That pretty much sums up the status of the Balvenie for me and perhaps many others here at MALT. It exists yet I don’t really give it much thought to it whatsoever.
All of the team are free to write about whatever whiskies or topics they are motivated by. Simple as that really and even if we’ve already reviewed the release in a previous article, then another opinion is welcomed, rather than frowned upon. Except no one amongst our ranks seems particularly interested or stimulated by the Balvenie, but why exactly? Personally, I think there is a split in their range. You have the top end stuff that is ridiculously priced as Mark endured during an invitation event to London. That’s not our gig and won’t ever be our bread and butter, thankfully. Then you have the entry level stuff that is often comprised of whiskies that are deemed safe and subtle. You know the ones I’m talking about. Often these are deemed beginner whiskies, or moving further into your whisky journey; a no thrills evening dram. Let’s try and forget about the peat weak shall we?
In-between this assortment is what exactly? Some of the upper teenage whiskies are touching upon £100 or the Port Wood Finish as a 21-year-old is now bobbing around £130. Prices seem to go mental for a 25-year-old, but not Balblair-batshitcrazy it must be said. These are not cheap whiskies, nor do I stumble across friends raving about the latest Balvenie. I do think they have done themselves a huge disservice by not utilising the independent bottlers more. We’ve been so compelled to actually have some Balvenie coverage on MALT that we’ve purchased a single bourbon barrel release. Then, Henry reviewed 2 whiskies from the excellent Tun series giving us some coverage at last.
Therefore, I’m not going to talk about craft and what this actually constitutes in this modern age of whisky production. That topic will wait for the single barrel review. Instead, I felt more compelled to debate the value of bottles. Given the limited nature of this specific bottling, it has appeared at auction with prices now starting to rise in excess of £500. I won’t spoil the surprise if you’re holding off the score for now, but this isn’t worth anywhere near £500.
Sure, it was a nice gesture from Balvenie to bottle something for their hardened followers of all things craft. Less surprising that some felt the need to dip into the secondary market for a quick buck. A shame really, as a little bit of thought and attention has been put into this release for your enjoyment; not profit. Are we surprised? Absolutely not. We’re seeing the same ethics creeping into all sorts of clubs and societies now with special releases. After all, such releases are limited and profit is king.
Except what do you do when you have such a bottle and you just haven’t gotten around to it yet? I tend to avoid looking at the auction sites for values or crazy antics nowadays. If I want to break the seal on a release, I often do so without any current knowledge of the value. I’d rather blindly stumble into the ceremony of peeling back that foil cover and enjoying the whisky for what it is. Not the packing, the marketing or the value, but the liquid contents.
During March on Instagram, I opened around 25 bottles via #openyourbottles just to make the point that whisky is mainly for drinking. I’m not including the Macallan in this as they are a luxury product and brand nowadays. Yes, my actions could be viewed as frivolous and a reflection of having too much whisky, but my friends and I all had fun. We shared and enjoyed and the whisky, which will continue to be shared.
There is an important distinction to be made between those that immediately buy at retail or release for profit and those that stumble across a bottle at the back of the cupboard or decide after a couple of years they won’t be opening that Dalmore. For these individuals, the market has moved on. They may have hit liquid gold when they look up the valuation of whatever they’ve rediscovered. Then there is a decision to be made. That moment where you decide whether the whisky is actually worth it? For many, some of the prices now being commanded online or via the more traditional auction houses, the choice is pretty simple. Very few of us are in a position to open a bottle worth several hundred pounds and rising. For some, this is not life-changing money, but it is life-enhancing revenue.
If I was faced with this Balvenie in an unopened state I’d look to sell or move it on via a swap. As stated previously, the actual experience of the liquid does not compare to the asking price. I’d be far happier taking the market value and using that to pay for a cottage up north for a few days and taking the tour around Balvenie. Perhaps even buying a bottle or 2 to review. That’s the choice that faces many whisky enthusiasts nowadays and who can blame them?
This Balvenie was bottled at 15 years of age and at 59.4% strength. Comprising of 2 casks (10142 and 17949), it was a limited release in total of 515 bottles. A tribute to the Coopers of Balvenie who truly do have a craft and skill to be proud of.
The Balvenie Craftman’s Reserve – review
Colour: Battered copper.
On the nose: Too far gone in sherry for my taste. Chopped wood, walnuts, toffee and red apples. Subtle spices with ginger and cinnamon. A brass aspect almost tinny in its metallic nature and fresh varnish. Tobacco takes us into a beef stock or beef dripping quality. Fond memories of old suppers. Water showcases a chocolate brownie, brown toast and nutmeg.
In the mouth: Just a one dimensional sherry bottling. It lacks evolution and depth. Caramel, rubber and a drying quality. Chocolate and a flash of raspberry. Water reveals more spices with cinnamon and nutmeg.
This is so pedestrian and refined that the sherry has dominated every aspect and irradicated any sense of Balvenie. It’s drinkable and some may enjoy that experience. This will be assisted if you utilise a tumbler and ice perhaps, but there’s a sense the Balvenie can do better.
A benign experience that leaves me somewhat puzzled, but thankful this bottle wasn’t mine to open. Fools and their money are easily parted indeed.
Lead image from the Whisky Exchange. Sample kindly provided by Francis.