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The Balvenie: Episodes I, II and III

Like navigating the snowstorms of the Hoth, we’ve finally made it out of a seemingly endless winter. My path is clear: I am left with three Tun 1509s to complete my training in the ways of The Force Balvenie. In case you missed it, Batches 4 and 5 were covered here, so I turn my attention now to Batches 1, 2 and 3.

Although the Tun 1509 was much larger than 1401, the bottlings were still relatively limited: there are only around 8,500 of each batch worldwide, so I leave it to you to tell me how “limited” that might be. Regardless, my quest to find the first three bottlings for an acceptable price appeared incredibly ambitious on the face of it. This is the (brief) story of that quest.

A not-so-long time ago, in a borough of London far, far away…

Turmoil has engulfed the whisky universe. Auction snipers, striking from behind a laptop screen a world away, continue to win victories by stealthily increasing bottle prices. In a stunning move, bottle flippers have swept up the remaining bottles of the Balvenie Tun 1509 series. Hoping to make a quick profit off the ensuing chaos, greedy luxury goods conglomerates continue to raise their prices at retail. While the congress of whisky shops endlessly debate whether to join this alarming trend, MALT has secretly dispatched a Canadian, one of the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to lead a desperate mission to rescue three bottles from the evil empire…

First is Batch No. 1. Apprehension always grips me when we attempt to revisit a series. Is this going to be more Jar-Jar or Jyn Erso? So, let’s take a look at the cast of characters that will support this blockbuster reboot. The first batch of Tun 1509 consists of 42 casks: 35 ex-bourbon casks and 7 sherry butts. It’s a nice bit of information to give us an idea of what we are about to imbibe.

Next up, Batch No. 2. Nobody wants to see a terrible reboot with further terrible decisions, like an angsty teenager and bad writing. In this case, we have 23 American oak barrels and nine European Sherry butts. Thus, the sherry is stronger with this one and available from the Whisky Exchange for 270 wupiupi or 450 UK pounds.

Batch No. 3 rounds out what we need to find and acquire these bottles, in under 12 parsecs, hopefully (that’s a unit of distance, not time, remember). Batch No. 3 gives us another angle: 31 casks in total. That’s 12 sherry butts distilled between 1989 and 1992, 11 American oak hogsheads distilled in 1989, and eight refilled American Oak butts distilled in 1992 and 1993. This is also available from the intergalatic branch of the Whisky Exchange for 300 wupiupi or 550 UK pounds. Like the battle plans to the Death Star, everything is nicely laid out for me to continue.

So how does one come to acquire these three bottles? My first stop is the central London retailer’s wine and spirits section, as well as countless web shops. I was warned this might be like Mos Eisley; in other words, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” A quick inspection in each shop brought the even quicker conclusion that this was not the route to success; it was widely unavailable. However, one of those stops yielded a chance introduction with an individual who was searching out certain bottles. A trade was made: the Tun 1509 Batches No. 2 and No. 3 for a Daftmill Winter Edition and the most recent Macallan from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. (No, it was not a Jedi mind-trick; just two people in the whisky community helping each other out.)

And so, for Batch No. 1, that leaves me with… I cannot believe I’m saying this… “Help me whisky auction site, you’re my only hope”. Consequently, hopping onto my laptop quicker than you can say copyright infringement, I check out the prices. Compared to its Tun 1401 brethren, the Tun 1509 has not appreciated much at auction, so I bite the bullet and cough up £190 (plus commission and delivery) to grab myself a bottle.

The time to sit down and try each of these has come. Some would be fear that with Tun 1509, we’re just on to another Clone Army; yet as we know, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” My focus is the opportunity before me, to write about something I really enjoy. So I’ll close my eyes and use the Force…

The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1 – review

Colour: Chestnut

On the nose: Heather honey with fresh fruit immediately grips this dram, and the citrus (orange) elements spring to life. A combination of caramel and spices like ginger and pepper flow through. The floral notes envelop the nose to bring a bit of softness to this melange of aromas. Faint notes of malt and banana creep in, alongside resin, to give this added depth.

In the mouth: The strong presence of sweetness along with a punch of spice sum this up. That heather honey remains, with the fresh fruit turning our heads to think beyond apples and oranges, and into white peaches, marmalade and the smallest touch of milk chocolate. The kick of nutmeg and ginger elevates the only to bring you back to the fruit and honey notes. Some strawberry jam jumps on board the dram breathes. The finish is incredibly long, with more fruit (but now a balance of oranges, white fruit and strawberries), oak and spices.

Score: 9/10

The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 2 – review

Colour: Caramel

On the nose: Fresh fruit at first: oranges, nectarines and pears. However, there are also strong whiffs of vanilla, almost like someone has popped the lid on a jar of vanilla extract to catch you off guard. Honey and malt notes appear alongside the vanilla and fruit. Light spice adds a bit of complexity to keep this fresh, and as the dram breathes, you notice that the aromas sit together very well.

In the mouth: A complementary range of flavours mean that this is vanilla and fruit-forward. The citrus flavours are prevalent (a lot of orange and tangerines) but the vanilla and honey continue to integrate in the liquid. The texture reflects that nice balance that The Balvenie provides: velvet and softness that complements, rather than distracting from, the flavours. Some stewed apples, apricots and honey appear. The bourbon casks and sherry casks have provided a lovely harmony as the finish is long, with that oak and spice we would expect. I had hoped for more sherry out of this, but still it works very well.

Score: 8/10

The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3 – review

Colour: Taupe

On the nose: Very sweet honey, with a lighter touch of vanilla. A bit tougher on the nose with hints of leather, grit and spice (cardamom and cinnamon). Candied apple with hints of oak. A bit of milk chocolate and citrus also come through.

In the mouth: A light combination of citrus, apple and honey at first. It moves into the vanilla but, with time, some caramel flavours emerge. Some darker berries start to flow through the dram, and soon this turns into a black fruit jam on a raisin brioche. Again, the thick texture allows the flavours to last longer, leading to a finish that takes all these flavours and underpins them with oak and spice (ginger and pepper). Perhaps a little less integrated than Batch No. 1 and No.2, but more complex, which makes this an intriguing vatting for another iteration of the Tun 1509.

Score: 8/10

Conclusions

In stark contrast to many reboots, all three of these batches have come together nicely. One wins out over the others, but that’s likely going to come down to personal taste. Overall, a successful marriage of casks across five bottlings. Putting that into perspective, how many series can boast that kind of success?

This was a great deep dive into The Balvenie and what it has to offer. Overall, it had an interesting balance between spirit and cask. However, I didn’t feel as though any of these reached the same heights that I had with Batch No. 5. Nonetheless, a solid offering. Thanks for the memories. Who knows, maybe we’ll even put out a Christmas tasting special?

Now, from my perspective, there are two important lessons here. The first is that you can (and should) search out bottles because they don’t make ’em like they used to… but that will not always be the case. Keep trying new things, and of course, if you happen to stumble upon that serendipitous gem, just be thankful. The second lesson is that for all we hear about the doom and gloom, there is hope in the universe again. People in this industry get to know each other, and that means that if you try to help out others, getting them samples or just keeping an ear to the ground about something they may like, you’ll be surprised how quickly that gets paid forward. And the world may be a better place.

Images from The Whisky Exchange and there are commission links above. However, we believe like Henry, if your scour the universe you may find a bottle in the Mos Eisley cantina; a wretched hive of scum and villainy, much like an influencer gathering.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Newckie says:

    Er….having never seen ANY Star Wars films, I’ve coincidentally neither tried a Balvenie too…..ah well, I’ll probably take the plunge and buy one from somewhere at a sensible price…….sadly the dvd that is.
    Interesting article as ever.

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