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Balvenie & Glenfiddich Travel Retail

Most of us aren’t allowed to travel at the moment. But knowing a bit about the human psyche, some of us can get excessive after being unable to do something for a while. So, I assume the moment we are told the coast is clear to travel again, some of us will be more trigger happy with our spending. There’s nothing like still being high on adrenaline in the airport just as you’re about to fly home. I’m doing my part in helping our readers to decide what travel retail bottles can be deemed worthy or not to bring back home.

I know Jason has expressed his disappointment for William Grant numerous times. I don’t like the majority of the stuff coming from the big brands as well. But Glenfiddich has always been okay in my book. I love their 15 year old. I think their 12-year and 18-year are decent and well-priced. Recent label changes have been questionable for me, but they aren’t as unnecessarily flashy as the other brands.

On the other hand, I do think Balvenie is overpriced. I don’t find their regular releases that unique. Most of it may seem new to whisky beginners, but double maturations and finishes all sound gimmicky and normal nowadays. I guess, it’s partially because of that I don’t find them that much better than Glenfiddich to justify the price difference.

As always, the whisky will do the talking.

Balvenie 12 Triple Cask – review

Aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, refill casks and 1st fill ex-sherry casks, bottled at 40% ABV.

Color: amber.

On the nose: An initial wave of barley & barley husk with oranges and lemon peels. Then it gives way to an undertone of almonds, toffee and honey. There’s a hint of something zesty lime with unpeeled nuts with a surprising uppercut of ethanol at the end.

In the mouth: Hints of vanilla and a lick of cinnamon stick followed by a quick hello of coffee. Different citrus notes follow but different tastes of oranges are the most noticeable. An assortment of something peppery with honeysuckle, something waxy, licorice, apples and toffee at the end.

Conclusions

A very pleasant and interesting enough single malt which is, I think, held back by the lack of ABV. I don’t know how much this costs in Duty Free or other airports but this is scarily priced at £85a litre via The Whisky Exchange.

Score: 5/10

Balvenie 16 Triple Cask – review

Aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, refill casks and first-fill ex-sherry casks, bottled at 40% ABV.

Color: amber.

On the nose: An astringent texture with a long scent of honey, followed by a big and quick smell of orange cough syrup and hints of other citrus. There are quick undertones of toffee, coffee and vanilla afterwards. Apples and hints of pineapple come out at the end.

In the mouth: There’s an off taste that reminds me of loose-leaf tea that’s been used too much. Some sort of acidity, mixed with cloves and vanilla. A moving mixture of apple juice, honey, toffee, coffee and thyme at the end.

Conclusions

There’s less dimension in this compared to the Triple Cask 12. This one has less degrees and has weaker citrus flavors. Again, I just hoped this was bottled at a higher ABV. What is it with the majority of travel retail releases being anemic? I’m seeing online that the average price for this is around £100, or was £99.90 on Master of Malt. About a £15 difference for a 4-year bump? Not bad. But I still think this whisky is overpriced for what you’re getting. I’ll think this is more justifiable if the ABV were at least 43% to 46%

Score: 5/10

Glenfiddich Select Cask – review

Aged in ex-bourbon casks, European oak cask & ex-red wine casks and bottled at 40% strength.

Color: honey.

On the nose: An incoherent mix of apples, orange peel oil, dates, honey, hints of simple syrup and hints of red grapes.

In the mouth: Apple juice, dried dates, barley tea, honey, hints of simple syrup, orange peel oil and undertones of grilled pineapple. Harsh tastes of toffee, hazelnut latte and coffee appear at the end.

Conclusions

This tastes young. Despite the age, this is very easy to drink. But is it due to the dilution or was this blend just made to be really easy to drink? There is no coherence in the flavor. Everything is all over the place.

For something worth about $50? I’ll never buy this. The 15-year solera is way better than this and is cheaper as well.

Score: 4/10

Glenfiddich Reserve Cask – review

Aged in ex-sherry casks and bottled at 40% strength.

Color: honey.

On the nose: Dried apricots, honey, cereals, an assortment of bitter notes that make me think of nut skins and thyme, undertones of caramelized apple mixed with stewed dates and apples.

In the mouth: An initial and lingering bitter taste that makes me think of cork, overused tea leaves, burnt BBQ sticks and rubber. Undertones of honey, toffee, roasted nuts and stewed apples at the end.

Conclusions

This is very pleasant on the nose. I was expecting sulfur notes because of the ex-sherry cask influence. But there were not. This was very lacking in texture, flavor, complexity and finish though. It all falls apart after sipping it. $60 and the worst of the batch? No thanks.

Score: 3/10

Glenfiddich Vintage Cask – review

Barley peated to 25ppm. Aged in European oak casks and first-fill ex-bourbon casks, bottled at 40% ABV.

On the nose: I get pronounced yet balanced scents of smoke, seaweed, brine, iodine and peat. Behind those are subtle scents of prunes, honey, coconut sugar syrup and dates.

In the mouth: The peat and iodine here are more pronounced. The smoke and norid take a more supportive role. They’re accompanied by more undertones of honey, dates, apricots, peppers and something zingy. At the end is something like a mix of date and honey syrup.

Conclusions

I like this out of all the Glenfiddichs. For one, it’s not very common to encounter a peated ‘Fiddich. This is the most balanced and pleasant of the three travel retail ‘Fiddichs here. Yet, I’m curious to taste an unpeated version of this. Because the other 2 ‘Fiddichs disappointed, I have a nagging feeling the peat covered the faults of this whisky.

At £79, I’ll definitely pass on this. It might be worth buying just to have a peated Fiddich in the collection, but that’s it.

Score: 5/10

These sample bottles were gifts to me some years ago. Commission links are included above if you’re not at an airport.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Dwight Wigglespench says:

    Hey John,

    Thanks for the review! I have a bottle of Balvenie 14 Peated Triple Cask at 48.3% ABV (travel retail only), which I bought from Europe last year for $92. The bump up in ABV is nice, I enjoy the flavors, and I think the cask variety brings more dimension / complexity compared to the 14-year-old Balvenie Peat Week 2002 that I have, but it seems to lack “depth”. I could describe it as either being rather “harsh” / “bright” or, to make a musical analogy, being mostly treble with maybe a little upper mid-range. I feel like I’m missing the whole lower half of the spectrum, but perhaps that’s more of what a typical Speyside provides at 14 years of age. I don’t plan on buying another bottle, and I would say a “fair” price for it in my book would be $60 rather than $92.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Dwight, thanks for commenting.
      48.3% does sound very nice! I liked the Peat Week so its nice to hear that the 14 year Peated Triple Cask is better than it. I do sometimes describe a lot of citrus notes as being bright. So you’re pretty close to the mark there.

      $92 for Duty Free does sound painful. Imagine how much more it would be with taxes! Good on you for trying and moving on though. This is an attitude more drinkers will hopefully adapt.

      Cheers

      1. Avatar
        Ben says:

        Morning John, definitely the last few times of flying (remembers fond sepia coloured memories) I’ve made more of an effort to see what’s around the duty free bar the usual suspects of Diageo, Willam Grants and Monsieur Ricard, finding some Scapa and Glen Scotia in the process.

        What would you say would be your best duty free purchases?

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi Ben, it depends on which airport you’re at and what you’re looking for. The best airport for single malt whisky is Taoyuan airport. HK DFS had some Transcontinental Line Rum and Rhum JM. I remember their whisky selection consisting of mostly of the big and boring brands. I can’t speak for Changi at the moment as they changed retailers (if that’s the right term). So I don’t know what has changed.

  2. Avatar
    Greg B. says:

    John, I don’t see any age statement associated with the 3 Glenfiddichs and the bottle shots don’t reveal that either. Do you know their age or are they all NAS?

  3. Avatar
    Ryan says:

    You say the Gf select tastes young despite it’s age! How old is it? Have you ever done the tours to find out the processes?

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Ryan, I don’t know the ages of the whisky that makes up this blend. But I’ve had enough young single malt from the big brands to make an educated guess is something is young. By young I mean something below 10 years old.

      I’ve never been to Scotland so I’ve never been to any Scotch distillery.

      1. Avatar
        Ron says:

        I like your reviews and agree that the Glenfiddichs are nothing special. However I wonder if we ever get a rating of more than 7 on this website for a regular/daily sipper type of whisky? Or does it require real Vintage ones to get there?

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi Ron, thanks for the comment. I’m pretty sure there are some out there. But it’s highly likely the regulars skus from the very accessible brands won’t get these scores. I think you’re more likely to get them from rum and mezcal than whisky.

          I guess it will depend on where you are based. The Philippines whisky scene is still growing so I have to order most of my bottles online or buy bottles when I travel. So that makes me more picky with what I buy.

          Cheers,

        2. Avatar
          KC says:

          You can find quite a few reviews here that give 7 or higher for what I’ll consider regular/daily sipper although your definition may differ from mine.

          The Glenfarclas 15, 17 and 21 are within my budget of what I consider daily sipper, ratings of 7-8. The Compass Box Hedonism doesn’t have a rating but it’s one of my favorite whiskies ever. The non Cask Strength Redbreast 12 was rated 8 but I can get it cheaper than the Balvenie where I’m at.

          These are just from the top of my head.

          1. John
            John says:

            Hi KC,

            I guess it all depends on what one’s budget is and what the availability is in one’s area.

      2. Avatar
        Ryan says:

        Sorry John I miss read your comment on the age! I thought you knew when commenting “despite the age”. Still half asleep when reading your reviews. It is indeed young ,7yo. The process will reflect the price I think and is it not a litre you get in travel retail? Highly recommend a trip to the beautiful Scotland and a tour of the many wonderful distilleries.

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi Ryan,
          No worries. I think all the travel retail Fiddichs I’ve seen are 1L. I could be wrong though as I don’t always pay attention to stuff I deem boring. Yes! Visiting Scotland is in the bucket list.

    2. Avatar
      Clinton Thacker says:

      My palate is maybe not discerning enough, so I tend to trust master blenders to know what they are doing. I have decided that I’m quite taken with Grant’s Monkey Shoulder, which I understand is a blend of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. And lower priced than the single malts. Am I missing out? I’m almost relieved to read John’s 3, 4 & 5/10 scores for bottles more expensive than I’m comfortable buying!

      1. John
        John says:

        Hi Clinton,
        I think some master blenders have no choice but to do the bidding of their corporate masters. They may know what they’re doing but they may not have all the materials they want.
        Monkey Shoulder has been reformulated from what I heard. I don’t know what they changed though. I think Kininvie is worth trying as it’s good whisky. But it’s just damn expensive.

  4. Avatar
    Clinton says:

    My palate is maybe not discerning enough, so I tend to trust master blenders to know what they are doing. I have decided that I’m quite taken with Grant’s Monkey Shoulder, which I understand is a blend of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. And lower priced than the single malts. Am I missing out? I’m almost relieved to read John’s 3, 4 & 5/10 scores for bottles more expensive than I’m comfortable buying!

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