In this blog, I’ve focused mainly on whiskies the average Joe can afford, and can get without having to pay international shipping fees. But now and then I’ve acquired rarer whiskies with a tale attached to them. This is one such whisky and it’s tale belongs in a whisky blog. Why not this one?
My wife and I visited Scotland a couple years back and we visited the Balvenie distillery (covered here). This tour was high on my list for a few reasons: Balvenie creates a whisky I like (the Doublewood), and recommendations on various whisky sites named their tour as the best. Also, they offered a ‘valinch your own bottle’ option on the tour. Count me in…
Near the end of the tour we entered the warehouse and our guide pointed out a big mixing tun off in one corner. (Sadly, no photos were allowed in the warehouse.) This was tun #1509, where once a year the malt master created a special vatted malt. And, we were told, there were two bottles of the latest Tun 1509, Batch No. 3 in the gift shop. Immediately, our small group turned to each other and counted heads.
We were doing the tour with a couple well-heeled couples and both gents, each having bought multiple valinched malts at 35 quid a go, smiled in a most predatory fashion. I sighed, figuring they’d hoover those two bottles up. I’m firmly middle class, not as well-heeled as these guys nor uppity, so at the end of the tour I did not barge into the gift shop in front of everyone to snag one of the precious bottles. I knew it would be big bucks and did not want to be seen wheedling with the wife for a bottle these guys could buy for pocket change.
Inside the shop, sure enough I saw Guy #2 grab a bottle of Tun 1509 (photo) and as you can see, guy #1 was at the register. I think, ‘Guy #1 has got his, Guy # 2 has just grabbed the other bottle, nothing to see here.’ I wandered around looking for something interesting, when the wife chirped, ‘Hey there’s one left.’ I was shocked. There on the shelf, at 250 quid, was a bottle of the 1509. I looked at her. ‘You sure about this?’ I did a quick calc into dollars. But the wife is the best…she just smiled and said “We’re here now, when are you coming back?” I grabbed that sucker. Guy #2 was at the register, crowing about his prize. Guy #1 was gone.
So, I waited my turn, whisky in hand and had just handed over my credit card when Guy #1 comes back. “You got it!” he cries. I looked apologetic (I hope). “You were gone,” I said, “I thought you were done.” He swore (lightly) and explained he’d just gone to the bathroom. Guy #2 ribbed him about his loss, congratulated me, and Guy#1 was consoled by our guide to think there might be a bottle of the 1509 at the main store (William Grant & Sons also own Glenfiddich, which is right next door). So, that’s how I came upon this bottle of whisky, with a bit of luck, a very supportive wife, and about 335 USD. Crazy.
Was it worth it? Hey, I got a story out of it. I have two stories, actually….When we came back, at the next tasting of our whisky group, I gave everyone a taste. This was near the end. Mary met me with sad eyes. “You’ve ruined me on normal whisky forever,” she said. Not really; Mary has since recovered. But, as Charlie, our guide would have said, this is seriously good whisky. You can see just above the malt master’s design for the malt. What you can’t see is the taste, I’ll try to convey it here.
The Balvenie Tun 1509 (Batch 3), 52.2% ABV
Nose: This has a big nose, As soon as you pour it fills the room. Roses, green apples, a touch of cinnamon and green grass clippings, toffee, golden raisins.
Palate: The unctuous mouthfeel is the first impression. Beyond just smooth, this dram is like liquid candy for grown-ups. The fruit from the nose meets dark caramel–caramel that is just shy of being burnt. Or liquid toffee with a little burn to let you know it’s 104 proof.
Finish: The finish is remarkable for how long that creamy mouthfeel lasts. The toffee sweetness never clings, but it cleans up slowly, with very gentle tannins and just a shade of that aged leather impression I got from that very old (34-year) cask we tasted in the warehouse.
Bottom Line: No doubt, this is one expensive whisky. I have only one other bottle in this KAIII wants to be a Tun 1509-level whisky, it isn’t. I have a little left of the KAIII and I did a head-to-head, just to make sure I was not mis-remembering, or doing an unearned hagiography on the Tun 1509. Not at all. The KAIII’s nose is similar in profile but only a fraction of the strength of the Tun 1509, the palate nowhere near as smooth or fulfilling, and the finish is just gone in a flash. Just to make double sure, I had the wife do a blind taste test. She picked the 1509. Then she blindfolded me, and I was clear on my favorite: Balvenie’s Tun 1509. So, if you are on the lookout for some seriously good whisky, I can recommend a bottle in this range (I think they are up to batch 6).