I first had this whisky at the distillery, as it was one of the tasters at the end of the tour. I was impressed then, have owned it, but forgot to review it. It’s an unusual finishing (rum cask) of the Balvenie, whose Doublewood I have reviewed favorably. In this case, however, we have an extra couple years aging on ex-bourbon barrels, then an unspecified time finishing in rum casks. I’m excited about the extra years’ maturation, as the 14 to 15-year rage is a sweet spot for Scotch; Oban 14 and the Glenlivet 15 both being examples of tasty spirits in that age range. (I have two more 15s coming, up, a Dalwhinnie and a Glenfiddich so watch this space).
I do not have an equivalent whisky to which I can compare this, so I’ll use the trusty Doublewood, a 12-year offering from Balvenie to see if this is a good power-up from the distillery. It’s a bit pricier, $74 locally, $10 more than the Doublewood. There is a lot of writing on the carton, but it’s not telling us a whole lot more that is new. The rum casking is intended to enhance the Balvenie’s vanilla notes with spicy aromatic qualities. David Stewart, the malt master, is noted for his 50 years’ experience. Wow!
On to the flavor. There is a lot of vanilla on the nose, with a goodly chunk of red apple (think Pink Lady for example), buttressed by nutmeg and allspice. It rounds gently into a grainy mineral note. The Doublewood is lighter in the midrange–it does not have as strong a vanilla or apple aroma–with a hint of peppermint and a little grassiness that sets it apart from its Caribbean cousin.
On the palate, the Caribbean Cask delivers the goods with toffee and Lyle’s syrup in equal measure, and quite a bit of spice, followed by a hefty delivery of vanilla. I get quite a bit of white pepperiness on the sides of the tongue, which livens up the sweet train. They definitely deliver on the promise of more vanilla, but did they overshoot? Its finish is long and heavily dependent on that vanilla and spice. Tannins are bitter and clean up that syrup and toffee but wow, that vanilla. This dram would go well with custard or (must I say it) vanilla ice cream.
The Doublewood is more balanced, as it does not have an overweening vanilla component, is lighter on the palate and less forward in the tannins. Although not delivering as big a punch as the Carib, the Doublewood, with its minty spice, hint of roses and slight grassiness, is a more neutral counterparty suitable for a wider range of pairings. It is still quite sweet, but could imagine it with a fruit and cheese board, where the Carib would just be too vanilla-heavy.
Balvenie Caribbean Cask, Speyside single malt, 43% ABV
Nose: Loads of vanilla and fragrant red apple, nutmeg, allspice, hints of mineral.
Palate: Quite sweet, leaning towards Lyle’s syrup but toffee as well. The vanilla and holiday spice from the nose follow the sweetness strongly. Spicy on the sides of the tongue. The tannins are bitter, and clean up the sweet, leaving the vanilla the victor on the field.
Finish: Long and very vanilla. Maybe too much for all but after-dinner applications.
Bottom Line: Well, boy howdy, this reminds me of an American eggnog: rich on the palate, loads of sweet, and those eggnog spices we all love. But I would not call this a daily driver unless you really like vanilla. I’d say this is a bottle to get for the holidays, for rounding off a fancy dinner with a sweet treat and you don’t want to go with a Sauterne or a liqueur. I’ve got a coworker who was introduced to Scotch with this and he likes it, so it’ll serve for newbie introductions as well, though it’s a bit spendy for that. For me, I’ll always keep a Doublewood handy, and a Tun 1409 for (temporarily) wrecking my friends palates for anything run-of -the-mill!