Single-Malt Whisky, the oak-aged spirit that drives class and style in the world of liquor, is vaunted for its complex flavours despite only featuring one key ingredient – barley. Of course, yeast and water also make up the essence of any whisky. But then this begs the question, how can 3 simple ingredients create dimensions of supposedly intricate and layered flavours that whisky lovers seem to be able to distinguish and adore?
Well, to answer this question in a simple sense, it’s all about the germination, peating, fermentation, distillation, and other meticulous and diligent processes of whisky making. But more importantly, it’s in the maturing phase of the spirit that makes the flavours unique, or rather, the type of wood-casks used at this stage to age the expression.
But before diving deeper into the subject, it’s only fair to say that attempting to discern between a good whisky from a sublime one may be a foolhardy task for one with an unversed palette. After all, refining an acute taste for the subtle distinctions in taste notes, aromas and flavours of fine whiskies can take up to years, and possibly decades to truly master.
The gas chromatography-olfactometry analysis has produced a sort of ‘whiskypedia’, setting out a non-exhaustive list of aroma-active compounds to savour in, especially if you’re a connoisseur. In fact, as many as 140 distinct notes can be identified in a single glass of whisky. So if you’re just starting to delve into the whisky scene and looking to avoid unwanted leers and side-eyes from the experts around you, it may be wise not to blurt out “mhmm… tastes just like any other whisky I had”.
But there comes a time where a distillery births a single-malt that tastes so distinct and exquisite that the flavours and aromas seem so clearly written out in your mind. Even if you’re unable to identify each and every taste note, the general flavour profiles are so obvious that you simply can’t miss ’em.
And such an instance, would be The Balvenie 16 Years French Oak Whisky.
The 16-year-old French Oak cask-finished bottle of whisky from Speyside’s superb Balvenie Distillery is proclaimed to carry an aroma of ‘beautifully balanced light floral notes from lotus and geranium flowers, dancing between fresh meadow grass and peeled apple skin‘, and a taste of ‘energising zing from tangy lemon rind and grapefruit meet delicate subtle sweetness from glazed fruits and spice from root ginger‘, or at least, that’s what it said on the leaflet.
Though I’m no sceptic, it was hard not to hold onto the supposition that such a description might’ve been overblown, or at the bare minimum, I would expect to trace only mere hints of such flavours. It was difficult to fathom how a generally smoky and malty drink could hold such zesty and invigorating profiles.
But boy was I proven wrong, and more than glad for it too.
A soothing wave of gingerbread with a light floral after-note hits the nose upon removing the tasting cap. It didn’t take as much as a small whiff to see (or rather, smell) exactly what the guys at The Balvenie were talking about. The tinge of spice and sweet floral aromas flow seamlessly, arousing a vivid image of gingerbread cookies fresh out the oven in a cottage amidst a youthfully verdure meadow.
And the first sip? Nothing short of incredible. Sweet, spicy, floral, fruity, zesty, minty, and so many more unique flavours, each twirling ever so gracefully in a beautiful progression of distinct notes from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat.
The first thing you’ll probably notice is the delicate sweetness of honey-glazed fruits, which subtly fades into the geranium notes, then gradually easing into a pleasant yeasty mixed buttery vanilla aftertaste that stirs memories of freshly baked almond pastries, as if inhaling a warm blanket on a cold winter day. As it flows down the throat, an invigorating zing of lemon resurfaces to finish off the beautiful experience of this expression. Not sour or bitter, but simply refreshing.
Well, this experience would not have been possible if not for the Malt Master, David C. Stewart MBE, taking a leap to explore the French Oak casks that once held Pineau from France. This 16-Year-Old expression was initially aged in American oak casks before being cask-finished in the all-essential French Oak that gave the whisky its distinct floral, fruity and zesty aromatics.
Alwynne Gwilt, The Balvenie’s Brand Ambassador, claims that the Distillery is exploring yet another world of flavours through the incredible cask finishing process of their Malt Master of nearly 60 years. “It’s incredible to watch the flavours unfurl in a new way with the addition of these Pineau de Charentes casks and showcases that the skill it takes to continue innovating is deep within our ethos of staying true to being a maker at heart.”
Safe to say that The Balvenie French Oak Cask aged 16 years successfully reflects the brand’s commitment to its relentless venture into depthful flavours, all while embodying the Speyside distillery’s honeyed signature style.
And to further accentuate the experience, The Balvenie collaborates with the multi-award-winning artist and handcrafting illustrator, Owen Gildersleeve, to fashion a range of visual concepts that captures the craft, storytelling and complexity of flavours poured into the 16-year spirit. The attention to detail mirrors the focus on skill and craftsmanship that the The Balvenie makers put into its whisky making.
“It’s always enjoyable working with brands and other creatives who are open to input and communication and who also have a great understanding of the process and time that goes into hand-crafted work such as this. These layered designs celebrate the warm depth of flavour in The Balvenie’s whisky, bringing to life their various flavour profiles in a graphic hand-crafted manner, which fits well with the brand’s luxurious feel and refined hands-on approach to making their whisky,” commented Owen Gildersleeve.
With an ABV of 46.9%, the French Oak-finished 16-Year-Old whisky will be available to purchase in select retailers throughout Malaysia, starting at a modest price from RM540 onwards. The French Oak whisky joins The Balvenie’s two new variants of cask finished whisky – the Madeira cask 15-year-old and PX Sherry 18-year-old, introducing a range of oak-aged spirits that are affordably delicious for everyday indulgence.