Tastings

First Class

Whisky Magazine's Michael Jackson teamed up with a panel of fellow experts to assess the new Balvenie vintage cask
By Michael Jackson
What constitutes a vintage cask of malt whisky? One that I like, apparently. So long as it is also enjoyed by the French writer on whisky and food Martine Nouet (my frequent drams partner of late); the eclectic author Ian Wisniewski (whose predisposition toward vodka does not prevent earnest study of Tequila and whisky); and the fashionably shaven-headed Simon Difford (or is he just bald?), the publisher of Class, the magazine for style-conscious barflies.We four were invited by The Balvenie to help perpetuate its tradition of an annual vintage edition. This famously honeyish malt has in recent years been released in a nutty 1964 vintage and a buttery, juicy, orangey, 1966. Our panel was recently asked to nose and taste six further candidates: all of which had been in the (bourbon) wood for more than 30 years. We started with three from 1968. The first I found heathery and spicy in its bouquet; orangey in its palate; and almondy in its dryish finish. Martine found Mirabelle plums, and Simon added raisins. The second was to my taste creamier, with a suggestion of sugared almonds, while Ian commended its integration and balance of flavours. I liked both of these. The third seemed to me a little harsh and abrupt, despite all those years, but Martine was engaged by its citrus note. All had a fullness of flavour suggesting that the bourbon wood had been enjoying its first encounter with Scotch whisky.We then looked at three from 1970. My guess is that these casks were having their second fill of Scotch. They seemed to contribute less to the whisky. The first did have a butterscotch succulence, but was still somehow lacking. Simon found cinnamon. Ian liked the length and complexity of this cask, but it was nonetheless his least favourite. The second cask had to my taste a Brazil-nut oiliness, though Martine found a suggestion of lemon soap. The third reminded me of oatmeal and Martine of toast. Perhaps we had found a breakfast nip? I went back over all six, and suspect that all my colleagues did the same. Then, after what can only be described as a spirited discussion, we chose the first we had tasted. It will be in the bottle, and on the shelf – as The Balvenie Vintage Cask 1968 – in September.