Music and the Balvenie

During my inculcation at Glasgow University, I continued to pursue my interest in photography. This manifested itself in a number of ways; I became seriously involved with the Glasgow University Photographic Society (instituting a rule of “No Elitism” – the skill is with the photographer, not the expense of the equipment); I annoyed almost all of my friends with the incessant sight of a lens in their face; I nearly bankrupted myself with the cost of developing films by the dozen; and I started a small line in music photography.


At university this was ideal; not only did I get to go to gigs free, I was often paid to do it. The downside was that, at that point, the only whisky I ever saw was JD, the ubiquitous drink choice of student trendies, almost invariably served with watered down Coke. It did, though, expose me to a huge range of music, not only the bands I was paid to work for, but also the bands they were supporting or, as I got more well known, the bands supporting them. When people learn this about me, the first question I am unfailingly asked is “What is your favourite music/band/song?”

This is an impossible question. If the question was “What is your favourite song/band/music… for any given situation” – dancing at a wedding, feeling melancholy, getting ready for a cricket match or simply driving, I can start to answer it, but the answers are still so wide ranging and vast that my answers are long and almost certainly irritating for whomsoever was unfortunate enough to ask. There are, however, certain broad sweeps of music that I will be unlikely to turn off in almost any circumstance. These may not be my essential favourites or the best song for that situation, but will normally provide at least a pleasant background for whatever I may be doing. Normally, I will err towards folky, acoustic, noodling guitars, clever rhythms, simple melodies and strong vocals; think The Tallest Man on Earth, Micah P Hinson, Nathaniel Rateliff, M. Ward.


The same is true of whisky. I made the unfortunate mistake of cataloguing my alcohol cupboard a day or two ago, in order to validate my desire to buy more whisky. After finding 20 single scotch malts, 5 blends, 3 American whiskeys, 2 whisky based liqueurs, 8 rums, 4 gins and 2 vodkas (and the dregs of a bottle of Grand Marnier) I decided I probably didn’t have a valid excuse to immediately replace my bottles of The Balvenie that I had finished in the last few days.

All of my drinks have a purpose in my mind; they all have a time, weather, activity or mood to drink for maximum effect, except for The Balvenie. I haven’t tried any expression I didn’t like and while few of them are, perhaps, the ideal whisky for every occasion, I can always enjoy a dram or two. They are the acoustic folk for my taste buds. They are not massively strongly influenced or unbalanced towards one finish or another and they are all relatively sweet, classic speysides. There are some that I haven’t had the opportunity to try that I’d like to, the Roasted Malt or the Peated Cask, for example, which apparently impart quite a different flavour, but generally I always like to have a bottle available for emergencies (and all occasions). And now I don’t…

The Balvenie Double Wood; aged in traditional whisky (American bourbon?) casks then moved to sherry (Spanish) casks for 2 years (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong)

Colour: Pale amber, with almost a suggestion of green
Nose: floral syrupy honey, with a slightly odd and very faint background note of smoke? Perhaps honey that has once seen, or heard of, smoke.
Body: light and fresh
Palate:milk/white chocolate, lacks some distinction, bourbon strongly, goes towards nuts.
Finish: short pepper, with long warmth. left with a very late aftertaste of fruity sweets.
Overall: generally underwhelming – no distinct character, but very drinkable.

The Balvenie Golden Cask (14 Years): finished in Caribbean rum casks (am trying to ascertain exactly how long for), travel purchase only, newer versions more generally available…

Colour: yellow gold
Nose: opulent oranges, general fruitiness and some toffee/caramel creaminess.
Body: rich and hot
Palate: spice and molasses, rich sweetness and heat, going towards butterscotch
Finish: fruit, cooked spiced bananas, long, with more heat.
Overall: more fulsome than double wood, sensation of heat and molasses – assuming from rum casks, but possibly more by suggestion than reality.

The Balvenie Signature (Batch 3) – same age as Double Wood (12 Years) – not sure exactly what the difference is, as they have both been aged in both sherry and bourbon casks, but I’m sure someone can tell me, and they are certainly very different.

Colour: Dark Amber.
Nose: Like a sweetshop, especially foam bananas and shrimps.
Body: Rich and smooth
Palate: Pure heather honey, going to some spiciness, a little ginger?
Finish: Dark chocolate, very dark chocolate.
Overall: Far more flavoursome and balanced than the Double Wood, for essentially the same price. Very lovely indeed, and certainly my preferred choice.