Balvenie Stories: American oak // Week of Peat // Dark Barley

Balvenie Stories - Dark BarleyBalvenie Stories - Alwynne GwiltBalvenie Week of Peat

The other night I was invited to the Belgian presentation of the Balvenie Stories, a series of whiskies inspired by loyal craftspeople at The Balvenie and the great stories they told: tales of character, endeavour and craft. The distillery decided to record these stories and create three new whiskies.

You can listen to the stories on the Balvenie website. There’s also a book Pursuit: The Balvenie Stories collection which can be bought from Amazon. It includes short stories from some of the world’s finest writers, loosely inspired by the theme of pursuing dreams and chasing perfection.

While the oldest 26 Year Old is a single cask version that will be very limited, the other two expressions are here to stay and will get new batches as an on-going series.



As our host Alwynne Gwilt explained, The sweet toast of American Oak is an experiment with heavily toasted American oak. Working with Kelvin cooperage in Kentucky, they choose staves that were toasted much deeper than normal, bringing out more (and other) flavours from the wood. The classic Balvenie 12 Year Old was given a two month finish in these virgin oak casks.


Balvenie Stories - 12 Years American oakBalvenie 12 yo ‘The sweet toast of American Oak’ (43%, OB 2019)

Nose: quite bright for a Balvenie, showing a lot of citrus notes alongside the usual malty core. Some vanilla and ginger, fresh oak shavings (hints of cedar) and a hint of banana and juicy peach.

Mouth: more malty notes, with firm oak spice (mint, ginger, pepper), later also vanilla, toffee and the classic honeyed notes. Some lemon peel and hints of banana.

Finish: medium, mostly on vanilla and wood spice.

I’m not sure the deeper toasting had a big advantage here. Virgin oak finishing is nowadays done by several distilleries and they all tend to get a similar outcome. This was a good, easy-drinking whisky, a significantly oaked up version of a 12 Years single barrel in a way. Perhaps that’s why the Belgian importer decided not to distribute it. You can get it from Master of Malt or The Whisky Exchange if you like.

Score: 81/100



Then there’s The week of peat, a 14 year-old smoky expression produced during the one week a year that the distillery processes peated malt (+/- 30 ppm phenols). The malt is dried with peat cut about an hour north of the distillery. An evolution of the Balvenie Peat Week 14 Years, but without the vintage statement.


Balvenie Stories - 14 Week of PeatBalvenie 14 yo ‘The week of peat’ (48,3%, OB 2019)

Nose: a very warm style of peat smoke, closer to a wood stove in winter than to the medicinal Islay style. Some heathery notes. Overripe apples, honeyed pastries, sweet lemons and a hint of vanilla.

Mouth: perhaps a little more easy-going than previous editions. Medium-weight, nicely balancing warm smoke with a fruitiness of peach and honey. Sugared smoked tea. Some citrus brightness too.

Finish: long, drier now, with smoke and light herbal touches.

All good and in line with previous peated releases: a fairly smooth, accessible peated Speyside whisky. The smoke mixes nicely with the distillery’s trademark fruity style. Around € 75, soon also available in Belgium.

Score: 86/100



The third releases is a 26 years old A day of Dark Barley which was made on a day in 1992 when the distillery took in a delivery of dark barley (chocolate malt) commonly used to brew stout or porter beers. It had a short germination (1 day instead of 5) and was heated in a roasting drum to around 1600-1800 EBC units (instead of… 30).

Half of this experiment was released as a 14 Year Old ‘Roasted Malt’ back in 2006, the other half rested further to become one of the Balvenie Stories.


Balvenie Stories - 26 Years Dark BarleyBalvenie 26 yo ‘A day of dark barley’ (47,8%, OB 2019, first-fill bourbon cask #6856)

Nose: sweet and malty, with biscuits and a few floral, fragrant overtones that reminded me of French oak in a way. Some darker hints of toast and chocolate, leathery touches and hints of marshmallows. Floral honey and bright oak spice.

Mouth: sweet, almost syrupy, with slightly tropical fruits. Pineapple, bananas flambéed and orange peel. Hints of vanilla and ginger. Light chocolate notes towards the end.

Finish: not that long, with oak spice and vanilla.

Really good again, with a rich profile that shows nice tropical fruits and floral notes. Don’t expect much darkness from the barley though, it’s still highly influenced by the first-fill bourbon cask. It’s also really expensive: around € 700-800. On its way to Belgium, already sold out in most other markets.

Score: 88/100