The Balvenie distillery is one of the last holdouts in the industry doing pretty much everything in-house (what we could call a “grain to glass” distillery in other parts of the world). From growing their own barley to meticulous maturation processes, they really don’t cut any corners in trying to achieve their vision for how their products should taste. That does tend to come with a hefty price tag, and their latest releases have cranked up the sticker shock to gigawatt levels.
To be fair, this still isn’t the most expensive thing on the Balvenie menu — their 50 year old single cask expression regularly clocks in at a sticker price of roughly $50,000. In fact, seen in that light, this 42-year aged spirit might be seen as a bargain. And just to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, the bottle comes with some fairly luxe packaging that adds to the story behind the bottle.
From the press release, this is part of their “Balvenie Stories” series that takes inspiration from local history and folklore and creates spirits that embody those tales. This specific bottle pays homage to Dennis McBain:
Inspired by one of The Balvenie’s longest-serving characters, The Tale of the Dog is recalled by Dennis McBain as one of his clearest memories of working at the distillery, from over 50 years ago. It celebrates the story of McBain as a young apprentice being exposed to a new world of distillery life, as a brewer asked for a copper dog – a little copper tube once used for siphoning off whisky straight from the cask – to be flattened and put back for its owner to find. The humbling tale taught McBain what a dog was, why the expression ‘taking a dog for a walk’ was used at the distillery, and that whoever it belonged to had been sent a message, but ultimately given a second chance. McBain’s memory then inspired his suggestion of using dogs instead of unwieldy valinches for distillery tour tastings. And so, every dog used in Warehouse 24 tours is there because of Dennis McBain and his early days at The Balvenie.Balvenie Press Release
We’ve had a tradition here on the site that whenever we reach a new milestone in our number of reviews (200th, 300th, etc) we buy a bottle that costs the same as the number of reviews we’ve done. So I guess you can expect to see this review on our site… in about 14,145 reviews from now?
Thankfully for our wallets, Balvenie also released a couple other entries into the series that are priced a little more approachably compared to their top of the line expression.
- The Second Red Rose (Aged 21 Years – 48.1% ABV) is inspired by an iconic bottling of The Balvenie Rose first released in 2008. The Balvenie Rose was a 16-Year-Old whisky, finished in port pipes that was only available to visitors to The Balvenie distillery. (~$459.99)
- A Rare Discovery from Distant Shores (Aged 27 Years – 48% ABV) is a beautifully well-rounded spirit with accentuated flavors of ripe fruit and the classic citrus Balvenie style, with a long-lasting finish. (~$1,500)
Why, exactly, are these bottles priced so eye-wateringly high compared to their ~$53 DoubleWood offering?
Part of the rationale comes from the age of the spirits. According to law, scotch whisky can only be labeled with the age of the youngest drop of spirit in the bottle. Leaving a cask of whisky on the shelf for over four decades not only takes up valuable shelf space and energy for the distillery to maintain it, but also leads to literally diminishing returns. Whisky evaporates over time, and the longer it sits the less of it will remain in the end. In order to recoup the investment, each drop of spirit needs to go for an increasingly higher price every day.
Not to mention, that $14,500 bottle might not just be all 42 year aged spirits. Typically, distilleries will also use significantly older stocks to improve the flavor, meaning you’re probably tasting some ancient history in this bottle.
Add in the other considerations that come from Balvenie (the grain to glass production and careful attention) and you can start to understand how this price isn’t as outlandish as it might seem at first blush. You aren’t paying $14,500 for a new made bottle — you’re paying $345 per year.
Whether that price tag is worthwhile to you is a personal decision. For me, it certainly has piqued my interest… alas, if only I had the cash to scratch that itch.