The Balvenie Fifty

A Limited-Edition $32,000 Scotch

The Balvenie Aged 50 Years with its special packaging
The Balvenie Aged 50 Years with its special packaging

Two important events took place at the Scottish firm William Grant & Sons in 1962. David Stewart was hired as an apprentice, and cask #5576 was filled with newly distilled whisky from The Balvenie Distillery. Although Scotland and its namesake spirit have a long and glorious history, the country hadn’t even begun exporting single malt Scotch at the time. Stewart rose through the ranks and became a Malt Master for the company (which owns distilleries including The Balvenie and Glenfiddich), nosing more than 400,000 casks of whisky through the years, while that single barrel matured. Many of Stewart’s techniques working with single malt whisky, such as aging the spirit in two different types of barrels, became industry standards, and he earned numerous accolades while that oh-so-special European oak sherry hogshead continued to age, mellow and evaporate.

Fifty years later, Stewart has become a consultant to the company, and that cask was finally bottled. We were lucky enough to attend an event at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills honoring Stewart’s fifty years of contributions to the Scotch whisky industry as well as taste the whisky that was five decades in the making.

Before tasting the aptly named The Balvenie Fifty, we talked with Global Ambassador Samuel Simmons and Brand Manager Andrew Weir, sipped on a Scotch cocktail dubbed Blood and Sand, heard from the esteemed Malt Master himself, enjoyed lobster bisque and a Kansas City steak, and savored The Balvenie 12-year-old DoubleWood and 17-year-old DoubleWood. We found the former, which spent twelve years in a used American oak bourbon barrel before mellowing for a few months in a European oak sherry barrel, to be playful and honeyed, with hints of vanilla from its first home and cinnamon spice from its second. The 17-year had a deeper color, with more wood on the nose and more honey on the palate.

We were impressed with the special packaging of The Balvenie Aged 50 Years which included layers of seven different Scottish woods to make the box, but the contents were the star of the show. On the nose, lemons and other citrus fruits showed along with the aromas of its younger siblings. We hesitated before bringing the half-ounce pour to our lips; with bottles retailing in the $32,000 range, this was not a shot to be downed thoughtlessly. We found it to be ultra-complex with the oak of the barrel balanced well against the honey sweetness. When the waiter tried to clear the table, we held on to our glasses in order to finish the last of the few drops that remained from our oh-so-treasured pours. We even kept the glasses which retain a ghost of the flavor.

Only 88 bottles of The Balvenie Fifty are available for sale, with ten in the U.S. You can try it at Mastro’s, or at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas where a shot will set you back $3,400. About 400 bottles of whisky filled the original cask, but most of it evaporated over the last fifty years as the liquid and barrel interacted. This lost portion is known as the “angel’s share.” Dame Barbara Hay, the British Consul-General currently based in Los Angeles, may have put it best as she honored David Stewart and The Balvenie Fifty: “I thought about the angels; they must be really happy!” And so were we, as well as honored to have sampled this complex, rare and exciting beverage.



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7 thoughts on “The Balvenie Fifty”

  1. What an interesting insight…There are few opportunities for the human tongue to taste artisanship requiring such care and time to perfect.

    I have only once had the ability (and willingness) to sample a spirit “similar” to this in age (Aged 30, not 50), though I suspect to sample what is described here would be on an entirely different plane altogether.

    That said, my own experience (humble though it may be) was exquisite, and remains a treasured memory who’s subtleties and texture I still recall with great detail many years later.

  2. I loved the article. But even though I see that it was written from the perspective of Alain Gayot and Jeff Hoyt, the constant use of the “royal we” made it come across as haughty. The phrase “We hesitated before bringing the half-ounce pour to our lips” came across as particularly poor.

    There are lots of ways to write from the perspective of two or more people, but using “we” at every occasion is not one of them.

  3. I am a long time single malt drinker. My favourites over the past 10 years have been all the Balvenie,s. Your 14 year old Caribbean cask is perhaps my favourite of
    favourites. It makes a perfect birthday gift as well for my son, and two son-in-laws that I have cultivated into fine scotch tasting. Keep up the great work, as I expect to see more product as time goes by.

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