The dark granite facade of the Balvenie distillery has encouraged a dour and humorless reputation for the respected single-malt producer since it was erected in 1892, especially when compared with its more colorful Speyside neighbor, Glenfiddich. (For the past three years, Glenfiddich has invited groups of artists to live and work at the distillery; last year's crew "created" a collection of bright orange buckets hanging off a wall.)
But who needs playful when you make single malts this great?The recently released Balvenie Thirty-Year-Old ($550) is a whisky aficionado's whisky—one of the most stirring single malts in all of Scotland. Rich honey and hints of smoke are true Balvenie characteristics, and the Thirty is no exception. But the three decades it has spent in oloroso sherry barrels and bourbon casks have also given it a sweet toffee-syrup quality and a rich depth of color. There are even hints of dark chocolate, orange peel and caramelized pears. Add to that the most pleasant tannin and cedar notes and you're in the presence of a delightfully balanced and complex whisky. The Balvenie Thirty-Year-Old can be found, in limited supply, at your local specialized spirit shop.