Heather is a national symbol of Scotland, so it’s only fitting it find a way into scotch whisky production now and then. The Balvenie’s newest installment in their limited release “Stories” series is entitled The Edge of Burnhead Wood, and is dedicated to the distillery “craftspeople” embarked on what the termed “The Heather Trials” years ago as a way of incorporating locally grown and kilned (dried) heather into Balvenie’s single malt. As the distillery puts it: “Inspired by the fragrant, heather-cloaked highlands that surround The Balvenie Distillery, The Edge of Burnhead Wood celebrates the tale of how The Balvenie craftspeople experimented with the distillery’s natural resources to find the perfect match between fresh heather and barley.”
The Edge of Burnhead Wood represents the first expression of The Balvenie to be produced entirely from ingredients found and grown on the distillery’s Dufftown estate, and is a limited batch of roughly 19,000 bottles worldwide. It’s a 19-year-old expression, bottled at 48.7% ABV (97.4 proof), aged in ex-bourbon barrels, with a pretty substantial U.S. MSRP of $299.99. That actually puts it in the middle of the Stories range, which has varied substantially from “The Sweet Toast of American Oak” 12 Year at $59.99 all the way up to “A Day of Dark Barley” at 26 years old and $799.99. Obviously, that price point puts this in collector territory.
Balvenie notes that The Edge of Burnhead Wood “holds the familiar robust Balvenie taste, with a delicate fruitiness, as well as notes of light spice and juicy fruits.” Let’s get to tasting and see what kind of single malt this particular experiment has turned out.
On the nose, my initial impressions are fruit forward, with nice elements of apricot and juicy plum, transitioning into dried herbs and more floral/herbal dimensions. There’s wildflower honey, along with fragrant heather and a subtle earthiness—more fruity than “smoky” for certain, but with a ribbon of a darker and more roasted element. Overall, the nose hints at fruit and a sort of complex herbaceousness.
On the palate, The Edge of Burnhead Wood really starts to shine. There’s a lot of dark honey here, and split vanilla bean, but the signature tones become these wonderful trailing notes of fruit and dried herbs. There’s an evolution of plum and sultana flavors that doesn’t really gather full strength on the tongue until 20 or 30 seconds go by, and it’s a really lovely quality. There’s underlying oaky structure and hints of dried herbs de Provence, along with light bitterness holding things in check. Over time, the flavors expand in the glass, encompassing both dates and toasted marshmallow, along with something that suggests milk chocolate. Slowly, it seems to get richer, although never really anywhere near “decadent.”
To be frank, I quite like this. I don’t know if I could bring myself to drop $300 on it, but that’s true for me with almost anything in this price range. Regardless, this is a very composed, nicely nuanced single malt, and one I’d be very curious to revisit again and again in the future. Balvenie has done their hometown proud on this one.
City: Dufftown, Scotland
Style: Single malt scotch whisky
ABV: 48.7% (98.4 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $300 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.