Home Distilleries In Depth: The ULTIMATE Balvenie Tun 1401 Guide

In Depth: The ULTIMATE Balvenie Tun 1401 Guide

by Chris Perugini

The long-awaited Balvenie Tun 1401 article is finally here! I feel like I’ve been preparing my entire whisky-related existence for this post. I truly hope you enjoy the result of years of dedication to a whisky that deserves to be celebrated.

Intro

I was first exposed to Tun 1401 in 2011 when Batch 3 (the first US batch) was released. I knew that the series was starting to gain some traction and knew that it had some really old casks in it but didn’t know much else.

I can still remember exactly where I was when I tried Batch 3. My wife and I were sitting on the couch in our first house one unsuspecting evening. I took one sip amidst a conversation and it quite literally stopped me in my tracks. I looked straight at my wife and said, “I think I’m drinking the best whisky I’ll ever have.”

From then on, I knew that I had to try more. I was able to get the other US-based batches (6 and 9) fairly easily and I grabbed a Batch 7 on the way home from a Canada trip. My friend in the UK had a line on Batch 8 for me. At one point, I narrowly missed an opportunity to get my hands on some Batch 4. Eventually I got Batch 5 at an above-retail price. As for the batches I couldn’t track down/afford, a good whisky friend named Sloane helped me acquire samples of the early batches I didn’t have on hand. Thank you! I couldn’t have done this without you!

Photo by Reddit user /u/Joan_de_Gant

What’s so special about Tun 1401?

Why Tun 1401? The short answer to that question is because it’s really old, really good whisky that was sold at an incredible price.

Every batch of Tun 1401 is comprised of anywhere from 6-14 casks. That’s it. There’s no filler whisky in these bottles. The capacity of the Tun itself was about 2000 liters so that meant a full batch only ever amounted to 2500-3000 bottles max. These ultra-micro batches are truly a whisky nerd’s dream.

There’s a cool YouTube video by The Balvenie showing the unsurprisingly-old school process of filling the Tun with with the casks that eventually became Batch 3.

Every single batch consists of casks that are 35-45 years old with a single 21 or 22 year old cask added to each batch to bring the strength up. Through years of research, I’ve compiled what I believe to be the most comprehensive worksheet on the Tun 1401 series outside of the distillery itself. Below is a sample of some of the data I’ve collected on each batch. Some of this data is unconfirmed but I’ve made some well-educated guesses that I’m fairly confident about. My sherry cask percentage value assumes four times the capacity for each sherry butt compared to a standard ex-bourbon hogshead. It’s not precise but allows me to compare the batches against each other using the same standard. Let’s take a look at the details.

TABLE A: Tun 1401 Batch Data
Batch Bottled Strength Bottles Oldest Cask Youngest Cask Average Age Sherry %
1 2010 48.1% 336 44 22 35 48%
2 2011 50.6% 2226 44 22 37 52%
3 2011 50.3% 1800 44 22 37 52%
4 2012 50.4% 2500 46 22 37 52%
5 2012 50.1% 2862 46 21 38 67%
6 2012 49.8% 2500 43* 21* 38 42%
7 2013 49.2% 2500* 43 22 39 36%
8 2013 50.2% 2700 43 22 37 45%
9 2013 49.3% 2500* 43* 21* 38 41%

* Educated Guess

While the batch information is certainly important, this range is all about the casks themselves. Let’s take a look at the data I’ve collected about the individual batches in more detail. Here’s a sample of cask information I have on Batch 8, one of my favorite batches in the range.

TABLE B: Batch 8 Cask Details
Order Cask No. Type Size Year Age
1 15917 Bourbon Hogshead 1970 43
2 14827 Bourbon Hogshead 1972 41
3 7049 Bourbon Hogshead 1973 40
4 15338 Bourbon Hogshead 1975 38
5 6333 Bourbon Hogshead 1976 37
6 5825 Bourbon Hogshead 1978 35
7 1636 Bourbon Hogshead 1981 32
8 887 Bourbon Hogshead 1982 31
9 486 Bourbon Hogshead 1991 22
10 12614 Sherry Butt 1970 43
11 13128 Sherry Butt 1971 42
12 8587 Sherry Butt 1973 40

See what I’m saying? Some incredible whisky went into this release.

What about the price? Let’s explore 30 and 40 year old Balvenie today. The 30 Year official release retails for around $1,000 in the US while the 40 year hovers around the $5,000 mark. Those big age statements command a huge asking price. These Tun 1401 barrels sold as single casks would likely retail for $20,000-$30,000 each in today’s market.

Because of the younger barrel added to each batch, Tun 1401 never carried an age statement but I always tell people you could causally call these releases “35ish year old whisky”. Tun 1401 batches retailed for $249 in the US and I often found bottles for under that retail price on shelves. I only ever paid over retail price for Batch 5 which was unattainable for me without going through international channels.

The range was discontinued in 2014 in favor of Tun 1509, a marrying vessel with four times the capacity of Tun 1401. I created this image soon after to express my true sorrow.

Gone but not forgotten.

Blind Tasting The Entire Range

The idea to blind taste the entire range at once was a project almost two years in the making. A good portion of that time involved tracking down all nine batches and included a full, year-long tasting ban of any Tun 1401 to reset my palate. I also decided to add in the 2010 release of Balvenie 30 Year to see how it stacked up against Tun 1401. Once the samples were ready, I needed to find a time when my brother and I could taste through ten half-oz samples in one lengthy sitting. That day finally came one December afternoon.

We tasted these samples five at a time in two back-to-back sessions over the course of an afternoon. There were no distractions and we didn’t discuss our notes or impressions of what we were drinking until the tasting was over. If you’d like to play along, I’ve hidden the reveal of each sample so you can try and guess which pour is which. I also decided not to include ratings or scores here. This is my favorite whiskey of all time so including a bunch of 97s, 98s, and 99s out of 100 isn’t particularly insightful in my opinion.

With that, here are the results of the only blind tasting ever done on the entire Balvenie Tun 1401 range.

Tasting Notes

Sample A
Category Notes
Appearance Amber
Nose Honey, vanilla, old wood and oil, leather, orange peel, chocolate, maple syrup. Quite floral after time, honeycomb, pear
Taste OAK, fruitcake, vanilla, very sweet, citrus, fresh whipped cream, nutmeg, caramel apples, big cinnamon
Finish Long, spicy, oak, caramel, tons of wood at the end, hints of tropical fruits
Overall Thoughts I think this is a less sherried batch. Lots of citrus in this one. VERY complex and evolved the most over time of all 10 samples.
My Guess Batch 7
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 6

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Sample B
Category Notes
Appearance Dark reddish amber
Nose Big oak, anise, caramel, cacao, malty, spicy, musty basement, old library books, raisin and other dried fruits
Taste Incredible oak and spice, cinnamon, vanilla, honey, cigar box, apricot, more oak, lemon zest, the spiciest batch of A-E
Finish Dry, honey covered wood, maple sap, cherries, vanilla, hint of sherry influence at the end.
Overall Thoughts I'm pretty sure I've had this before. And it's good.
My Guess Batch 5
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 8

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Sample C
Category Notes
Appearance Dark Amber
Nose Sherry up front, chocolate covered cherries, citrus, oak, vanilla, honey, hint of fennel
Taste Sherry spiciness, Christmas spice, almond, reminds me of a port finish, cereal, wood, vanilla, milk chocolate
Finish Lots of spice, and THERE'S that big oak! Lots of bourbony vanilla, hint of fresh mint
Overall Thoughts The most sherry-forward so far. The least house-styled in my opinion. "One of these is not like the others."
My Guess Batch 6
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 7

[collapse]
Sample D
Category Notes
Appearance Dark Amber
Nose Oak in front, vanilla, nutmeg, toasted almond, stewed apples, honeyed sweetness
Taste Oaky and sharp, vanilla, more stewed fruits, chocolate orange candy, almost sour at times, classic Balvenie if you ask me.
Finish Excellent house finish, a huge blast of honey and vanilla.
Overall Thoughts This is almost a nostalgic batch. Reminds me a lot of the single barrel releases, especially the Single Barrel 25.
My Guess 30 Year
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 9

[collapse]
Sample E
Category Notes
Appearance Dark Red/Copper
Nose A dark, dank, old library, leather couches, prunes, tobacco, old oak, hot fudge sundae
Taste Crazy old wood. Like, the woodiest thing ever. Times infinity. Big creamy, vanilla, musty, spicy, almost burnt caramel. Citrus emerges eventually, some allspice as well.
Finish More oak, earthy, lost of spice, chocolate bordering on cappuccino, hint of pepper.
Overall Thoughts The woodiest whisky I've had. The best of A-E (slightly better than B)
My Guess Batch 7
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 5

[collapse]
Sample F
Category Notes
Appearance Amber
Nose Honey and sherry, heavy oak, cigar box, spicy.
Taste Lost of sherry and spice, oaky, vanilla, apples, cinnamon, sugary sweet this time. Smells like a lumber yard.
Finish Lots of honey, sherry, vanilla, and oak. Repeat.
Overall Thoughts Sticks to the house style with more sherry influence. Not as good as D.
My Guess Batch 8
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 2

[collapse]
Sample G
Category Notes
Appearance Dark Amber
Nose Back to dark and musty. Leather-bound book, maple, oaky, dried fruits, a bit spicy. Surprisingly floral for the "dark style".
Taste Big oak, leathery, lots of vanilla, honey, a hint of citrus, malty.
Finish A (relatively) subdued finish. Woody, old, spicy. A bit of anise in the back.
Overall Thoughts In the same dark vein as B and E but not as good as either. Disappointing finish.
My Guess Batch 2
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 4

[collapse]
Sample H
Category Notes
Appearance Amber
Nose Spice up front with oak following. Nutmeg, clove, raisins, dried cherries, oak, vanilla. Oak takes a back seat to spice for once.
Taste More spice, pumpkin pie style spice here, cinnamon, oak, vanilla, sherry, dried cherries.
Finish Guess what? More spice, vanilla, mulling spices, sherry.
Overall Thoughts I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is the spiciest of the bunch. Needs better balance.
My Guess Batch 9
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 1

[collapse]
Sample I
Category Notes
Appearance Amber
Nose Honey and vanilla (house style alert!), oaky, bourbony, chocolate, bready/doughy
Taste Big honey sweetness, oak, vanilla, lots of spice, pencil shavings, overripe bananas.
Finish Typical Balvenie finish. Tons of honey, spice, hint of coconut, citrus.
Overall Thoughts Another house style-centered sample. Exactly as good as D.
My Guess Batch 4
Reveal
Spoiler

30 Year

[collapse]
Sample J
Category Notes
Appearance Dark Amber
Nose Dark and musty like a basement, dark dried fruit, figs and prunes, tobacco. Jesus…
Taste Leathery, cigar box, aromatic, botanicals, prunes, the age is VERY apparent, some honey in the back
Finish Big tobacco, leather, earthy, fennel, vanilla, oak in the back.
Overall Thoughts The darkest of them all. Almost TOO dark. Almost. Sometimes reminded me of an ACID cigar. I like B and E better.
My Guess Batch 1
Reveal
Spoiler

Batch 3

[collapse]

Results

As it turns out, I seem to gravitate toward the more heavily sherried releases in Batches 5 and 8. These batches were also UK market batches. They saved the really good stuff for themselves it seems. I was also surprised to learn that the incredibly rare and expensive Batch 1 was not even in my top five.

Batch 3 had a tough slot in the lineup. I wonder if my palate was too fatigued to be able to properly evaluate this heavy hitting batch after nine other samples. I had some Batch 3 recently and was once again blown away by it. I’d be really curious to see how this experiment would have played out in a different order.

Adding the 30 Year into the lineup proved to be quite interesting. I found the 30 to be extremely similar to Batch 9. At the time of its, Batch 9 was retailing for about 25%-35% of the cost of the 30 Year.

My brother and I didn’t totally agree on our rankings but we both had batches 5, 6, and 8 in our top five and both had batches 1 and 7 in our bottom three.

This probably goes without saying, but if you ever get the opportunity to try this amazing whisky, I would HIGHLY recommend it.

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4 comments

Raymond Martinelli March 30, 2020 - 2:40 pm

Will this be available in Canada?

Reply
singlemaltsavvy March 30, 2020 - 9:15 pm

Hi Raymond. Unfortunately, the entire series was discontinued in 2014. Tun 1509 is the successor to the 1401 range and is available worldwide.

Reply
Olaf Karlinsky March 31, 2020 - 3:28 am

Hi Chris (?), what a amazing story. Congratulations for it. I’m a Balvenie lover as well and I’m looking for details about the different bottlings for quite a lot of years. Please let me add something to your story.
Not many people know (exept some distillery visitors) that the batch 10 was still in the TUN 1401 for marrying and you could take a nose of it during the tour. Then Balvenie decided not to release this batch. Why? I don’t know ! Perhaps the TUN 1401 was broken (the years later it was gone!) or the sales dept. has had different ideas …
There is a rumor: The whisky of TUN 1401 Batch 10 was filled into TUN 1858 and then later released in batch 3 of this Taiwan only bottling.

Reply
singlemaltsavvy April 7, 2020 - 10:04 am

Hi Olaf, thanks for the kind words. There was absolutely a 10th batch maturing in Tun 1401 when the series was discontinued. While there has never been any official confirmation about what happened to it, I have it on good authority that it is indeed Tun 1858 Batch 3. I can’t explain why they made the decision to do this but it’s nice to know that it made it to market somewhere!

Reply

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