Balvenie 17yr Madeira Cask & Drinking at Home


I’ve decided to take this moment to opine on something that is dear to me: drinking well. Now while this will mean different things to different people at different times, today I want to talk about the selection of our spirits when we imbibe. While we are in a economic downturn right now, it is common knowledge that people are drinking just as much as they were when they were flush, they’ve just opted for less expensive options, and this pains me down to my soul.

A little time ago I posted some Scotch options for Xmas presents and one of the comments that were posted asked why all of the options were so pricy, and why I hadn’t decided to give people many options that were under $75. Now while many of you may whole heartedly agree and loudly proclaim that spending $75, $100 or even $150 is way too much to spend on a bottle of booze, I invite you to do a little math with me.

Figuring that a bottle of hooch has approximately 17 servings, one can deduce that a $120 bottle of quality spirits will cost you approximately seven dollars per serving. Seven dollars.  As a barkeep for many years, I can tell you of the numerous masses that don’t flinch at dropping $15 for a Grey Goose martini, but would seriously balk at paying $120 for a bottle for the home bar. The same goes to the classic cocktail connoisseur that pays $12-$15 for that well designed cocktail. Yet if one thinks of that pricey bottle of booze as an investment into better drinking for the future, a plethora of fabulous bottlings awaits!

Am I saying that one can’t find great spirits for $50, $30 of even $15? Absolutely not (I’m looking at you Rittenhouse bonded). Am I saying that one always has to mix with three digit bottles? Of course not. All I am saying is that if one goes out of their comfort levels to buy a bottle outside of what one would normally pay, not only will you end up drinking better, but on those occasions when you do have a drink at home, you will be able to crack open something “special” and at a fraction of the cost of the drinks that you would imbibe so readily on a Friday night at your favorite watering hole.

I bring this to your attention, because a little while ago I was presented with a wonderful bottling of the elegant and graceful Balvenie 17-year Madeira Cask. As I have been immensely enjoying it over the last two months, I felt that if I just suggested it as a potential future purchase, many of you would look at the price tag and immediately strike it from further thought, but as a bottle that runs around $120, you would be dismissing a wonderful scotch that will only set you back around seven dollars a serving.  And that would be a great shame.

The Balvenie 17-year Madeira Cask is Grace Kelly to a Laphroig’s Mae West. While this isn’t a dram that will wow the lover of Islay’s peat bombs, it will amaze those who dig Speyside’s contributions and it might even convert a bourbon drinker or two. This Balvenie expression has tons of spicy Xmas cake (dried fruits like apple, apricot and fig with nutmeg and cinnamon) followed by a nice long spicy vanillin finish. I find the Madeira finish even more integrated then their well-vaunted Rum finish, and at 17 years the barrel doesn’t overtake the dram, which I feel is beginning to happen with their 21 year Portwood finish. (Having said that, I still wouldn’t throw the Portwood finish out of bed for leaving crumbs, or wood chips as the case may be.)

I’m going to suggest something that may seem like sacrilege to many of you: let’s make a cocktail with this fine spirit! Again, let’s keep in mind that the final cost of this cocktail will come in around $8, a bargain for having a cocktail that you would probably never consider at you local bar. So crack open the seal and let’s prepare a:


1 ¾ oz Scotch
¾ oz Carpano Antica
1/8 oz absinthe
2 dashes Bitter Truth orange bitters
stir with ice
strain into a chilled cocktail glass
(circa 1935)

I had first discovered this twist on a Rob Roy (or perhaps a Bobby Burns) many moons ago in David Wondrich’s wonderful tome, Esquire Drinks. The Borden Chase is named after the American writer born as Frank Fowler who changed his moniker, it is said, after enjoying some Borden Milk while looking across the street at the Chase Manhattan bank. His choice could’ve been a lot worse if he’d had Leigh Valley whilst gazing upon Wachovia, methinks.

While preparing this drink, be careful with the absinthe, as it could quickly overtake the other flavours if poured with a heavy hand and if you can’t find Bitter Truth’s wonderful bitters (and they are available in the US now) Angostura orange will do in a pinch.

I hope that I’ve convinced you that there is value to drinking better, if not at your favorite bar, then at least at your home, and remember, when making cocktails, your end result will only be as good as your weakest link, so let’s not chince out on any of the ingredients!


Picture by:
Jamie Boudreau
Cocktail Whisperer