Balvenie 12 Year DoubleWood: 43% abv
Background: Balvenie, as we have talked about before, is a Speyside single malt owned by Grant and Sons, the same group that owns Glenfiddich. We talked about the fact that Glenfiddich 12 Year and Balvenie 12 Year aren’t very similar in taste due to the commanding difference in sherry influence between the two. To add on more details about the distillery itself, not only does Grant and Sons own Balvenie as a company, but William Grant actually founded Balvenie in 1892. Balvenie as a distillery has gotten to be quite large, at a capacity of 5.6M liters a year. Balvenie has a lot of their own original bottlings, with a healthy core range to choose from. Last year, we reviewed the Balvenie 14 Year Caribbean Cask whisky, an exclusive US edition single malt. Besides this and the DoubleWood, they have a 10 Year, a 15 Year Single Barrel, a 12 Year Single Barrel, a 17 Year DoubleWood, a 17 Year Peated cask, a 21 Year Port Wood cask, and several older whiskies. The 12 Year, which is aged in both American Bourbon casks and European sherry casks, is distinctively like Aberlour 12 Year, but they are by no means the same. This leads us to our review section. We will now tell you about tasty smelly stuff:
Nose: The nose on this whisky starts off with a dense blend of different flavors, including some subtle notes of Oloroso sherry, subtle tartness, nice raisony richness, and moderate malt character. This definitely has a contrast of notes on display. The Oloroso does bring out some slight nuttiness, and there is a surprising harshness that makes nosing this single malt somewhat challenging. There is a sense of bitterness that comes through in this, with harsh grain notes and a thick oak flavor. There is even a small hint of botanicals and floral notes that tickle the nose when you start to get further into the experience. As far as fruits go, there is a sweet orange citrus flavor that helps add character. Overall, this is a pretty satisfactory introduction to this Balvenie.
Arrival: The arrival definitely starts off grainy with a slight hint of sweetness. The grain is thick and creamy malt, and it reminds me a lot of anCnoc in that sense. There is a combination of vanilla and honey that get into the beginning here, with a subtlety of white wine coming through. Even still, the arrival is very woody and holds back on any sense of sherry. There is a slight harshness in the arrival, with a little bit of cinnamon leading into the body. There is also an earthy, herbal character coming through.
Body: The body finally introduces the sherry, and although it does not come across as over-dominant, there is certainly a sense that the whisky has the raison-esque quality of an Oloroso, with some minimal nuttiness creeping into the taste buds as well. There is still some vanilla and malt coming through. At this point, you will taste an earthy, rooty taste in the whisky. There is definitely a small amount of the citrus from the nose sneaking into the body, which helps keep it prominent and fresh. The body in this whisky actually lasts for a little bit.
Finish: The finish powers in with some dominant black pepper bitterness, strong burn and residual graininess. The graininess feels strained and flavorless here, not like the fresh flavor you get in the arrival. There is a fleeting notion of vanilla and sherry that dwindles away much faster than the bitterer aftertaste that lingers onward. It certainly contains an earthy, almost chicory flavor to it. The herbal tastes from the body carry over into the finish, and it makes for a good blend of sweet sherry and almost oily, modestly salty character to contrast.
Nose: After giving the whisky some time to merry with a few splashes of water, the initial nosing reveals a honey-sweet, malty, sherry-dominant aroma. There is still some harshness in the nose, but it isn’t terribly overpowering. Some of the other flavors get a little bit washed out at this point.
Arrival: Although a bit lighter, the arrival is more sweet now and generally less intimidating. The sherry is replaced with a more agave-like flavor, and the complexity goes away quite a bit.
Body: The orange flavor still sits strong here, along with some hints of honey and sherry. There is a strong presence of sweetness, but the bitterness that we knew before comes back after just a little while. Although it’s hard to be sure, it almost feels as if this happens quicker after adding water. The body is rather dumbed down after adding water.
Finish: There is a nice sweetness that comes through now, which helps to balance out the heavy earthy, bitter notes that came through before. Although the presence is a bit watered down, it does help balance the differences out quite a bit. To some degree, there is a slight burnt wood quality that resonates at the end, in an unpleasant way. It is almost ashy without a great flavor.
Final Comments: This is a pretty solid offering by Balvenie, although there are a few things about it that aren’t my favorite. As a casual sipper, it really is a fantastic whisky, but as soon as I get any deeper into it, the flavor becomes a little bit unfavorable at the end. The complexity isn’t horribly impressive, but it isn’t disappointing either. Balvenie definitely runs a higher price than other offerings in its class, and after this review, the 12 Year DoubleWood doesn’t convince me that it is worth the premium, although I would much rather drink this than Glenlivet 12 Year.
Why you’d buy it: You like the mixture of sherry and bourbon cask influences and enjoy the pronounced flavors.
Why you wouldn’t: You are afraid of a little harshness in a whisky, and don’t want to spend your money on a rougher 12 Year.