I drink a lot of questionable spirits in this line of work, from off-brand Irish whiskey to tequila of dubious origin being peddled by celebrities to make a quick buck. So it’s a nice change of pace when I get to review something of which I’ve not only heard a considerable amount but am also actually excited to try… which perfectly describes this bottle of The Balvenie DoubleWood.
In 1886, William Grant invested his entire life savings into opening the Glenfiddich distillery in North Lanarkshire, Scotland to make scotch whisky. He had been working at the Mortlach distillery but dreamed of opening his own facility one day. The first whisky was successfully run through the Glenfiddich stills on Christmas Day 1887, and the business was launched by selling to distributors who combined this product with that of other distilleries to make the blends that were popular in those days.
His business was successful, and in 1892 he decided to expand to another facility and started converting the Balvenie mansion into a distillery. The process took fifteen months and on May 1st, 1893, the first distillation run at the new Balvenie distillery took place. Like the Glenfiddich distillery, for the first 78 years of operation the whiskey would be combined with other distilleries’ spirits and used to produce blended scotch.
Over the years, William Grant & Sons (as the company would be known) would have many firsts — the first “single malt” scotch from the Glenfiddich distillery, as well as the first distillery to open up to the public for regular tours among others. The Balvenie distillery would continue to receive upgrades and enhancements, including a modern malting floor in 1929, and produced its first single malt whiskey in 1971.
Nearly a century later, in 1990, the Kininvie distillery would finally join the three distilleries that William Grant & Sons continue to operate to this day.
This whiskey starts out as a pretty typical single malt scotch. Balvenie uses 100% malted barley for its spirits, all of which is grown locally in their own 1,000 acre barley farm which overlooks the distillery. The barley is malted (a process where it is soaked in water and allowed to sprout), releasing an enzyme that converts the starch in the grain into useable sugar. The malting takes place at Balvenie’s own in-house malting floor and is then kiln-dried to stop the process from continuing.
The malted barley is then milled and fermented to convert the sugar into alcohol, which is pot distilled in Balvenie’s massive copper pot stills to produce the correct concentration of alcohol.
Once the whiskey is produced, for this 12-year DoubleWood version, the newly made spirit is placed into previously used American oak casks for a period of 12 years. Once that round of aging is complete, the whiskey is then moved to previously used sherry casks for an additional nine months of finishing. Following this second round of aging, multiple barrels of whiskey are blended together and allowed to settle for an additional 3 to 4 months, which encourages a more consistent and well rounded flavor. Only after all of that is the whiskey packaged and shipped.
As with most scotch, this whiskey comes packaged in a cardboard sleeve that helps prevent damage in shipping and damage from exposure to sunlight. The branding on the sleeve and the bottle is consistent, with a generously sized white label that sports some elegantly typed information about the distillery and the specific product.
The bottle itself is a rather short and chunky affair, with a straight walled round cylindrical body, rounded shoulder, and a generous sized bulge in the relatively short neck. The bottle is topped off with a wood and cork stopper.
I like the neat and clean appearance of the label, but I think it is just too big. The label almost completely obscures the contents of the bottle, which (especially given the amazing color of this whisky) seems a shame.
This whiskey is a beautiful dark brown color in the glass, more like a deep rust than an amber. Coming off that glass, the very first aroma I smell is the sherry from that second round of maturation. The sweet fruity notes of apricot and cherry with just a touch of lemon zest citrus (the latter probably from the whiskey itself) make for a delicious combination that smells great.
Taking a sip, the whiskey is smooth and delicious, with some malted barley notes front and center. It’s almost like a slice of toasted sourdough bread: just a hint of brown char on top of an otherwise malty flavor. There’s a chocolate aspect in here that kicks in next, which makes it taste like an adult version of Cookie Crisp cereal when all of these flavors combine. From there, the typical scotch lemon citrus makes a strong appearance to add some complexity and balance out those richer flavors, and it ends with more of the sherry-inspired apricot that lasts long into the finish.
Even before you take a sip, something has changed. The aroma coming off the glass is darker and more cereal, closer to the toasted sourdough bread notes that we saw from the flavor. Gone are all of the sherry-inspired fruit notes.
As for the flavor, it seems like, despite their absence in the aroma, the fruit has migrated into the front-and-center flavor. The sherry notes are what come across most strongly at this point, with the honey and sourdough bread aspects taking a back seat. It’s an interesting reversal — but unfortunately, one that reduces the complexity that we saw initially.
This is a fruity, complex, and absolutely delicious experience taken neat. It’s still pretty good with a little bit of ice, but you aren’t getting the full experience there. This whiskey has a lot of flavors to offer if you taste it in the right way, which absolutely justifies the price tag. I’d say that this is roughly comparable to the Dalmore Cigar Malt we reviewed as our 200th review — only significantly cheaper.
|Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch|
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 12 Years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $52.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Just don’t add ice.