Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Whisky Review: Balvenie 12 Year Doublewood 40% vs. 43%

Balvenie is the crown jewel of William Grant & Sons, outshining the more pedestrian Glenfiddich and nearly unknown Kininvie and Aisla Bay. Balvenie is the 'classier' single malt, with a more boutique market position and a price point to match. Justifying some of the extra expense, it maintains its own floor maltings, which provide somewhere around 10-15% of their requirements.

The 12 Year Doublewood is currently Balvenie's entry-level single malt, which is initially aged in ex-bourbon casks, then transferred to sherry casks for a few months before the casks are blended together and proofed down for bottling. There are two versions, one at 40% and one at 43%, which made me wonder if they are significantly different.

Doublewood 40%

Nose: a solid dose of American oak, caramel, graham crackers, light sherry and malt, grassy, cinnamon. After adding a few drops of water the malt notes become strong while the sherry and oak are softer and something a bit soapy comes out.

Taste: bittersweet sherry and oak up front, honey, vanilla, mint, and malt in the background throughout, sliding into a mellow and slightly muted finish. After dilution the sherry is slightly amplified over the oak, but it's initially somewhat thin overall - only gains strength with time in the glass.

Finish: sherry and oak residue, honey, malt, vanilla, mint

While this is a perfectly acceptable whisky, it's only a half step up from its sibling Glenfiddich 12 Year and roughly comparable with Glenfiddich 15 Year Solera. In no small part I think that's the result of the low bottling strength, which lets down what is already a fairly delicate malt. It could be more robust and interesting at 46% without chill filtration, but we're unlikely to see that as long as sales remain high.

Doublewood 43%

Nose: balanced malt, sherry, vanilla, and oak, honey, grassy/herbal/floral. After adding a few drops of water the oak becomes less prominent and the malt is softer, with more honey and grassy notes.

Taste: balanced malt and sherry throughout with moderately tannic oak in the background, some green/grassy notes around the middle, more robust and dank bittersweet sherry going into the finish. After dilution it becomes sweeter and less tannic, with brighter sherry notes and more malt throughout.

Finish: oak tannins, sherry residue, clean malt

While the structure is similar between this and the 40% version, the extra 3% alcohol (despite the fact that some of the mini evaporated) makes a significant difference. The aromas and flavors are far more robust and make it far more drinkable. It's possible that this is also due to the fact that I bought the mini in late 2011, when Balvenie had deeper stocks and was able to use longer sherry finishes. While I still prefer the balance of Founder's Reserve with its better-integrated sherry and reduced oak, time has made this version of Doublewood seem more competent in comparison to other entry-level malts available at the moment.

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