Monday, February 11, 2019

Whisky Review: Balvenie 21 Year Portwood

Balvenie is one of a small clutch of Scottish distilleries that are able to command genuinely impressive prices for their products. While everything has come up pretty significantly over the last decade, you really have to hand it to them, Macallan, and Highland Park for consistently getting people to pay 50-100% more than others are charging for comparably aged malts. Sure, there's also Springbank, but they aren't backed by corporate money and demand really outstrips supply.

So while others often have a fairly big jump between their 17-18 year old releases and their 21 year old releases, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find Balvenie's for much under $200 these days. That is a lot of money, however you cut it.

This whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks for most of its life, then finished in port casks for a relatively short period of time and bottled at 43% with chill filtration and maybe a little coloring.

Balvenie 21 Year Portwood

Nose: a pleasant overlay of port, honey, gentle grassy malt, pink floral notes, orange peel, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water the port notes become stronger, the honey turns into molasses, and the floral notes are toned down.

Taste: moderately sweet throughout, floral overtones in the middle, vanilla, herbal malt, and creamy port near the back. After dilution it becomes thicker and the port notes are stronger, but most of the sweetness and complexity is lost, leaving somewhat cardboard-y malt and oak.

Finish: floral, dry malt, background port

I don't think this sample has held up too well, especially since I noticed that the fill level had gone down appreciably, losing a few milliliters in the process. With that said, the experience was consistent with the couple of times I've tried it before - a pleasant but less than particularly engaging malt.

Perhaps ironically this is one of the few port finished whiskies that I've enjoyed, since I usually find those casks end up being too sweet and overbearing. Here it provides a lot overlay on Balvenie's spirit, accenting it without overwhelming it.

With all that said, there's absolutely no way I would ever by a full bottle of this whisky. There is a legion of single malts that I would rather be drinking and I could buy several of them for the price this tends to go for. If you are particularly enamored with Balvenie's style this is a classic example, but they really make you have to want it.

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