Balvenie 12, Double Wood

Balvenie 12, Double WoodThe venerable Balvenie Double Wood has been the gateway whisky for legions of single malt drinkers. Along with the Macallan 12 it was mine and I still recommend it to people looking to get into single malt whisky. It’s been a long time, however, since I’ve last had it. Partly this is probably on account of my subconsciously wanting to separate myself from “beginner” status; and partly it’s because when you get locked into the geek path of trying newer and more esoteric whiskies (and are trying to restrict the number of drinks you have in a day—no more than 1-2 in my case) you find yourself not coming back to the ones you already know quite well. And then it ends up being years since you’ve had it.

The Double Wood, of course, is matured in bourbon and sherry casks—but I’m not entirely sure if it is (or ever was) the case that the spirit is all double matured or if it’s a vatting of some bourbon cask whisky with some sherry cask whisky. And as I don’t have the bottle at hand (this was split) I can’t check to see what the label says. If you know please write in below.

Balvenie 12, Double Wood (43%; from a bottle split with friends)

I tasted this on two separate occasions. My notes for the nose were more or less consistent on both occasions. However, the differences in the palate and finish on the two occasions were enough to change my score and so I’ve marked them below. As to whether the difference was in the state of my palate or in the state of the whisky I’m not sure—I’d taken six ounces as my share of the split, sent two of those to a friend, tasted half of the rest some days later and then the other half a week or so later still. I’d be interested to hear if one or the other set of notes is more in line with other people’s impressions of this malt.

Nose: Orange peel, raisins, roasted malt. Gets sweeter almost right away and the citrus gets brighter—lime first and then lemon. With time there’s just a bit of polished wood. With water it gets muskier and maltier and limier (zest).

Palate 1: Sweet, malty arrival on the palate along with a metallic note but then there’s a big burst of lime which transitions into sweetness again (simple syrup). The metallic note is stronger on the second sip and never quite goes away. Okay, let’s see if water fixes it. Yes, water pushes it back but doesn’t do very good things for the texture or the other notes; it does accentuate the lime.

Palate 2: Similar at first but the metallic note is not as pronounced and there’s far less lime. Instead, it’s more expectedly sherried with orange peel and raisins and just a bit of smoke/roasted malt. The citrus does get brighter with time.

Finish 1: Medium-long. As the lime and sweetness wash out oak emerges and expands; some of that roasted malt/coffee show up as well late and it gets more bitter as it goes. With water the sweeter notes hang out longer, mixed in with the bitter notes but it doesn’t quite add up to anything interesting.

Finish 2: As on the palate, there’s far less bitterness on the finish this time and the roasted malt is joined here by orange.

Comments: I quite liked the nose but that metallic thing on the palate really brought it down on the first occasion (though water did get it under control). Much better on the second occasion but still not as good as I remember it being. Was this better a decade ago? Or was I more easily pleased?

Rating: 80 points the first time, 83 points the second.


10 thoughts on “Balvenie 12, Double Wood

  1. Double Wood is finished whisky. Founder’s Reserve and Signature were marriages of bourbon and sherry casks. I think that’s why the latter two have been dropped – it’s more expensive to fully mature whisky in sherry casks and then blend them together than it is to do cask finishes for a few months. I also have a feeling this is part of why I thought FR was the superior product.


  2. When I get a metallic note in a spirit it’s generally because I’m feeling a bit sub-par (an impending cold, overly tired, or the like).

    Occasionally I’ll find a metallic note in poor quality spirits, but I’d be rather surprised to find that in the Doublewood.


    • Sometimes it’a signal of the dread fake tan to me; but as it was so much more muted on the second go-around I am willing to say that my palate was not up to par on the first occasion. Which raises again the question of the value of single (small) sample reviews.


  3. “During Maturation, The Balvenie DoubleWood is Transferred from a Traditional Whisky Oak Cask to an Original Sherry Oak Cask, thereby Acquiring Character from each Cask.” [Upper case letters sic.] No word on how long in each–finished, double-matured, take your pick. Many will regard that distinction as splitting hairs, anyway.

    As it happens, I just recently found a 20cl bottle of this, from one of those 3 x 20cl boxes, buried here in the Midden Heap. It was purchased in 2005 at Gordon & MacPhail in Elgin. I intend to open it soon.


  4. “but I’m not entirely sure if it is (or ever was) the case that the spirit is all double matured or if it’s a vatting of some bourbon cask whisky with some sherry cask whisky. ”

    I went on their tour last week, and the guide told me that the doublewood is matured in bourbon mostly, and then transferred to sherry casks for the final 8 months of maturation.


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