I’ve not reviewed very many Balvenies over the years (only 10 total and only a handful in the last 4-5 years). There was a time when their 12 yo Double Wood was a regular in my rotation but that was a long time ago. It seems to be available for a relatively reasonable price in Minnesota. Should I give it a go? I do know I wasn’t terribly impressed the last time I tried it but it may have improved since, I suppose. I was also a huge fan a decade ago of their 15 yo Single Barrel series that was all from bourbon casks (here’s the only one I’ve reviewed). But that got replaced by a hot sherry bomb that cost a lot more and which I was not very impressed with the first time I tried it, though I did like the second cask I tried better. The Balvenie I’m reviewing today is also sherried, albeit the sherry comes in only via a finish: it spends some time in PX casks after initial maturation in American oak (presumably ex-bourbon) casks. It was/is a Travel Retail exclusive, which makes it a bit surprising both that it has an age statement and that it’s at a good drinking strength of 48.7%. How much of its 18 years it spends in either cask type I’m not sure, but here’s hoping the finish is well-integrated. Let’s see.
Balvenie 18, PX Finish (48.7%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Bright citrus with leaves, a bit of brine, some cereals and a bit of dusty oak. With time there’s some raisin and some orange peel. With a few drops of water there’s a bit of cream, edging into milky cocoa.
Palate: Comes in with the oak leading the way but otherwise it’s more or less the same mix. A good drinking strength and texture. Begins to get richer as I swallow. More oak with each sip and a bit of orange peel but nothing else that’s very interesting. Okay, let’s see if water improves things. Well, it pushes the oak back a bit but I can’t say it brings out anything very interesting here.
Finish: Long. It’s here that the sherry character builds with raisins, a bit of pipe tobacco and dried orange peel. Alas, the sherry separates a few seconds in and the dominant note at the end is of cooking sherry. Some improvement on the sherry separation front with time. Water is best for the finish as the whole integrates better and the richer notes of raisin and orange peel expand past the oak.
Comments: Not the rich sherry bomb I was expecting and, on the whole, more evidence that it’s hard to find good values in Travel Retail. Though I gather this was/is not priced anywhere near the vicinity of what might be considered “good value” to begin with.
Rating: 82 points.