October 8, 2012
The Balvenie, still one of my favorite distilleries, recently launched a big-brother expression to go with their wildly popular 12 year-old DoubleWood. An additional 5 years of maturation in traditional ex-Bourbon oak casks, followed by a similar short (less than a year) dunk in ex-sherry European oak, gives a perfect balance of fruit, oak, and malt. Skeptics might wail about the relatively brief sherry maturation (considering some malts, such as The Macallan and GlenDronach are aged exclusively in sherry for their entire maturation periods), but it’s my opinion that The Balvenie’s house style is so light, subtle, and elegant that it needs only a dip in sherry to realize its full potential. Several years in ex-sherry would, I believe, wash out the distillery characteristics of heather and honey and would yield only a bland fruit-punch of a malt. The world is full of sherry-bombs, The Balvenie is all about subtlety and finesse.
Released to celebrate Malt Master David Stewart’s 50 years at The Balvenie, The 17 year-old DoubleWood is a straightforward upgrade to its 12 year-old younger brother. More time in ex-bourbon yields deeper oak flavors and turns an already smooth malt into silk. Alas, in these times of inflated whisky pricing and rabid demand for special-editions, it should be no surprise to anyone that the 17’s suggested retail is a whopping $129 US. Ouch. If you’ve got the scratch, though, or can find it for under $99, it’s a truly transcendent malt and a straight-up improvement over the already excellent 12-year DoubleWood in every facet.
Nose: Juicy black cherry, honey lozenges, apple cider, light heathery florals, and a very faint raw green banana. A pleasure to nose, with layers of fruit and light, airy malt. Elegant and polished, with no blemishes whatsoever. A rest in the glass releases more fresh banana and an undercurrent of oatmeal with brown sugar. This is banana I can get behind!
Palate: Medium-bodied. Fruit on the entry, with tart apples and cherries again. Evolves into creamy grain and graham crackers. So easy-drinking.
Finish: A little on the short side, but very nice honey-sweet notes and some lingering vanilla oakiness. Leaves you with an impression of quality and finesse.
With Water: Water picks up the nose tickle, but doesn’t yield much else. No need for water with this one.
Overall: Tastes to me like a cross between the usual 12 year-old DoubleWood and the 15 single-barrel. While the extra age is apparent, I would have said it was the same age as the 15-year in a blind tasting. That said, the marriage of elegant light bourbon-aged Balvenie malt with a cavalcade of fresh sweet fruit from the brief dip in sherry barrels is spot-on, like the 12 DoubleWood with a little more of everything that makes it great, a bit more refined, and less bitter oak on the finish. A pleasure, but at this price point – definitely a splurge.