The Balvenie PortWood is a marriage of casks of The Balvenie aged for 21 years in ex-bourbon barrels, which have been finished for an additional period – likely a few months – in port pipes. The bottling strength depends on where you buy it. In the UK, it’s 40% ABV. In the US market (at 750ml size), it’s 43%. In Duty Free aka Travel Retail, it’s 47.6% and non-chill-filtered. It’s probably safe to say that Balvenie is using fairly inactive refill…
The “First Fill” on the label, of course, refers to the use of first-fill ex-bourbon casks (casks the previously aged bourbon but haven’t been used for anything else). These first-fill barrels have been used to age Balvenie malt for at least 12 years, and watered down a little bit to a reasonable 47.8% ABV. The whisky is not chill-filtered and has no added coloring (which is obvious by its pale straw appearance).
Uhh. This costs how much? No wonder it was discontinued. With about a quarter of the character of the 12-year DoubleWood, and about a third of the complexity of the 15-year Single Barrel, this is one lame duck of a whisky.
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.
Before you can taste it, though, you’ve got to know how to pick a whisky to try! This post will focus on single-malt scotch, which I think is the best possible place to get your bearings in the wider world of whisky.
A nice, round whisky with an interesting twist. The rum doesn’t come through as “rummy”, but more vegetal and malty. In fact, the expected molasses note doesn’t appear until the tail-end of the finish. That said, it’s a nice, easy-drinking Balvenie with clear malt character.
When your liquor cabinet is bursting at the seams, maybe consider winnowing your bottle count down by “covering the bases” of all the major types of malt whisky, and keeping just one bottle in each category: Peated, Sherried, Lowlander, Wine Finish, Talisker (Skye), Cask Strength, Heathery, World (Irish).
This 12 year-old expression from The Balvenie is aged in first- or second-fill bourbon casks, with up to a further year in first-fill oloroso sherry casks. It stands on its own as a beautiful example of what quality Speyside whisky and careful oak aging can do, and with a fantastic price point.
Rest assured whichever barrel you are drinking from, it will retain The Balvenie’s signature heather-and-honey flavors, and will likely yield up several fruits and flowers for you to identify.