Sunday, February 21, 2010

Scotch Whisky Review: The Balvenie DoubleWood 12

The Balvenie PortWood 21 is one of my absolute favorite scotch whiskies, so I had high hopes for this much less expensive bottling. Unfortunately it did not live up to them; it's certainly not bad, but it just doesn't have a lot of virtues. I noted some cigar magazines and blogs that reviewed it favorably and pointed out that it would go very well with certain cigars. I don't doubt that, but on its own it just isn't exciting.

This whisky is aged in the usual ex-bourbon cask. I couldn't find details on The Balvenie site, but some reviews I came across claim that it spends ten years in the ex-bourbon cask and then another two years in a Oloroso sherry casks. In the glass, it has a slightly dark maple syrup or burnt orange hue. It clings well, with short legs.

To evaluate the nose, I tried for some minutes to snort up anything really complex or subtle, but there wasn't a lot there. There is some oak, possibly a hint of cedar chest, the usual malt and vanilla, a little bit of tobacco smoke, and maybe a very faint lemon peel or fresh fruit note; I was reminded just a little bit, oddly, of blueberries.

In the mouth, there is a big wave of sherry flavors; it is reminiscent of maple, and of tawny port. It's quite sweet, with a long, warm, drying finish. I prefer this one with a little water; it takes down some of the sweetness. But on the whole, this one just isn't impressive enough to really savor. I'm sure I could find a really blockbuster tawny port for the same price that would be much more complex and flavorful. So, this one only gets a 7.0, not because it has any particular vices, but because it lacks virtues.

Skimming some online reviews, I seem to be out of the mainstream in my rating of this one; other reviewers mention "walnuts" and "honeysuckle" which I could be convinced of, various flowers and spices (which I can't find at all). It's enough to make me wonder if we're really tasting the same whisky!


Dr. Whisky said...

Hi Paul. This has been one of my favourite whiskies since 2002, when my whisky journey began. Different tastes for differnt mates, I guess.
Just to clarify the maturation on this puppy: Doublewood spends 12 years in refill American oak casks and then 9 months in sherry butts. Did you have literature that explined the process as you posted it?

Paul R. Potts said...

Dr. Whisky, thanks for your comment.

Several reviews I found online claim 10 + 2 years (not 2 + 10 as I wrote -- apparently I got confused between the reading and the writing). I was not able to find any verification of your 12 years + 9 months numbers, though -- the Balvenie's site only claims 12 years and two woods but does not break it down.

The PortWood 21 is one of the best whiskies I've ever tasted, and the Single Barrel I also found to be very good. I should try tasting this one again -- maybe my taste buds were just having an off night.

Jason Debly said...

Paul, I agree with your review. Balvenie Doublewood 12 yrs is rather boring. I find that people who like it are often scotch novices.

For me, it lacks complexity of flavor. It just seems to be a lot of sherry.

It's a refined dram, but a tad underwhelming.

Jason Debly said...

Paul, you are correct in saying that your assessment of this single malt is out of the mainstream. But, I think that is refreshing and more importantly accurate.

A lot of the whisky bloggers and review sites are not truly independent of the whisky industry. This is why you would be challenged to find a negative or less than enthusiastic review of any scotch.

Keep up the good work. The readers need more honest reviews like yours and less of the promotional material found on other sites.

Dr. Whisky said...

Jason, I hear your point, and you know how it strikes home for me especially, but it is total BS man.
The critic should not ever assume himself a judge set to evaluate creating "negative reviews". And if so, all that matters are his integrity and credentials which may or may not include having worked in the whisky industry. After all, who knows whisky better than the whisky makers? Are you suggesting that Bill Lumsden and David Stewart and Jim McEwan etc shouldn't be the panelists in the IWSC or ISC or whatever?
Independence does nothing to guarantee objectivity, qualifications and integrity of the critic do. Just because Lucas of Edniburgh Whisky Blog or Tim at The Whisky Exchange work "in the whisky industry" and get free samples, to suggest that their integrity is compromised is a benign simplification at best. And if you are talking about other bloggers (ahem) then... i dunno... seriously?
Also, your dergogatory suggestion that Doublewood is often liked by Scotch novices is so banal it stinks of posturing.
But we do agree on one thing: Paul, keep sticking your nose in glasses, brother.

Paul R. Potts said...

Did somebody say "free samples?"

Jason Debly said...

Dr Whisky,

It is all a matter of one's taste and of course that will vary from person to person. However, when whisky critics review spirits and never have a negative review, that does not compute. If we accept the proposition that no one reviewer can possibly like all the single malts or blends on the market, then how is it that their reviews do not express any negative reviews?

For example, I dislike intensely Grant's Family Reserve. It's weak, lacking in flavor and compared to other economy blended scotch whiskies, it is very weak. Of course, that is merely my opinion. But, in whisky books, magazines and online, I challenge you to find a negative review (other than mine). I cannot be the only person in the entire world that thinks Grant's Family Reserve is crap. So, how does one explain this phenomemon?

Just because someone is a master blender does not mean I must accept their opinions as the final statement or even correct. Certainly, they know a lot about the production and subtleties of taste, but their tastes may not accord with mine own, and therefore, for my personal interests are not accurate.

As for panelists of ISC, etc., I am not saying industry people can't be on it, but one should weigh that. Moreover, maybe a total industry outsider might be helpful.

But Dr. Whisky, I understand that you are a brand ambassador for a major distillery. I think when you review your own product line I need to bear that in mind. If you are not in the employ of the industry or not a brand ambassador, I withdraw the remark or await clarification from you.

The public relies on a reviewer for an assessment of a whisky. If that reviewer receives the whisky for free to review or compensation in other forms, don't you think that can affect the objectivity of their review? I think so, and so do many many people who emailed me when I discussed this point on my blog.

Anyway, nice debate, and yes, I still think Balvenie DW is preferred by novices. Do you perchance work for the owners of the Balvenie? Inquiring minds want to know. . . .


Dr. Whisky said...

Hmmm. I am unsure whether you mean to never have a negative review or unanimously like something? Jason, when all but one response is consistent another conclusion that would be scientifically sound is that the anomoly was made in error, is faulty, and can be disregarded.

I am not saying disregard your opinion, but perhaps you ought to give some credit to the professionals. They didn't come to be so from writing about Mayan history and drinking orange juice. Well, some may have.

Enquiring minds can just google my name, Sam Simmons, and whisky or read my blog to answer your question. Then go back and read all my posts from the beginning of my site noting that I like, and like less, certain whiskies, Balvenie included.

Paul R. Potts said...

Esteemed colleagues,

While I am most flattered to have all the commentary posted on my blog entries, might I request that if you are going to have a side debate with each other, as opposed to engaging me, the blog owner, in conversation, perhaps you could have said conversation in another forum?

Obligatory whisky commentary: my wife and I will be attending a special tasting event put on by Stadium Market here in Ann Arbor on the 26th of April. After the cab ride home, assuming my notes are actually legible, I should have some tasting notes of possible interest!

With respect to the Balvenie DoubleWood 12: again, I will make it a point of tasting it again. I don't claim that my own tastes match everyone's tastes. I reiterate, though, that I have enormous respect for the folks who make The Balvenie, because anyone who could come up with a drink as heavenly as the PortWood 21 is truly a gentleman and a scholar in my book.

Jason Debly said...

Ahh its all whisky. I'm just a hack with opinions and like guys like and Paul who have a forum of some kind.

Congrats on the new addition to the family!