Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Double Tasting – The Balvenie Double Wood 17yo

A small sample of The Balvenie Aged 17 Years
Who likes The Balvenie? I do and I know many club members do too. This month we see a new release from The Balvenie named The Balvenie Double Wood Aged 17 Years. Though we are seeing it Australia only now I believe the 17yo hit the world market mid to late 2012. Press release materials as well as The Balvenie website outline that this expression is to commemorate the 17th anniversary since the Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland from England by the British Government. So what are more curious about… a 17th anniversary or what is the Stone of Scone? Well to me 17 years is an odd number for an anniversary but I guess anytime can be a anniversary really. The Stone of Scone on the other hand is a rectangular stone used in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland, England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. Being a citizen of the Commonwealth I should have know that and have vague recollections of it in the past history classes, though as it was last used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954 (some time ago),so I guess we can be forgiven for that lapse of memory.

Cracking on, many of you would know of The Balvenie family of whiskies even if you have not tried any. Surprisingly I have met a few people that have never tried The Balvenie though it prices always high in this country and I am sure that has a certain effect. The current family expressions range from the Double Wood 12yo (also reviewed here), Caribbean Cask 14yo, Single Barrel 15yo, Port Wood 21yo, 30yo, 40yo and right through to the big release last year of The Balvenie 50yo (also review here). That is not a bad line up at all and this is just what is on offer right now. In the past we have seen a host of short run releases more often than not at Duty Free/Travel Retail (see the retired family here). I still have a bottle of Golden Cask 14yo yet to open. Seeing a 17yo to now enter the family is no surprise and let us hope we see it for some time to come.

As the name suggests Double Wood is the maturation of the whisky in one cask before transferring into another cask, more often than not of similar size or smaller for finishing. Finishing usually is intended to see the whisky in secondary oak contact for a much shorter time period and to impart minimal additional characteristics such as sweet, spicy or salty notes to name but a few. I posed some questions to our fixer Steve at Weber Shandwick about the process which related how long the whisky saw time in each of the casks. Steve in turn got in contact with David Stewart Malt Master at The Balvenie and he responded as follows (it is always good to get details form the horses mouth so to speak):

"It is American oak casks that we use to age both the 12yo and the 17yo Balvenie before we transfer the whisky to the 1st fill European Oak Sherry casks for the finishing period which on average is nine months for both to create Double Wood. We source our bourbon casks from a number of different suppliers in the US so cannot name the distiller."

A generalisation in the whisky industry now is that ex Sherry and Port casks have become the more common types of wood to finish a whisky in, that we see in the shelves, and they certainly compliment the structure very well. Of course we see many other experiments by other distillers but the results I have found are mixed and not always in my books so successful for general consumption. I am sure though there are some superb golden nuggets out there we are yet to see that have not been tried yet.

As part of this release process we were sent a wee dram to sample in order to taste and relay what we have found. With enough for barely 2 drams El Capitan has help me in the process of examination. Following is our notes as we tasted:
The Balvenie Double Wood Aged 17 Years bottle and packaging

The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 17 Years
Distillery: The Balvenie
Location: Dufftown, Speyside, Scotland
Matured: American Oak
Finished: European Oak ex Sherry
Alcohol: 43%
Colour: Deep Amber

The Baron's review

Nose: Rich sherry, soft vanillas,dried fruits mild vegetation, a hints of cola and overly oily. Interestingly old leathers appear in the nose after tasting which was exactly the same thing that happened when I tried The Balvenie 50yo last year. In short it has a well educated nose.

Taste: Sweet caramels at the beginning with heavy spices on the end. Very oily and mouth coating that continually sits high in the pallet,

Finish: Light and warming with the spices remaining still very high in the throat and pallet.

Overall: This whisky has real legs and sticks to the glass like very few whiskies I have seen. I do find it is missing something at the end but not sure what. I find The Balvenie to always have a high level of complexity. Neither explosive nor subdued it tends to be drunk in isolation of anything else to really appreciate what is on offer. The spice is a lot more in the forefront over the younger 12yo and it would suite a far less excitable older drinker and enthusiasts pallet. I drunk this dram in a matter of minutes.

El Capitan's review

Nose : Super sherry and woody notes very obvious. Light floral bouquet and very sweet toffee. Hint of rose water as well. It smells fabulous to be honest.

Taste : Extremely smooth and easy drinking.  A mellow flavour that is light and tasty although there is an oily nature to it. Lacks a little complexity but don't let that stop you. This whisky is actually delicious and great for those who don't like harshness of some other whiskies.

Finish : Sweet, short burst of flavour.  Some light spicy notes linger on the tongue with little to no warmth. It lacks a little for me here.

Overall: There is nothing wrong with this whisky, it's very enjoyable. Personally, however, I like a little more complexity and depth.  This whisky is for those who want to drink whisky, but need something very mellow and goes down easily. A great introduction whisky for anyone looking to get started, however the price tag will slow you down. I finished my glass far too quickly, which is testament to how tasty it was.  5.5 out of 7

It is enjoyable to try a whisky like this in company and then get it documented as it can show just how close and yet how far apart our pallets can be and what we find as best descriptors for essentially the same thing.

I think credit needs to be due to The Balvenie for the foresight to be able to have so many whiskies, of so many ages, in such a variation of barrels that they can to release choose to release at will. Did anyone think whisky would be where it is now 25 years ago? If this is what The Balvenie had planned 1/4 of a century ago imagine what is coming out in the next 10 to 15years.

Priced as a retail of $170AU this is certainly getting out of the price range of most club members and general public purchasing but I dare say it makes for one of those whiskies suited well as a gift to a whisky appreciator. As always The Balvenie is elegantly packaged and labelled and always holds a level of sophistication about itself.

Thanks to Weber Shandwick and William Grant & Sons providing us with a sample and bringing to our attention this new release for Australia.

The Baron and trusted side kick El Capitan

D.T.W.C. was supplied a sample for review. All views and opinions are our own unless otherwise stated.