Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: The Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Where we made the fire,
In the summer time,
Of branch and briar
On the hill to the sea
I slowly climb
Through winter mire,
And scan and trace
The forsaken place
Quite readily.

Now a cold wind blows,
And the grass is gray,
But the spot still shows
As a burnt circle--aye,
And stick-ends, charred,
Still strew the sward
Whereon I stand,
Last relic of the band
Who came that day!

Yes, I am here
Just as last year,
And the sea breathes brine
From its strange straight line
Up hither, the same
As when we four came.
- But two have wandered far
From this grassy rise
Into urban roar
Where no picnics are,
And one--has shut her eyes
For evermore.

The above is a poem, entitled Where The Picnic Was,  by an English poet, Thomas Hardy.  I sometimes think of it at this time of year.  Trees turning yellow, red and even purple.  Lawns strewn with dry leaves, time passing by, winter approaching, kinda like my life moving along.

I stare out at my backyard, pictured above, and sip The Balvenie Doublewood, a 12 year old single malt.  I am ambivalent about the Fall season.  Can't say I look forward to this time of year.  I am also ambivalent about Balvenie Doublewood.

The Balvenie is not terrible by any means.  It's an average to above average 12 year old single malt scotch.  Sometimes I drink it and think it has some complexity of flavor that is on the cusp of greatness.  If only it just had a little more.  Other times, it tastes simple, flat, one-dimensional.  Many people love it and I have had a couple of readers email me for my review and gently chiding me for not posting one sooner.  So, here goes . . .

Nose (undiluted)
Roses, sherry and vanilla pleasantly drifts up from the glass.

Palate (undiluted)
Playful call and response between sherry and oranges.  Nice raisin, orange chocolate.  Some flavor complexity, but not a lot.

Finish (undiluted)
What you are left with is the lingering taste of malted barley and lightly salted, dark, orange chocolate. There is a red winey (probably not a real word, but you know what I mean: wine like) character that works well. 

Add Water?
No improvement with adding water.  Not recommended.

Price Point
Reasonable.  You are getting good value for your dollar.  Competitors include GlenDronach "Original" 12 years which is usually priced lower.  Which is better?  Hard to say.  My gut reaction is to reach for the GlenDronach 12, given the lower price and comfort food level the flavor profile delivers.

Another competitor that comes to mind is the Spice Tree by the Compass Box Whisky Company.  It is a sherried blend of single malts with no age statements that is slightly cheaper in price, and frankly outshines the Balvenie in my opinion.  Not by a lot, but a little nonetheless.

General Impressions
This is a subtle whisky.  The flavorful nuances can get lost in a noisy bar.  You have to pay attention to this dram to pick up all of the aforementioned flavors.  If caught in conversation, at the ballpark, football stadium (go Patriots!) or nipping while golfing (not recommended if trying to improve one’s handicap), then it is quite easy to regard it as rather simple:  sherried dram with some oranges and chocolate

Balvenie Doublewood seesaws between interesting complexity to appearing somewhat one dimensional.  This is not the fault of the whisky, but rather you or I and our choice of meal.  I am convinced that if I have spicy nachos, Thai food or hell, a bag of barbecue chips and a Budweiser, my tongue will be so desensitized, that a somewhat complex dram like this will taste simple.  That is my fault, not the whisky’s.  Some whiskies shine through no matter what poor culinary choices you make.  Not so with Balvenie Doublewood.  It is moody, ambiguous, kinda like the Fall season with its moments of sunshine and warmth of the sun only to be obscured by clouds moving in and threatening an overcast sky.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved.


  1. I really liked your preamble to the review. Any time you can work poetry into a write up, it works for me. As for the Balvenie, I have always been a huge fan of the 10 year. It was one of the few single malts younger than 12 years that hit all the right spots for me. In my view it was a real pity that the ten was discontinued in favour of the 12 year Doublewood.

    I think your review of the 12 is very fair. I find it to be a less interesting Malt than the old ten was, inspite of the two styles of oak used. In fact, I feel like the 12 should be put back into the oak to let the two styles of whisky marry for a time and perhaps become more than they were instead of less.

  2. Jason, try the Doublewood on cracked ice. In my experience, it's one of the few drams that improves (and quite a bit) when enjoyed this way as the flavors it contains merge better and it seems to acquire a richness it otherwise lacks. Just don't let it sit too long in the glass and dilute.

    Paul M.

  3. Chip, you are one of several people who have told me the same about the 10yr old.

    Paul, I will. Sometimes water will not work, but ice does. I will experiment!

  4. Jason,

    Thoough I like this neat, I do find it a little hot in the finish. I just tried this with my whisk(e)y stones and it really brings out the better flavor characteristics while taming the heat a little.

    Scott T

  5. Hi Scott, I have never found Balvenie Doublewood to be hot on the finish, but hey everyone is different. In any case, yes the whisky stones certainly would calm down a hot finish.

  6. jason,

    Actually last night was the first time I had DW in a while, and I didn't notice it as I did when I had first opened the bottle so perhaps it likes the air. But the stones did change the flavor profile enough to make it interesting, but I liked it a lot either way.

  7. Recently picked this up at the local BevMo on sale for $45 US and after a couple of drams, I find it quite enjoyable when you just want to knock back some quality whisky and not feel compelled to wax poetic about it.

    Is it challenging? No. Is it a unique taste sensation? No. Is it the bottle I would want if stranded on a deserted isle? No. But it is comfortable, like a pair of loose fitting shorts, baggy t-shirt and flip flops. Once my recent purchase is gone, I will likely buy again.

  8. The Balvenie Signature 12 is the successor to the Balvenie 10 but I've never tried the Founder's Reserve so I can't compare the two. My only gripe is that it's the same price as the 14 year Caribbean Cask (about $60). The only reason I bought a bottle was to try it.

  9. Jason,

    I agree on your review of the Doublewood. I want to add one thing I happened to notice...I had eaten some very spicy Mexican food for dinner and not wanting to waste a dram of my more preferable malts I poured a glass of the Doublewood (I had given up on it). Started sipping and took a "Double"take--excuse the pun. This malt really comes alive after a spicy meal, and i mean exactly that...the malty sweetness comes to the forefront and seems to balance out the profile.


  10. OOOOH Jason, subtle is being kind to this dram. Just finished a four month rather disappointing expedition through a bottle of Doublewood. Of all the servings in the bottle, I'd estimate that I really enjoyed 2 of them (and that just sucks for $50+ investment in anything). It was so underwhelming and non-distinct for such a well regarded whisky. I was so confounded by my experience I went in search of the 'bad bottle' concept to no avail. Water, newly neat or lots of air time, one cube, three, nothing made it come out and say, "Have more of me". I got a lot of upfront alcohol burn without much flavor, just faintly sweet, and then a bitter fade. When I described what I remembered it was like 2 yrs ago on anniversary in Lake Geneva, WI, my sales guy recommended Aberlour 12: he was spot on, definitely now my Speyside of choice. If I have to have Balvenie, I'll get my share for $25 less in the Monkey Shoulder.

    1. Subtle is what this is at best if you really pay attention to it.

      I can fully understand how many people may find Balvenie Doubelwood to be boring. But, as a started dram for a novice or a knowledgeable malt head who wants to take it down a notch, Doublewood works.

  11. Let's go up a step then.... Tried the 14 and 17 versions yet? .... The 17 has dropped from $163 down to $137.... That being said... I'm leaning towards the Oban for the next 'try'...
    AL(from OZ)

    1. I am not terribly familiar with the Balvenie product line other than the 12 yr and 21 yr.

      They have a 14yr old in Caribbean cask that does not ring my bell.

  12. I heard your update on Balvenie 12 Doublewood on youtube. 'Unexceptional' as you say. I would be hard put to find a better word for this good but not great malt. You are no longer in a minority. I am with you!
    Cragganmore Distiller's Edition is not available here. The only port finish I have had is Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 14 and I liked it. You too have found it nice but not the NAS Nectar D'Or. Yet I went ahead and tried it and was sorely disappointed. Curiosity got the better of commonsense. But next time I shall surely listen to you.
    My latest acquisition is Aultmore 12 and, like you, I just loved it. Refreshing different and as you say 'Highly. highly recommended. Now there is a bottle of Aultmore 18 that costs two and a half times as much as Aultmore 12. Is it worth the price? Do let me know. I shall listen to you this time!
    Regards, and thanks for all the useful tips!
    Nazir Edul