Balvenie 12 DoubleWood vs Single Barrel 12

My next dram is from Balvenie, and it’s a favourite of mine, a 12-year-old DoubleWood, a natural go-to, regardless of the occasion. I’m nearly ecstatic that it ‘sort of randomly’ came up as the subsequent pick in this pre-lockdown new adventure. I try and think of what to pair it with. Another Balvenie, of course, but which one? The Caribbean Cask? The Sweet Toast Of American Oak? The Week of Peat? All sound like some great contenders and I’m sure that I will profile them in time, but I want something else. Ah, I know! What about that 12-year-old First Fill Single Barrel which I just noticed in the shop? That settles it! I will run out and I buy it. But first, the music! Now playing: Jason van WykThreads.

The Balvenie 12-year-old DoubleWood is an easy drink at only 40% ABV. Priced at just above £40, it’s also a great entry-level Speyside Scotch for a novice, who’s still finding their way around this complex [and often confusing] world of whisky. Ah, but Balvenie this novice will adore! I’ve also been there, from the beginning, and this bottle stayed a favourite and is always present in my ever-growing stash. This signature expression was launched in 1993, using a process developed by the distillery’s Malt Master, David Stewart, which is now most commonly known as “wood finish”. The whisky first spends twelve years in American ex-bourbon barrels and then is moved to Spanish ex-Oloroso sherry casks for additional nine months. Then another four are spent in an oak tun to marry all of those awaiting barrels, and this unique blend [still single malt] is the resulting “DoubleWood”. The oloroso finish is what gives this Scotch its beautiful colour [although some extra is definitely added], but more importantly its rich, rounded, and sweet caramel taste. The latter slowly recedes into various spices, like cinnamon and some pepper, and lingers in the front and the back of your throat, itching for another sip. I don’t know how the various 12-year-olds differ from each bottling year, but I know that every year I have drunk one, it was always a great dram.

The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 is a whole other story. First, I’d like to point out that each bottle comes from a specific single cask (“one of no more than 300“). Mine is number 21233. Although, surprisingly, it’s not of cask strength. At [only] 47.8% this whisky is still a punchy ABV, which I do not disturb with any water. Since, traditionally, most Scotch is first matured in casks previously used by American distillers (ex-bourbon barrel), the very first time that they’re used is known as First Fill. The next time is known as “refill” and some distilleries can keep on reusing the barrels a couple of more times. Still bearing David Stewart’s name [and still with added colouring], this is a fresher, sharper, “cleaner” dram. There is no roundness or extra weight of sherry. It’s straight and very much direct with what it says. The sweet vanilla caramel is there, but less in dried and cherried fruit that I have tasted in DoubleWood [wait, did that rhyme?]. I may be stating here the obvious since it is all expected of this bottling. Essentially it is the first half of the process named above: before the extra four months spent in ex-Oloroso casks, and yes, before the marrying of barrels in that large oak tun, the whisky is presented unaugmented [if you don’t count the colouring and extra added water]. I guess that is my only gripe about this bottle – I would have really liked it straight, directly from the cask. But! At only £60 per bottle, I probably will not complain as much. Unless, for some reason, I find myself in search of all the single barrels to compare.

I’m very much a fan of Balvenie [did I already say that?] and I possess a few more bottles in the Tun 1509 range, The Second Red Rose, and my favourite, The Week of Peat [both, the 14 and the 17-year-old]. The Portwood 21 is also always present, but I have yet to convince myself and splurge on A Day Of Dark Barley [it’s a 26-year-old at £630]. The prices can keep rising. A 1951 cask of a 45-year-old Balvenie can be purchased for only £33,000! At this point it’s an investment vehicle or a collector’s item, in both cases, you probably won’t see it on my shelf. I guess I’ll stick with what I have, but yeah, I may just grab another. The Single Barrel wins this round.

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