Double Trouble

Taste Review #60 – Balvenie Doublewood 12 & 17

It may come as no surprise to some of you that I may eventually find myself in a wee bit of trouble regarding whisky and it is so that this has eventually come to pass. During the lockdown and a short period of illness, I decided that it was time to clear out my study for it was starting to look a little bit like there had been a World War 2 bombing raid. There are a few bottles of whisky in there to go into storage, and the special bottles that are yet to be opened for review, but most of all there is my stash of miniatures that I have purchased so I can do my usual taste reviews. These miniatures are what is causing my problems, for I have found out that I don’t have the odd one or two, I’ve got about 80.

Now, 80 miniatures is not a lot, especially for those of us who collect them, but it was never my intention to collect miniatures though I have to admit I do have one or two of sentimental value that I will be keeping. 80 miniatures is a lot of reviews, and that doesn’t even count the whiskies that I have in full size bottles to be tasted either. It leads me to the problem that I have to overcome somehow and this I am going to do by cheating a little bit and do a vertical tasting. Fortunately I have a few distilleries in my miniature box where I have more than one vintage, so a vertical tasting is probably the most efficient way of dealing with things.

Within my stash of miniatures, I have the remains of 2 gift boxes, one was actually a gift from my wife, but the other one was bought from Wood Winters in Inverness, and was from the Balvenie distillery. The set originally contained the 12 and 17 year old Doublewood whiskies and also the 14 year old Caribbean Cask Balvenie which I reviewed last year. I think enough time has gone by and I can now review the other two, and start cutting down on the number of bottles in my collection

It is said that while the city of Rome was built on Seven Hills, Dufftown was built on Seven Stills built in the late 19th Century – These were Mortlach, Dufftown, Glendullan, Convalmore, Parkmore, Glenfiddich and Balvenie. The distillery of Pittyvaich was built within the Dufftown distillery complex in 1974 and Kininvie was built within the Balvenie site in 1990. Parkmore distilery closed in 1930 due to water quality problems, Convalmore succumbed in 1985 during a turbulent time for the whisky industry and Pittyvaich closed in 1993 when it’s output for blends was no longer required.

Balvenie is a distillery that still retains a malting floor, although this does not provide all the malt required for production. The stills utilise shell and tube condensers instead of the traditional wooden worm tubs. It is also a malt that you will not see as an independent bottle – owners William Grant and Sons (who have owned Balvenie since its construction in 1892) ‘teaspoon’ their casks that they sell on to ensure that it cannot be sold as Balvenie (or Glenfiddich for that matter) in order to preserve their market share. Balvenie has a small amount, reportedly 1% of Glenfiddich added to it, and is known as Burnside. Vice versa, Glenfiddich has 1% Balvenie added to it and is known as Wardside. Both Glenfiddich and Balvenie are present in the blend ‘Monkey Shoulder’ along with Kininvie, and nowadays Ailsa Bay may also be part of the mix.

Balvenie has a visitors centre nowadays, but it is very hard to get a tour, which often need to be booked months in advance – I’ve tried and failed! It is reported to be an excellent tour and it is one that I really want to visit, having already been to the Glenfiddich distillery some years ago. It is also on the pricey side (£50) but is limited to 8 people and is reported to be one of the best tours that you can get in a distillery.


Balvenie Doublewood 12 & 17

The two whiskies that I am going to taste for you are from the Doublewood range, and have been matured in refill American Oak barrels and Hogsheads that have contained bourbon They have then been finished in 1st fill European Oak Oloroso Sherry casks, then married in an oak tun for another 3-4 months to allow individual barrels to marry together. Wood finishing was a process that was developed by Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart in 1982 and is now a very popular process throughout the industry. The 17 year old has just been given an extra 5 years maturation.

All this typing is making me thirsty, so it is time for me to get cracking on with the tasting.


Region

Speyside

Balvenie Doublewood 12

Strength – 43%. Colour – Honey Gold. Nose -Sweet. Stewed Fruit. Raspberry Jam. Brioche bread. Elements of citrus. Digestive biscuits Palate – Medium body, Note of astringency. Vanilla, honey, walnuts moves to a bitter finish. Finish – medium, drying. Tannic with a sour note. For me water smooths the astringency a bit, but increased the sour notes.

Balvenie 12 year old Doublewood

Balvenie Doublewood 17

Strength – 43%. Colour – Old Gold. Nose – Quite sweet on the initial nose. Candy, Icing sugar, Apple peel, a light aroma of freshly cut wood. Raisins. Palate – Quite a light body, Spicy – polished wood, vanilla, dried fruit. Finish– Medium, spicy, cinnamon, slightly drying.

Balvenie 17 Doublewood

Conclusions

In all honesty I wasn’t really expecting that much having the 12 year old. I have had this before, and it didn’t float my boat, and the only reason for buying this set was to try the Caribbean Cask without committing to buying a full bottle. I think this was the wise choice.

As is usual, I always do my taste tests without doing any research into tasting notes, but do compare afterwards, as I want to see if I was far off the mark. I was surprised to see so many other people saying that this was a sweet whisky, but I only got the sweetness in the nose, but not the palate and certainly not the finish. In the case of the 12 year old, adding water only increased the sourness for me. In all I was quite disappointed.


Both drams side by side

The 17 year old was different. Between the two I felt that this was the lighter whisky. Perhaps being in the wood mellowed it a bit. I didn’t find the wood quite so strong here, and the nose was less fruity but had a much more pleasant sweetness. I felt that this dram did not need water, although I was pushed towards adding water to the 12 year old spirit. I definitely feel that the extra 5 years in the cask has made the spirit mellow out somewhat into a much more pleasurable experience.

While people speak of complexities in these drams, I didn’t get that. For me the sourness of the 12 year old drowned out any subtle flavours for me, and the mouthfeel on the 17 year old was just a bit too light for my preference. But this doesn’t mean to say it’s a bad whisky, as plenty of other people rate Balvenie as a brand, but not everybody can like everything.

The one thing that I noticed is that my miniatures were both at 43% whereas a full sized bottle of the 12 year old doublewood is only 40%. Both these drams appear to have been chill filtered and both have the addition of E150a colouring. I was a little disappointed in the latter – the alarm bells were ringing when I placed the drams side by side and they were the same colour, despite the 5 year age difference.

The 12 year old can be found in your local friendly whisky retailer for around £39 and the 17 year old is around the £110 mark. I would suggest that I do not find this a price I would pay for the 17 year old, although while I did not enjoy it, the 12 year old is more reasonably priced. I would however suggest to seek out miniatures of these drams before you pay such sums of money to see if you will like it or not, as had I paid for full bottles I would currently be disappointed. Your taste experience may be different to mine, but in this case I will be trying something else from the Balvenie warehouse in the future.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

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It’s Time To Stop Chilling

Why you could be missing out on taste.

One of the things that will determines how good your whisky will be is the quality of the ingredients in your dram. But the whisky you have in your glass will have more in it than you realise.


Chilling. Potential hazard ahead.


Although the standard three ingredients in whisky are water, malted barley and yeast, the production process will develop many different compounds. The three main types of compounds are Phenols, Aldehydes and Esters. In your dram, these will be present in various sub types, but seeing as I am not a chemist, we won’t go that deep.

Starting with Phenols, these are mainly responsible for the smoky and peaty flavour in whiskies where the malted barley has been dried in a kiln with peat. It is nothing to do with where the water comes from. Phenols are measured in Phenol Parts Per Million (ppm) and this is the level of Phenol in the malted barley, not the finished whisky. Ardbeg is about 25ppm and some of the Octomore bottlings have insanity levels of peat at 167ppm. Thing is, these compounds can be lost at any point in the process, so a high phenolic value doesn’t mean it might taste peatier than a lower number, it’s just a guide.

Moving on to Aldehydes, these are a chemical compounds formed throughout the distillation process, and are formed as a result of oxidisation of alcohol (ethanol). It is also created during fermentation as a by product of the yeast converting sugar to alcohol. These aldehydes are quite pungent, and if you’ve been tricked into sticking your head into a washback and taking a good sniff during fermentation, that ammonia smell is an aldehyde. Other aldehydes are created during maturation as compounds in the wood break down and are exposed to oxygen.

Aldehydes are responsible for a variety of flavours and aromas, such as cinnamon, vanilla, herbal and other slightly bitter tastes. They also help create other aromas and flavours that you can experience.

Lastly, we move onto Esters. When you mix alcohol with phenolic or carboxylic compounds, this creates Esters. They are responsible for the fruity and creamy types of flavours and aromas, such as vanilla, butter, citrus and other fruits. Esters are also created throughout the process from fermentation, distillation and maturation as sugars break down and form various organic acids.


Ethyl Hexanoate – in whisky that’s pineapple or waxy green banana to you.


So why do we need a chemistry lesson??

Well, with the formation of esters and aldehydes, there is a presence of other naturally occurring fatty acids and proteins that will be in the spirit that comes out of a cask. These start to coagulate when the whisky has water and/or ice is added. It also happens when a whisky bottle has been kept in a cold location. This gives a cloudy appearance, and for many this gives an impression there is something wrong with the dram. There isn’t, and all that we are seeing is the esters of long chain fatty acids. Once the whisky is warmed it goes back to its natural colour.


Scotch Mist. Haze in a Glencadam 10 year old @ 46%


The bottlers solution to this is to chill filter the spirit. All whisky is filtered prior to bottling to ensure sediment and particles from the cask do not go into the bottle. This is a simple filtering process, similar to why you’d attempt filter oil in your engine to keep the bad bits out. Chill filtering is slightly different, where the spirit is chilled down to around 0C, which causes the compounds that create the haze to form. The hazy spirit is then forced through a filter (usually a fine metal mesh) which then removes the undesired compounds.


Auchentoshan @40% and cold water. No mist = chill filtered


This is only done in the vast majority of cases for whisky less than 46% abv. Whisky at 46% abv or above doesn’t need chill filtered so much for two reasons. Firstly, there is less water in a 46% whisky, so it doesn’t haze so much. Plus, if we strip out the haze causing fatty acids, we’re left with just more alcohol and less taste.

So why is this a problem?

This is a debate that perpetually continues in the industry. Those who support chill filtration will say it doesn’t change the taste of the whisky. Those who don’t support it say it strips out the texture, plus some of the oils and esters. And that is why I gave a brief over view to compounds in whisky – if you strip out esters and fatty acids which we know provide flavour, how can you not affect taste? It’s impossible not to, but people will still disagree.

What I can tell you in my experience with my whisky journey, most 40% whisky I have had seem to be light, lacking mouthfeel. Not them all, but most of them. It’s almost impossible to gauge what the dram would be like had it not been chill filtered. However it isn’t impossible, and this vindicates my policy of using miniatures of older whiskies bought at auction – as consumers are becoming more aware of chill filtration, producers sometimes upgrade their expressions with higher ABV and becoming non-chill filtered. One such example is the brands owned by Burn Stewart (Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Ledaig and Tobermory) raising the abv to 46%+ and not chill filtering. Comparing old and new may give a guide on the difference the chill filtering makes, but because the expressions may have a different flavour profile, it makes identifying what was lost through chill filtration a bit harder. I’d say the texture would be the easiest to identify in comparison, but that’s just me.

For me, it’s an issue worth mentioning, as it is solely done for cosmetic purposes, and I am more concerned about taste and texture, and so should you all be! You are reading this because you have an interest in whisky, and are (hopefully) not a ponce who worries about how their drink looks if he or she puts ice in it.

As consumers, how do we know if a whisky is Non-Chill Filtered?

Our labels tell us everything. It’s essentially the written contract from the distiller so the customer knows what to expect. We have already looked at age statement, alcohol strength and how they are on the labels, but what about chill filtration? Let me tell you one thing – if it isn’t mentioned on the label, then it’s almost certain if the abv is below 46% then it has been chill filtered. Non-chill filtering is now recognised as a desirable attribute, and if this is the case, the bottle will proudly proclaim it.


Wolfburn Morven. NAS but also 46% and NCF. 2 out of 3.


Or, put your bottle in the fridge. If it turns cloudy, then it is non chill filtered.

Is chill filtered whisky not worth it?

Chill filtering adds another step to the process, therefore makes production a little bit more expensive. So it seems crazy to do it for cosmetic purposes, but I guess producers are just doing what their markets want. It could be that they don’t want cloudy bottles on store shelves or whisky cabinets, but why not put an explanation on the bottle? Glencadam does on at least the 10 year old.


Integrity. Haze explained and Non Chill Filtered


However, as I say in nearly every article I write, we have to let our palate be our guide. I’ve had a few 40% whiskies that are chill filtered that have still been excellent drams and I would easily recommend. These have been reviewed and you’ll see them in the next few weeks. However, if you are not wanting to take the chance, in my opinion when standing in the supermarket aisles, the whisky that states ‘non-chill filtered’ gets an extra point.

Next week we move onto colouring, our final topic to consider when picking a bottle.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.


Photo credits

Road sign – UK.COM

Ester – Public Domain

All other photos – authors own