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

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This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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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Spring Is Here!

Taste Review #53 – Springbank 15

It is not often I can tell you I have perfect timing. Usually it is only perfect to say the most inappropriate things to the most inappropriate people but this article is perfectly timed. Although the bulk of review was written in mid January, it turns out it has become the first review published in British Summer Time for 2020. Spring is here, even if we can’t wonder about to enjoy it.

This is a review from yet another one of my auction bargains. This one is a favourite distillery amongst many whisky drinkers, but one I don’t have a lot of experience of due to preferring Highland or Speyside malts. But this is exactly what my web blog was supposed to do – force me off of the usual produce and try something new.

The Springbank Distillery is in Campbeltown, on the Kintyre Peninsula, and is next door neighbours with the Glen Gyle Distillery which produces the Kilkerran Single Malt. There is another distillery in town, the Glen Scotia, but that’s it. Three distilleries for a place the size of Campeltown is not bad, but it is worth remembering that at one point there were over 30 distilleries on the Kintyre Peninsula at one point.


Springbank tube

Springbank was legally opened in 1828, but there had been a long tradition of illicit distilling in the area . The original owner, William Reid sold it to his brothers in law, John and William Mitchell. William eventually left the partnership, and John’s son Alexander joined him, and that was the start of the company known as J & A Mitchell. The family firm still own the distillery to this day, and also own the next door Glen Gyle distillery as well as Cadenheads, a whisky bottler that had originated in Aberdeen in 1842, and was taken over by Mitchells in 1972

The Springbank Distillery is unique in Scotland as it is the only whisky distillery at present (Jan 2020) to malt, distill, mature and bottle on the same site. The malting floor provides all the malted barley required for production, unlike other distilleries that use malting floors as a supplement to bought in malted barley. It also produces three brands of single malt, Springbank (Lightly peated, partial triple distillation), Longrow (Heavily peated, partial triple distillation), and Hazelburn (unpeated, full triple distillation). It also uses a shell and tube condenser on the wash still and No 2 Low Wines still, plus a worm tub on No 1 Low wines still.

The Springbank distillery has a visitors centre, so rather than me wittering on about it, how about you take a tour there?* I’m needing to get cracking on with this whisky!



Region

Campbeltown

Age

15 years

Strength

46% ABV

Colour

Amber

Nose

Sweet, very light wood smoke. Fresh cut grass, caramel, vanilla, pineapple

Palate

Good mouth feel. Slightly oily and fizzy, ginger,  sweet from the get-go, nutty, pepper, raisins, a bit of orange zest, as the sherry gets tempered by a small bit of citrus. Very slight sulphur note.

Finish

Long finish, slightly dry. the sherry notes drag out, but with a slight oaky bitterness in the end. Spiciness continues on from the palate chocolate, vanilla there too.Right at the end. 5 minutes after a sip, I got a briny note.


The dram

Conclusions

I have to say that I am pretty surprised that despite being a peated whisky, I just can’t taste it. I can say that I get the very light smoke in the nose, but when it came to the palate it was missing in action. Research online has revealed to me that the peating level for Springbank is only 8-10ppm, whereas I do prefer something at least double that. There is a hint for me that I need to maybe try some Longrow, as I have not had this or the Hazelburn before. As I said earlier in this review, I am mostly a Highland or Speyside fan myself.

And that is what is good about Springbank. For those of you who like peat, or don’t mind it, the taste will be there. If you don’t like peat that much, then no worries, as it really isn’t overpowering, if you can taste it at all. There is a really pleasant sherry note to this whisky, but with a slight hint of sulphur at the end, but not enough to make me think there was something wrong. Although my bottle was in excellent condition, it was a slightly older bottling from the late 90’s / early 2000’s by my estimates going on the packaging, so I am not too concerned that the time in a miniature bottle with its metal screw cap has tainted it. It was by no means as powerful as the Bowmore that I have recently reviewed.

This whisky is matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, although I am not at this point aware of at what proportions or what sherry, but am going to guess at Oloroso, as it didn’t have for me the outright sweetness that a PX cask often brings. Adding water to me increased the toffee and sherry notes – I only added a half a teaspoon, and it pretty much killed the sulphur note that I detected.

All in all, a very pleasant whisky, and one I can definitely recommend. I don’t think I will be buying a big bottle of this one, as I think I will prefer something either a little stronger, a little peatier or a little older. Maybe a combination of all three! However, I would not rule out buying a 70cl bottle if I saw it at a good price, as this is a good value, honest malt and scores 4/4 on our ABCD checklist – age statement, 46% bottling strength, Non Chill filtered and not coloured.

I can’t give you a price for this miniature, as it was part of a collection in an auction lot, but the standard 70cl bottle can be bought for around the £60 mark, which for a malt of this age and quality is not a bad deal. However, that is if you can get one. Springbank, due to the fact it makes 3 different malts, and also malts its own barley means that supply is an issue and it does run out from time to time. But be patient if you want to try it, or consider looking on auction sites. The internet is your friend for buying in this case.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

* after COVID-19 restrictions end. Visitor centre currently closed March 2020.

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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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Speculate to Accumulate

Do not be afraid of the not perfect.

The more regular of my readers will appreciate that I do tend to use a lot of miniature bottles for my reviews. This is due to a certain amount of expediency because of my work away from home and being away for more than half the year gives me limited time to drink full bottles. I have to say that I end up giving a lot of it away to my friends (you know who you are!) in order to kill bottles so I can move on to open something different.

The problem with this is that I am an inveterate bottle chaser, and this week was no different. My final sales of miniatures happened this week, and I managed to get some more decorative cask ends for the Strathspey hotel my wife runs. However, for me an online whisky auction is pretty much like doing your shopping at Aldi’s in as much as you can go for milk and bread, yet walk out with a 4″ grinder and a car tool kit as well. I ended up perusing the other miniatures for sale and came across a set of 4 miniatures at a relatively cheap price. The bait was in the trap, and the bottle chaser was sniffing around.


The four drams. Only Coleburn is silent, having closed in 1985. Only one official bottling was released – the 1979 Rare Malts. Most production went into Ushers or Johnny Walker Red. The other distilleries are still producing.

The drams in question were older bottlings from the Gordon & Macphail ‘Connoisseurs Collection’. Gordon & Macphail have had some great bottlings in the past and I already have a few of their miniatures in my collection, though these are unicorn drams that I wish to taste and possibly review the experience for you in the future. The drams I won this time are.

  • Coleburn 1965
  • Dailuaine 1971
  • Speyburn 1971
  • Tomatin 1970

I was after the Coleburn and the Speyburn and in the end with auction fees I paid about £27 for all 4. However there was a big drawback – the fill levels were low. But does this mean I have been foolish or ripped off? I don’t think so, and I’ll spend the next few paragraphs explaining why I feel I haven’t been either of these and why perhaps you should take a chance.


The fill levels

Firstly, a rip off in an auction is not possible. In fact a rip off can only happen if you were sold something and you what you received was something that did not meet defined expectations. An auction house clearly shows the bottles on sale and will provide more on request. If you were prepared to pay the price with as much information as provided, then you have not been ripped off – you’ve just made a mistake.

Have I been foolish? Perhaps, but that is a matter of opinion. These drams could cost hundreds to buy as an individual full size bottles. I am going to be able to taste rarer drams for a fraction of that. If I was to find these drams in a whisky bar, I could imagine to pay £25+ for a dram for each one of these. It is worth saying that each of these drams have at least 25ml in them, some close to full. So potentially I have £100+ worth of drinking whisky.

Of course, with low fill levels, there are some drawbacks to this, and I have to acknowledge this. If the fluid level is low, then this means that whisky has evaporated out. I find that miniatures are particularly susceptible to this, and is one of the reasons I never recommend people collect miniatures unless they are aware of its risks and they are stored properly. Of course some people do collect these, but it’s not my thing. The risk of evaporation for me is too high and I personally feel I’d rather drink the miniatures.

One big problem with evaporation is that our largest concern should be that alcohol evaporates quicker than water, so there is a good chance that these drams which were bottled at 40% will not be at 40% when I try them. But that is a risk that I take, and while I am well aware that I will not get the full flavour that I would have got had it been fresh, I will still get an idea of what it would have been like.


A good way to taste long gone distilleries. Linkwood still going, Glenury Royal closed in 1985 and was demolished soon after. Imperial was silent more often than it was operational, falling silent in 1998 for the last time and was finally demolished in 2013 to be replaced by the Dalmunach distillery.

As with any proposition I put to you, this needs some sort of perspective. While I know that my bottles are compromised, what about that £30+ nip you buy in a whisky bar? Once the seal is popped, that bottle is on countdown as oxidisation and evaporation takes place. Certainly the whisky bars I see don’t gas their whiskies once they have been opened. That means in the case of the more premium but less popular whiskies, you’ll never be getting a fresh like new dram. You’ll never know how much of the fill level is due to evaporation. Let’s extrapolate that thought by remembering that the lower the fill level goes, the evaporation rate increases. My gamble with the miniatures doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, does it?

The above thought was one I have had for some time. I remember last year when I visited a bar that sold a 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip. Once opened, the evaporation and oxidisation processes have started. I wouldn’t imagine at that price it will be a quick seller, therefore is the person getting the last dram truly getting the value of such a whisky?

As I have said in my title, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. By taking a chance in spending some money, you can also taste rarer or older drams. By all means, you know they will not be perfect, but neither is that bottle of Macallan somebody has that’s been hiding at the back of the cabinet and was opened in 1983 to celebrate Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup. And has now been saved to drink only at special occasions. As an Aberdonian I can say that perhaps you’ll be waiting another decade to see silverware at Pittodrie….. There’s a good chance your whisky will have gone to the angels by that time.


Banff – bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII didn’t survive the 1983 whisky loch and was closed that year. Convalmore fell two years later but is growing in popularity. Royal Brackla has changed hands since this distillation but is still going.

As usual, exercise some restraint when looking at bottles that are less than perfect. There will be a point when it will not be worth what the auction value is. Only pay what you can afford to drink, with an eye onto how much liquid is left in the bottle. Research what other similar bottles are selling for. And as usual, my best tip is to keep an eye on the assorted miniature collections in online auctions. Sometimes a unicorn whisky can be hiding in amongst others, as I found with my G&M Royal Brackla. You can always do what I did and sell the remainder of the miniatures again at auction and make enough money back to effectively make the unicorn you’ve hunted free. Fortune favours the brave!

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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

All photos – Authors own