Review: Balvenie 12

Balvenie 12

From a distance, I’ve always assumed Balvenie was sort of like “Glenfiddich Plus”, the whisky that Glenfiddich fanboys find themselves drinking after their first tentative steps outside the farm. Not sure why.

Anyway from what I understand, Balvenie does something similar to Glenmorangie in that each expression in their range starts with essentially the same core maturation process – a base whisky matured in American oak. To this, they then cask finish in sherry (their 12 and 17 YO “DoubleWood” expressions), rum (the 14 YO “Caribbean Cask”) or port (the 21 YO “PortWood”). After that they of course begin the process of murdering it with colourant and chill filtration.

Unlike Glenmorangie, they don’t release their base, “unfinished” whisky. The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood is the entry-level expression in range, starting you off with a sherry finished spirit from the get-go. Interesting!

  • Nose:

Rich. You immediately get that Oloroso cask in the form of a fairly sweet nose overall, a white sugar, toffee apples kind of smell. Or a fresh batch of simple syrup. Some thick malt whisky, with the barest glimmer of a fiery new-make spirit. Some foresty smells – earthy and grassy, with mild oak, moss and bark. A touch of marzipan.

Now on paper this sounds great. But I flip-flop like crazy on Balvenie 12’s nose. I don’t know why. There’s a strange, rum-like twinge that seems out of place, and at times it’s either highly appealing or utterly unwelcome. In fact, I tasted this little sampler of Balvenie 12 side-by-side with the 14 YO Carribean Cask, and if I hadn’t known better I’d have said they were both rum finished… Odd.

  • Taste:

Okay, problems. Good things, and problems.

On the good front, it’s rare that you get a mouthful of unbridled malt – the essence of whisky is front and centre here. You’re drinking fermented dried cereal, make no mistake, and Balvenie 12 prides itself on reminding you of that. The whisky is delightfully oily and creamy, with a green fruits and grassy finish that I’d classify as “easy drinking” all around.

The problems?

It’s weak. 43% is either not doing this expression any justice, or they’re going for the “smooth” (and conveniently cost-saving) approach that doesn’t leave much for those of us whose tastebuds have been progressively flayed by Octomore over the years.

And that weirdness on the nose has made it into the taste. There’s a big sense of this not quite having a firm enough footing in either the “Speysidey fruit” camp, the “exotic cask” camp or the “raw Scottish manliness” camp. And a finish that’s uncomfortably bitter, and… funky.

  • Water:

Destroyed! Ugh, don’t do it.


I’ve had a couple of controversial whisky opinions over the years, for which I’ve received a fair dose of teasing and criticism: My impassioned love affair with the The Spice Tree, and my championing of Johnnie Walker Black (and recently) Blue Label. My ambivalence to anything Laphroaig and my utter dislike of Black Art 4th Edition. I suspect I’ve added another one to the list…

I’m feeling fairly meh about Balvenie 12 DoubleWood. Those flavours just aren’t sitting quite right with me, and again I find myself trying to imagine a context under which I might be tempted to pick up a bottle or order a glass. When it comes to an easy Speysider, most whiskies with “Glen” in the name followed by a “12” or a “10” have got me covered. If I want a little sherry in the mix, Glenfiddich 15 or Aberlour 12 absolutely nail it. But honestly, just plain old Glenmorangie 10 would win out here every time.

And not only in taste, but in terms of price – Balvenie 12 is strangely expensive, and I can’t fathom how this is priced higher than say, something like Aberlour. Or Bruichladdich Classic, for crying out loud.

Balvenie 12
Quality: Not bad...
Price: Reasonable
See my rating guide here

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