Near Dufftown lie the ruins of Balvenie Castle, which was built by the branch of the Comyns family known as “The Black Comyns” in the 1100’s. Now, I don’t know about you, but “The Black Comyns” strikes me as a pretty awesome name. Add to that the fact that they called their castle “Mortlach”, and well, you have a pretty imposing sounding group of people. Apparently not all that imposing, however, because barely 200 years into their stay, the Black Comyns were routed from the castle by Robert The Bruce in his mad scramble for control of the Scottish throne. Speaking of names that instill fear, Robert the Bruce isn’t really one of them. Neither Robert nor Bruce sounds all that imposing and if Robert was indeed the Bruce, then why didn’t he just save a lot of trouble and simply call himself…Bruce? Turns out, the Bruce part of the name is derived from Brix, which is the region of Normandy where Robert’s family originally hailed from.
I digress…The Balvenie Castle was then occupied by the Bruce’s friends, The Black Douglases, after The Black Comyns got their butts kicked, but being slightly less black, the Douglases only lasted 150 years before King James II kicked them out and set up his pal, John Stewart, Earl of Atholl, and his wife, who, with her knack for decorating, turned a rather functional medieval pile of bricks into a more luxurious Renaissance palace. Sadly, the castle was more or less abandoned in the mid-1700’s and functions today as a tourist attraction and neighbor to the Balvenie Distillery.
Along with Glenfiddich, Balvenie holds down the single malt Scotch wing of the independent, family-owned powerhouse that is William Grant & Sons. The Balvenie distillery was founded in 1892, just six years after William Grant founded Glenfiddich. It is one of the few remaining that still carry out floor maltings, though they’re only able to carry out a small percentage of what production demands. They also grow some of their own barley and have their own cooperage…definitely a rarity in today’s whisky world. The Balvenie has a wide range of expressions and wood finishes, each in simple, elegant packaging that represents what’s in the bottle well. The widely available and popular 12 year old Doublewood is perhaps the flagship, being matured mostly in American oak ex-bourbon casks for most of the maturation period and then switched over to Spanish oak ex-sherry casks for a shorter period before bottling.
The Nose: Rich, rich nose, vanilla-caramel syrup poured over ripe orange slices. Really nice notes of malty, peanut butter cookies with melted chocolate. The sherry influence comes through with raisins, cinnamon candies, and oak.
The Palate: The lushness of the nose is carried right through to the palate, a honeyed, raisin-y, orange-y sweetness that is quickly joined by nutty, slighty cocoa-fied notes that flow nicely into spicy, sherried wood notes, clove, cinnamon and the tiniest wisp of dry peat smoke.
The Finish: The fruity, sherried spice lingers as does that trailing smoke.
Thoughts: Yup, a true classic. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the Doublewood, the flavors are not at all unexpected. Here’s the thing, though, even with this familiar flavor profile, the Doublewood still absolutely delights. The fruit notes, the spice, the wood, the sherry, it’s all presented so well, with such balance and structure, it’s nearly impossible to find fault with. For a lot of people, myself included, this is one of those early high-quality “gateway” Scotches which lead to a more acute problem and re-visiting it after a long time away, it’s easy to see why. It’s still excellent, complex, satisfying stuff and for around $36 -$40 a bottle, a terrific value.
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old, Speyside