By Richard Thomas
The Whiskey Reviewer hasn’t looked at a single malt from The Balvenie since our launch and initial batch of reviews, when we looked at their starter rung Scotch, The Doublewood. A word is therefore in order about who The Balvenie are, especially since they are so interwoven with Scotch legend William Grant. Mr. Grant had been in the Scotch business for two decades when he decided to venture out on his own in the mid-1880s. That venture became The Balvenie Distillery, a major fixture of the Speyside Scotch picture ever since.
The Portwood is about mid-way up The Balvenie line, and given that it’s a 21 Year Old, in and of itself that is a testament to how rarefied The Balvenie’s Scotch can be. The process is deceptively simple. After more than two decades in traditional oak, the whiskey is then transferred to very aged Port pipes for finishing. The Malt Master then keeps an eye (or rather, his taste buds) on it until the Scotch has absorbed the desired Port wine characteristics.
The Balvenie Portwood comes in that distillery’s classic packaging: a lovely clear glass bottle with an off-white Edwardian label, topped by a heavy foil wrapper and a wood-and-cork stopper. The coloring, in the bottle or in the glass, is that of clear, bright copper.
The version I sampled for this review was the standard retail Portwood, bottled at 40% abv. However, there is an airport rendition of The Portwood, bottled at a heftier 47.6% abv.
The nose is light and refined, with a scent that is both fruity and nutty, endowing it with a certain dry tartness. It’s also musty and earthy, not unsurprising when one considers this is old whiskey finished in hoary Port wood.
It’s the musty, woody aspects that predominate on the palate. Unlike so many earthy whiskeys, however, that side is not overpowering. There is a little bit of the ancient tawny red fruit flavor there, and the same dry nuttiness from the nose. Rounding things out is a pinch of spice. The finish is a delight: warm, clear, lingering, leaving a slight nutty aftertaste.
The Balvenie Portwood is first and foremost a delicate, well-balanced spirit. Insofar as sipping whiskey goes, it’s not the sort of thing you sip and enjoy while your mind wanders on other matters. The Portwood is the sort of thing you sip, and then ponder on how it got such a profound texture. It practically whispers “study me” from the snifter.
The Balvenie Portwood 21 Year Old retails for $149 in the United States, and around €92 in Europe. However, don’t be surprised if you it marked up substantially. I’ve found internet retailers listing it for as much as $240.