Balvenie’s core range whisky the 21 year old Portwood was amongst the very first commercially promoted finished whiskies when it was released in the 1990s. The highly regarded bottling is matured in ex-bourbon barrels for over two decades and then finished in aged port pipes (they’re still barrels, not actually pipes) for a period of finishing. At one time a non-chillfiltered version was released (which implies that this ‘normal’ bottling is chillfiltered) for travel retail, which upped the ABV to 47.6%. Normal versions of the bottling are delivered at 40%.
Nose: Elegance. Pronounced, fresh raspberries and blackberries come together with all the bees – honey, honeycomb, beeswax and pollen. There’s a certain mustiness here – older whiskies, dusty libraries – it sits very nicely with the fruitiness and honey-elements, bringing yet more sophistication. Bakery notes – tarts, pastries, flans and high quality patisseries merge with gentle grassiness from stems and newly fallen leaves. In the background some sugary stone fruits and a touch of mint leaf. Some sparingly added water brought out the berry aromas even further and added in currants and fruit jams.
Taste: Surprisingly full-bodied for 40% ABV – whilst sometimes that might be a warning sign for a thin arrival, this is far from the case here. Berries and spice – both big and bold. Redcurrants, raspberries, cranberries (all delicious) along with pepperiness and drying (well-judged) older oak flavours. Honey and bees remain a prominent driving feature, providing a broad canvas on which the other flavours are carefully painted over. Notes of leather, tobacco leaf and slight umami flavours (nuttiness) all linger across the palate. Water softens the fruits into real juiciness and brings out further sweetness from toffee and crème brulee.
Finish: Long, fading and drying beautifully with pepperiness and hazelnut brittle.
If you’re looking for titanic punchiness, you’re looking in the wrong place. Bavenie’s 21 year old Portwood is a lesson in sophistication and nuance. I’m still slightly in awe as to how a whisky with a baseline 40% ABV can deliver such a viscous and fulsome mouthfeel. The fact that this whisky then manages to also offer up a near perfect balance between spirit and wood is a testament to its quality. This is equally at home being sipped and savoured as it is being pawed over, studied and thought about. There is however some price variance for this, so do be prepared to hunt around a bit rather than just jumping at the first bottle you see.