I’m just going to say it. Whisky tastes better when drunk with the person who made it.

So sipping through The Balvenie Cask Finish Series with recently appointed Malt Master Kelsey McKechnie was not just a special treat, it was a perfect opportunity to better understand four Balvenie ‘secondary finish’ single malts: Double Wood Aged 12 Years, Caribbean Cask Aged 14 Years, The Balvenie Stories: A Revelation of Cask and Character Aged 19 Years, and PortWood 21-year-old. Below, McKechnie walks us through each expression.

The Balvenie Double Wood Aged 12 Years

Vitals: 86 Proof (43% ABV); $70

The Balvenie first released Double Wood in 1993, and over thirty years later, it‘s still an exceptional flagship product. This single malt spent its first 12 years in American oak before finishing in sherry butts for an additional 9-12 months.

“I am looking for a sherry aroma here with a lot of spice,” McKechnie explains. “It has to be lively. As we taste it, we should be able to peel off layers to reveal honey, citrus, and toffee. This profile is the cornerstone of our character, with spice and sherry layered on top.”

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask Aged 14 Years

Vitals: 86 Proof (43% ABV); $80

To create this iconic cask finish expression, rum ages in bourbon barrels at the Dufftown distillery for about four months before the liquid is dumped and replaced with 14-year-old Balvenie for roughly another four.

“In contrast to the toffee, spice, and caramel notes in the Double Wood, the Caribbean Cask Finish imparts velvety, juicy fruit flavors. There are beautiful ‘candy shop-style aromas on the nose, and there is a different sweetness and spice between the rum and sherry cask finishes. They both have sweet elements but each whisky presents itself differently.”

"We have a signature DNA thread running through these expressions, on top of which we add a beautiful layer of cask finishing.”

— The Balvenie Malt Master Kelsey McKechnie

Balvenie Stories: A Revelation of Cask and Character Aged 19 Years

Vitals: 95 Proof (47.5 ABV); $500

The Balvenie’s Stories Series exhibits small parcels of special stock that highlight the important processes performed at the distillery. This story talks about The Balvenie Cooperage team who maintain and repair casks used for maturing whiskey.

“We believe that if we invest time and effort into creating great quality casks, it will repay us by creating beautiful whisky. And here is the proof. This whisky spent its entire life in Olorosso sherry butts, resulting in a beautifully sweet dram with delicate spice and a luscious viscosity. Then we rested our favorite sherry butts for a couple of years in a finishing cask to achieve the level of flavor and intensity we look for.”

Balvenie PortWood 21 Years Old

Vitals: 86 Proof (43% ABV); $250

The Balvenie has been bottling their Portwood expression since 1995, which is aged 21 years before finishing 4 – 6 months in port pipes.

“Here is one whisky I absolutely love. I am looking for a jammy sweetness from the port pipes with cooked fruit, caramelized sugar, and beautifully rich depth. This complements the signature toffee, citrus, and honey flavors that run through it. This whisky has that ‘whisky effect’ where you almost want to chew it, and at 21 years of age, it’s unique with highly developed flavors.”

Spirits writers, marketers and designers are among the most influential forces in the spirits industry. Their opinions, ideas and creative talents inform and influence consumer perceptions and buying decisions. The John Barleycorn Society was started by a group of spirits journalists seeking to honor excellence in all facets of the industry. The journalists spent several years creating a comprehensive competition that became the John Barleycorn Awards. An elite team of authoritative and influential spirits journalists was selected to administer the flagship component of the Awards, a blind tasting competition destined to become the preeminent arbitrator of spirits taste, quality and character.