Balvenie Doublewood is the best scotch in the world. According, at least, to people who drink scotch irregularly. And also according to BevMo / Total Wine employees asked, "What do I get for my _________? I just know he likes scotch."
Because the Doublewood ticks so many boxes, it has become (around these parts, anyway) almost something of a de-facto present. As such, it is a gift horse that constantly seems to arrive in my life by extremely well-meaning gift givers, and god help me, I'm forever trying not to look the damn thing in the mouth. First world problems, huh?
Credit to where credit is due, however. The 12-year Balvenie Doublewood is not a bad scotch by any stretch. The master distiller at Balvenie, a man named David Stewart, is more or less the mastermind behind what we know today as "finishing:" that is, putting a whisky into a weird cask (here, sherry) for the last year or two of its life such that it soaks up a variety of secondary flavors. Nobody did that before him! As such, when the Doublewood came out first in 1980 or so, it was a shot across the bow of traditionalism and opened the door to a lot of variety and creativity.
With all that taken into consideration, the people who like the Doublewood are right to look at each bottle as a piece of drinkable history, often imitated but never exactly matched. And, like all of the products of the Balvenie distillery, the Doublewood is thoughtfully crafted and carries a pretty fair price tag, all things considered. It has a signature flavor that serves as a sterling example of what a sherried whisky should taste like, and it has a lot of vocal admirers. All of these components make it almost something of a no-brainer to mention whenever someone needs a totally blind recommendation.
To me, the problem with the Doublewood is that the sherry is dominant and uninteresting. Let me clarify that this isn't an issue of me liking or not liking sherry—many of my favorite sherried whiskies have huge notes of dark chocolate, fig, dates, plum, fall leaves, or bran. This wonderful cornucopia of secondary flavors is very much appreciated, and all the more delightful when it combines with an already-solid new make spirit!
In the Doublewood, however, all I taste is a relatively straightforward combination of grapes and prune juice trying to bulldoze their way over a bourbonish, weaksauce base spirit. And, like many lower-shelf bourbons I don't enjoy, the Balvenie 12 has a similar kind of cloying, sour finish that sticks around for a long time. Combined with the grape, that stickiness gives the Balvenie 12 a cough syrup-like quality I really can't abide at all.
This is all an even harder sell when this combination of flavors is repeatedly forced on you—just ask any kid how they really feel about bell peppers or broccoli. But at least kids have the option of blurting out a loud "yuck!" and having nobody think less of them. At my age, I have to smile convincingly and tell very nice and thoughtful people how appreciative I am that they've purchased me a bottle of one of my least favorite scotches. I'd regift it if my friends didn't know exactly what I was up to.
Note that the Balvenie distillery does make some products I think are great. The 17-year, if your wallet can stand the hit, is utterly delightful. The Doublewood? As you might have guessed, I probably won't ever buy it on my own volition for the rest of my life. I'd say you should try it if you haven't already, but it's more likely that someone will just give you some if you only live long enough.
On that day, I hope you like it. Because if you don't, you're going to have to force a smile, drink it, and probably get it again next year.