As you may know, Scotch is typically aged and matured in oak casks for the number of years listed on the label. As you may also know, oak is a type fo wood, so what does it mean for a single malt to be wood finished or to have a wood finish? If it’s already in a oak-wood cask, aren’t all scotches finished in wood? (No, it’s not a trick question!)
A wood finish means that the scotch was then aged another two or more years in a cask that once held some other spirit in them. The popular choices are port, sherry, etc. This adds a different layer to the scotch because in the maturation process, the scotch gets pulled into the wood and then released as the temperature changes. Since the cask once held something else, which presumably went through this same process, some of the flavors and essence that make up the other spirit will be passed onto the scotch.
The Balvenie Doublewood 12 is the only wood finished Scotch I’ve ever tried and I really enjoyed it. The Balvenie is located in Speyside and the Doublewood 12 is aged in both a traditional oak cask and a “first fill European oak sherry cask.” When I tried it, the sherry was very easy to detect in the nose and I enjoyed the sweet flavors imparted by the sherry cask. Having never tried The Balvenie without the wood finish, I didn’t know if the sweetness and vanilla notes were more from the Balvenie or more from the sherry cask. Either way, I enjoyed it. I think aging it in a cask that held something else is a great way to add a layer of complexity to something. I would really like to try their PortWood 21 someday too, perhaps side by side against the one matured in sherry, it would provide an opportunity to compare the two (though 12 and 21 years is a big maturity difference).