At a reception on the patio at Presidio Social Club restaurant in The City, The Balvenie Distillery recently announced the release of three new Scotch whiskeys called The Balvenie Stories.
For whiskey aficionados, The Balvenie story is not new. For others, Balvenie is an acclaimed single-malt whiskey distillery owned by William Grant & Sons in Dufftown, near the River Spey in northeastern Scotland.
Since its first distillation in 1893, Balvenie has been an innovative leader in creating fine, uniquely spirited single-malt whiskey.
Forged into its history, Balvenie controls all aspects of crafting whiskey. The company grows its own barley and maintains an in-house maltings floor, one of the few still operating in Scotland, to dry it.
The Balvenie edge comes from using the finest copper stills, building and maintaining its own cooperage and having the longest standing malt master in the industry.
Master distiller David Stewart, who has worked at Balvenie for 56 years, is one of the most experienced malt masters on the planet. He is credited with, among other things, advancing the wood finishing process whereby the whiskey, in its later aging stage, is transferred from bourbon barrels to those used for cognac or sherry, developing an enhanced flavor profile.
The Balvenie produces a broad menu of malted whiskeys, aged from 12 to 50 years. Many, like the Doublewood 12, celebrating its 25th anniversary, are aged in traditional oak barrels, then transferred to sherry casks and, finally into large vats that allow the flavors to marry.
In 2016, Stewart received the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his contributions to Scotch whiskey. His dedication and presence spread across all Balvenie releases.
However, The Balvenie Stories series highlights younger rising stars, such as apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie, who created the Sweet Taste of American Oak ($90), a 12-year-old malt that finished aging with four months in new American oak, intending to produce fruitier flavors. Fruit, citrus, honey and spice notes add complexity to the aromas and flavors delivered delicately on the palate.
Peat, used as fuel in many countries, is formed from partially decayed vegetation and earth unique to areas called peatlands or moors. The use of peat in creating Scotch whiskey is not new, but is something that Balvenie, since 2002, does only one week a year, prior to shutting down for maintenance.
Former distillery manager Ian Miller, inspired upon returning from a trip to the southern Scottish island of Islay, secured local peat and Balvenie, using smoke from the peat furnace, began making The Week of Peat ($99), a Scotch whiskey fashioned from an old style that infuses clear-cut smokey overtones. There is a rich texture to the whiskey with some spice elements, but the smokiness clearly defines it.
Brand manager Neil Strachan welcomed guests to the event while introducing and toasting the release of The Balvenie Stories with a taste of 26-year-old Day of Dark Barley ($799). Only 50 cases of the rare whiskey were released.
The story began in 1992 when a special dark roasted malted barley delivered to Balvenie was mixed with the traditional malted barley. The resulting whiskey was released in 2006 as The Balvenie Roasted Malt Aged 14 years, the first single malt whiskey of its kind.
The tastes were great, and there was curiosity about how long the whiskey could continue to mature. In the words of master distiller Stewart, “We always keep some back. We didn’t know then how long we’d keep it back for.”
They kept it back for another 12 years and re-released it as “The Day of Dark Barley,” a special whiskey with depth and complexity. The oak influences are evident and citrus and baking spice flavors warmly coat the palate through a smooth finish.
Aside from its longevity and fine reputation, the real Balvenie story is that it still operates from the original distillery in Dufftown where staffers meticulously perform each task necessary to craft some of the world’s most innovative and prime Scotch whiskey.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.