Balvenie: My Journey, Not a Destination

The Balvenie Distillery is located in Dufftown, a place not of large scale or population, but quite reputable for being the “whisky capital of the world,” host of the Highland Games, and the native land of Glenfiddich, the Balvenie’s ubiquitous brother whisky. Both are the offspring of William Grant, a strident lover of whisky and all its rare crafts. In the late 19th century, he left the Mortlach Distillery after learning the art of distilling, bought a barley field beneath the glowering ramparts of Balvenie Castle, and founded the Balvenie Distillery.

During my visit, I met David Mair, Balvenie’s brand ambassador (and wizard of all things whisky) who casually mentioned that he started working at William Grant & Sons in 1962. While I was trying to do the math to figure the age of David’s spirited career, I was taken away to learn about Balvenie’s old ways of making whisky, which make them one of most self-sufficient distilleries. They grow much of their barley right next door at Balvenie Mains and even malt a percentage of it on their malting floor. There are only about five distilleries left that malt their own barley. Advances in technology, the growth of spirits conglomerates, and improved transportation have rendered it too costly to maintain a malting floor at each distillery. It’s a time-consuming and physically brutal process, but it was amazing to see it in action.

We started tasting with a splash of a new make–spirit that’s been distilled, but not yet aged. It was clear, very strong, and held some of the flavor notes of the final product. David walked us through several expressions, ranging from young, middle-aged, and to gracefully matured: Doublewood 12, Signature 12, Single Barrel 15, PortWood 21, and Thirty to crown it all. (I may run out of space if I decide to report the complete tasting notes and ecstatic comments on the above whiskies, but allow me just to say that the Balvenie turned out to be the strongest line of whiskies that have ever touched my tongue.) Very distinctive and consistent, but also particular of each expression, as it was enthused by the creator, be it “one-wood” Signature 12 matured in American oak or the Doublewood 12 of oak and sherry.

To say that I enjoyed my whisky exploration tour is not to say enough. I ended up bringing back a bottle of liquid gold to share, as well as my distillery self-fill 20cl sample from the sherry cask. And while the big bottle is long gone, I’m not certain when I will share that little sample right from the cask. Not greedy as I am.