The Balvenie distillery tour

I picked up this tour whilst out distillery bagging earlier in the week (see this post). I rang the number on the sign and it turned out they were open by appointment, so we booked a tour.

After the crazy blizzard that blighted our trip to Glendronach, it was actually a lovely day. We’ve really seen all 4 seasons in Scotland on this trip!

Upon arriving we were welcomed by our guides David and Noni. We were offered tea, coffee and shortbread and a chat around the sofas whilst waiting for the other members of our party. Right from the start this tour had a different feeling about it. As if you were guests of the distillery to be looked after as you would be in a restaurant or hotel.

We started the tour in the Balvenie maltings. It turns out that Balvenie malt a percentage of their own Barley and even have a farm that grows a portion of it. The barley that they malt is peated to a low level and is mixed with unpeated malt that they buy in.

Here is the malt barn

Below are the floor maltings. It turns out that The Balvenie actually employ a large team and today there were two workers managing the barley and making sure it was turned. We were shown how Barley used to be turned by hand and I got to have a go. Hard work and not difficult to see how so many got monkey shoulder!

We then opened the kiln doors to look at the barley being dried with peat smoke. It turns out that there is a coal fire for generating heat and a small amount of peat is burnt in a separate oven with the smoke mixed in with the heat from the coal fire in the chimney.

From there it was into the main distillery. Interestingly the Mash tun for Kininvie is also in the tun room of the Balvenie. Kininvie is a single malt used in monkey shoulder and in the grants blends and has it’s still house behind Balvenie. Both mash tuns are stainless steel.

In the wash back room we were able to taste both the wort and the wash. They were really going for the whole experience here.

After seeing the stills, it was then outside for a ride in a Jeep down to The Balvenie’s own cooperage! From there we were able to watch the coopers working on casks. You could stand there for hours watching these guys work!

Then it was on to the famous warehouse 24. There were no photos allowed in here, but we did get some unique experiences. Firstly we had a look at tun 1401 and opened the bung to smell the contents. There is some awesome stuff in there!

Next our guide dipped the dog in a 39 year old Bourbon barrel to fill a 20cl bottle for a later tasting. This was a special for warehouse 24 members (though of course everyone in the party was allowed a taste).

Lastly, and most excitingly, we were then shown downstairs to a room with 3 casks from which we could take our own samples by dipping the dog. The idea was that for £25 you took the copper dog, dipped into your cask of choice and filled your own 20cl bottle. I had a sniff of each cask and thought a 16 year old first fill oloroso butt was excellent (and I wanted a go at dipping the dog!).

After what had thus far been an amazing tour, it was onto an extensive tasting.

In addition to the 5 drams you see above, we were able to nose and taste the new make and we also had a go at the 39 year old warehouse 24 special. The 5 drams were The 12 and 17 year old Doublewood, the Single Barrel 15, The Caribbean Cask 14 and the Portwood 21. The Single Barrel 15 was an advent calendar dram and was reviewed here.

Here are some dramstats:

The Balvenie New Make

Nose: Prunes, dates, honey sweet malt, slightly grassy with a vegetal note (peas).

Palate: Very juicy dried fruits and honey sweet

The Balvenie 12 Doublewood

  • Price £30
  • ABV 40%

Nose: The new make comes through. Sweet honey, biscuity, vanilla with a touch of raisin and fig.

Palate: Honey sweet raisins and vanilla. Slightly peppery and spicy with oak. A touch biscuity.

Finish: Peppery oak, vanilla and honey sweetness. The oak dries and tingles.

Verdict: It’s excellent and a top top entry level malt. It’s one you can often get a good deal on in a supermarket too!

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask

  • Age 14 years
  • Price £43
  • ABV 43%
  • Finished in caribbean rum casks

Nose: Honey and golden syrup, banana chips (the sugary ones), a hint of coconut, granola and hob nobs. Hazelnut.

Palate: Banana chips, hob nobs and flapjacks with golden syrup and chopped nuts.

Finish: Lots of golden syrup, nutty hob nobs and a hint of banana chips.

Verdict: This was my favourite Balvenie and I had a couple of drams in a whisky bar later in the week. One I shall be picking up I think.

The Balvenie Doublwood 17 years

  • Price £70
  • ABV 43%

Nose: Green apple, prune and raisin. Sherry comes through with cinnamon spice and a peppery note.

Palate: Peppery sweet, toffee and honey.

Finish: Toffee and caramel with peppery oak then a toffee vanilla fade.

Verdict: It’s a nice dram and there is nothing wrong with it. But I prefer the 12 year old version and so I wouldn’t spend the extra £40 on this.

The Balvenie Portwood 21

  • ABV 40%
  • Price £80

Nose: Marzipan, dark muscavado honey, juicy dark fruits.

Palate: Sweet, rich, peppery oak and treacle toffee.

Finish: Very drying oak with red wine, blackcurrant and jammy sugars.

Verdict: Excellent stuff but I actually prefer the caribbean cask.

Balvenie 1974 Bourbon cask (taken from the cask whilst there).

Nose: Honey, vanilla, citrus, lemon pith, rose water, peat smoke and lots of oak. This just gets woodier as it warms up.

Palate: Icing sugar, vanilla, honey and wood.

Finish: Very drying oak, woody with a touch of smoke.

Verdict: Since you can’t buy this, there is not much point in my saying whether I would buy it or not.

Overall verdict: A really excellent tour. So much happened and it lasted for about 3-3.5 hours! Loved the maltings and the cooperage and the part in the warehouse. We also got a thorough tasting and were made to feel throughout like guests of the distillery, not tourists. The most professional tour I’ve done and value for money at £25!




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