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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Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 19

A 15 year old single barrel edition of Balvenie. Another excellent and eclectic dram from the advent calendar. The teens have been really good to me!

Here are the dramstats:

balvenie15

 

  • ABV 47.80%
  • Age 15 yrs
  • Price ~$48

Nose: Immediately sweet honey, followed by pepper, red apple and vanilla. Lovely brandy snap note. Needs just a drop of water to open up. A strange herbal note comes through with water. Coriander+parsley :S.

Palate: Sweet fruit and honey then a wave of pepper and chilli attacks the palate.

Finish: Sickly sweet honey burst with caramelised apples and toffee sauce with brandy snap fading into the distance.

Verdict: This is very nice by sickly. I’d characterise this as a mood whisky and I’d only ever have 1. I’m not sure, therefore, whether I’d buy a bottle of this for myself, but, given the right mood…

The Balvenie 17, `Peated cask’

The Balvenie 17, ‘peated cask’ is part of the range of 17 year old Balvenie releases that, up to last year were released annually.

There is an interesting story behind this one too. The whisky is aged as normal Balvenie and then introduced to casks that held PEATED BALVENIE! It is then married with Balvenie in new American oak before being bottled. They released something similar and highly popular a number of years earlier involving peated Islay casks, but the intrigue here lie in the nature of the peated Balvenie (malted barley dried with peat smoke, distilled at Balvenie and now maturing).

You see Balvenie don’t make peated whisky and have never, as far as I know, released a peated version. Though tasting this finished whisky is not the same as tasting the mystery peated version, it at least gives some insight (in the absence of any other kind) into what peated Balvenie might actually be like. That peated Balvenie is being matured somewhere in Scotland and, one day, it will be available. 

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So, knowing the above I had to buy a bottle of this to try. Here are the dram stats.

The Balvenie, Peated Cask

  • Age 17
  • ABV 43%
  • Price £75 (when bought), £67 (today)

Nose: Sickly sweet peat smoke. Smokey sherbet. Honey, baked red apples, cinnamon, star anise. With water richer fruits appear with baked plums, a touch of nutmeg, but with the smoke toned down.

Palate: Honey, golden syrup, baked red apple and cinnamon spice. Touch of pepper.

Finish: Sweet smoke, honey sweetness well balanced with oak at the end. Dries more with less smoke with water added.

Verdict: This is a moreish whisky and a real session dram. Don’t add water! Whilst it doesn’t ruin the dram,, it hides a lot of the lovely smoke from the peated Balvenie. This is a different kind of peat. Sweet and unusual. The big question is, would I recommend buying it? The answer to that depends on your reason to buy it. My problem with this whisky is not the taste, but the price. £70 is a lot of money for what I would call a session whisky. It’s not overly complex for a 17yo and I expect a little more for that sort of money. However, there is the intrigue of trying peated Balvenie (even if it only impacts the finish and is not yet the real stuff). If you want to know what peated Balvenie is going to be like, this is the best hint we have, and for that reason this is a bit of a whisky geek’s whisky. I don’t regret buying the bottle and if, like me, the curiosity is too much, then ultimately it is a good purchase. The inner geek will be satisfied and you still have a very drinkable bottle of whisky to enjoy. If you can wait for the release of the real peated version, I’d do that and explore something else from the excellent Balvenie range in the meantime.