August 2015 Whisky of the Month:
A classic single cask Balvenie imported to Australia specially for the Club, aged 12 years and matured in first fill American oak casks. Join The Club now for exclusive access to more exciting drams like this each month and great member perks.
Country of Origin:
Established in 1892 by William Grant in a converted 18th century mansion, The Balvenie Distillery is one of the great success stories of Scotch whisky. Today the distillery is owned by the fifth generation of William Grant’s family, making William Grant & Sons one of the longest single family ownerships in the world.
Having spent his younger years learning the trade at Mortlach Distillery, Grant dreamed of one day running his own distillery. Through endeavour and thrift he saved sufficient money to realise his dream, and in 1886 Grant and his nine children laid the first stone of the Glenfiddich Distillery in his native Dufftown. The late 1800s was boom time for Scotch whisky and several other distilleries were moving into the Speyside region, later to become the biggest whisky producing region of Scotland. Grant was convinced this would threaten Glenfiddich’s water source. In response to this threat, and with the intention to build a new distillery, Grant purchased Balvenie House and its outbuildings, and the surrounding land comprising of a strong water catchment area with abundant springs. He acquired second hand stills from Lagavulin and Glen Albyn and the first distillation took place on 1 May 1893. The whisky was an immediate hit with the blenders, and Balvenie promptly found a place in Grant’s own range of blended whiskies. They must have been doing something right because today at 4,400,000 cases per annum, Grant’s is the fourth biggest selling Scotch whisky in the world.
It’s hard to stress the importance of the effect that William Grant & Sons had, and continue to have, on the industry. The 1960s and 1970s were difficult times for the industry with many small, independent distillers going out of business. In order to survive, William Grant & Sons expanded their production and innovated by introducing advertising campaigns and a visitors’ centre. During this period they also began marketing single malt as a premium brand in its own right, effectively creating the modern single malt whisky category. The Balvenie was first bottled as a single malt in the early 1970s, and in 1993 the three expressions that form the foundation of The Balvenie were first introduced: Founder’s Reserve 10 year old, Double Wood 12 year old and Single Barrel 15 year old. Today The Balvenie is the eighth biggest selling single malt brand in the world, with its older brother Glenfiddich dominating the top spot.
Despite the success little has changed at Balvenie Distillery over the years. Uniquely, it still employs all the traditional crafts of malt whisky making which is why The Balvenie tastes the way it does. Nowhere else will you find a distillery that still grows its own barley, malts it on a traditional malting floor, has its own coppersmith to tend the stills, a cooperage to maintain the casks and the longest serving Malt Master in the Scotch Whisky industry, David Stewart. By owning all the steps of the process, the distillery’s been able to keep a very tight control on quality, thereby protecting the brand’s reputation and remaining loyal to its followers by producing consistently marvellous whisky.
David Stewart is a living legend and deserves a few words. Born in Ayr on the west coast of Scotland in 1945, he joined William Grant & Sons in 1962, the year before Single Malt Scotch Whisky was first officially exported to England. He was appointed the distillery’s Malt Master in 1974 and his renowned ability to identify the finest casks of whisky for maturation has helped William Grant & Sons earn the Distiller of the Year accolade an unprecedented eight times. A keen innovator, Stewart was the pioneer of cask finishings when he developed the Balvenie Double Wood. Prior to that cask finishing, now a ubiquitous practice, was unheard of in the industry. Click here to watch a short film on this remarkable man’s life of craft.
About The Balvenie Single Barrel First Fill 12 Year Old:
If you were to take a guided tour of The Balvenie distillery, you’d be able to draw whisky directly from a cask in Warehouse 24. With The Balvenie Single Barrel First Fill, you can essentially enjoy a similar ‘straight-from-the-cask’ experience. That is because each bottle of The Balvenie Single Barrel First Fill has been matured exclusively in a single first fill American oak ex-Bourbon barrel for 12 years.
American oak barrels are very popular in Scotland, it’s estimated that up to 90% of all Scotch is matured in American oak casks, because they impart beautiful notes of vanilla and spice to the maturing spirit. The “first fill” part comes from these barrels being used to mature Scotch whisky for the first time, after that they’ll be known as “second fill” and later yet, as “refill” casks and first fill casks impart the strongest amount of flavour to the new malt spirit. Each bottle is drawn from a single cask of a single distillation run, with each cask yielding no more than 300 bottles. No two casks, even of the same wood type and filled with spirit from the same distillation will produce identical single malt, making each Single Barrel bottling unique and unrepeatable. The process is completed when each bottle is hand-numbered with the number of the cask in which it was matured.
Stewart samples hundreds of casks using his exceptional nosing skills, refined throughout his remarkable 50-year career, and selects for Single Barrel bottling only those casks that share a consistent character of sweetness and subtle vanilla oak. Speaking of the process, he said. “There are very subtle differences from cask to cask and it gave me great satisfaction to sample these casks to find the finest ones. Each cask is unique and that is what makes each bottle of the Single Barrel First Fill 12 Year Old so exceptional.”
The Balvenie Single Barrel First Fill 12 Year Old is a non chill-filtered release with an ABV of 47.8%.
Age on release:
First fill ex-Bourbon American Oak Barrel.
Balvenie quick facts
Place of origin: Balvenie Distillery, Dufftown, AB55 4BB,Scotland, United Kingdom
Water source: 21 springs in the Conval Hills surrounding the distillery
Washbacks: Douglas Fir
Number of stills: 5 wash stills and 6 spirit stills
Capacity: 5,600,000 litres per annum
Colour: Pale straw
Nose: A bounty of sweet oak and spice
Palate: Rich and complex with deep vanilla oakiness. Honey notes will be overlaid with sweet fruits and subtle spices.
Finish: Lingering sweetness
Generally, fat-rich foods pair well, from nuts, to cheese, to butter, to pork.