Balvenie 12year old

Produced in Speyside in the Scottish Highlands, the exceptional quality of The Balvenie Single Malt is due to the fact that The Balvenie Distillery retains and nurtures a high level of craftsmanship that other malt whisky producers no longer employ: nowhere else will you find a distillery that still grows its own barley, still malts in its own traditional floor maltings, still employ coopers to tend all the casks and a coopersmith to maintain the stills. Balvenie keeps faith with these traditional crafts not for their own sake but because they’re the only way to achieve the distinctive taste that people seek in The Balvenie. The traditional spirit has the potential to develop in all sorts of ways. That’s why they continue to pioneer new expressions, bringing out more nuances and enriching The Balvenie experience.

The chosen one: The Balvenie 12 Year Old

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My impressions:

The 12yo is smooth and mellow with beautifully combined flavours ~ nutty sweetness, cinnamon spiciness and a delicately proportioned layer of sherry, with a long and warming finish.

A little about the distillery and craftsman, David Stewart:

1. Can you describe a typical day at the distillery? 

Much of my time at the distillery is taken up with deskwork and meetings, much the same as any other job. However, I do need to get out and about at the Distillery to check the new spirit from Balvenie being distilled on a daily basis to ensure that it is consistent and of the correct quality. I also will sample many of the casks that are being emptied to create any one of our different expressions again, ensuring that the whisky is fully matured and has no off notes. I will also go into many of our warehouses and spot check some of the maturing casks to ensure that the whisky is maturing satisfactorily. I will also inspect some of the empty casks that are delivered to The Balvenie distillery from America and Spain to ensure that they are fit for filling with our new spirit. So it is a varied and interesting role being a malt master.

2. When you were younger, did you imagine you would one day have a job making and tasting whisky every day? 

I actually joined the industry without really knowing what I was getting into.  I left school in June 1962 and had job interviews with three companies – one for a bank, another for an insurance company and the third for William Grant & Sons Ltd.  After the interviews, I thought that the Scotch whisky company sounded the most interesting, so I took a job as a whisky stocks clerk working in the same department as the master blender. I was quite quickly introduced to nosing training with the master blender, looking at many samples on a daily basis – from the new spirit to finished bottling samples and others during the maturation period. This carried on for a period of 12 years, until Hamish the master blender decided to leave the company and after a trial period, I became the master blender and malt master in 1974 – a position that I held until the end of 2009.

3. What’s one thing everyone should know about making whisky?

Don’t make any changes. If one requires to replace a still, the new still needs to replicate the old one. This also applies to any other vessels. It is very important that the new spirit remains consistent. It is also important that this new spirit is filled into top quality oak casks to mature into the great single malt whisky that is bottled and loved all over the world.

4. How does the sherry cask maturation add to the character of Balvenie?  

Maturation in a cask that has previously held sherry creates a single malt characterised by dried fruit richness, nuttiness and spice. Sherry casks have character rich with elegant oak and subtle spice with a long and sherried finish.

5. Have there been any major changes at the distillery over the years?

Modern technology has been introduced over the years to make energy savings and to make working conditions better for our employees through the use of mechanization for manual handling. However very little else has changed – the time, care and craftsmanship that goes into making our single malt is the same as when I joined over 50 years ago. When I began working here, we grew our own barley on site, had floor maltings, a cooperage and  a coppersmith. We still do, and we have some of the same people  here too. We are the only distillery in Scotland to still employ the  five rare crafts of single malt Scotch whisky making. We have, as have others, expanded the distilleries to keep up with the growing demand. Our aim is to change as little as possible as our main objective is to produce a consistent spirit from each of our distilleries.

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