In the world where crowning the unique among all the unique is becoming an increasingly challenging task. Centuries of craftsmanship and single-minded dedication reinforce The Balvenie distillery a strong contender.
The distillery prides itself on the skill and dedication that goes into producing each bottle of whisky. People and process are the key – dedicated farmers, malt men, coppersmiths, coopers and the malt master dedicate their lives to producing one of the fines single-malts Scotland has to offer. Balvenie is a single malt distillery using traditional techniques in producing possibly some of the finest whiskies in the world. The whisky-making formula nurtured since establishment in 1892 hinges on maintaining five key rare crafts in-house.
Unique amongst single malt whisky distilleries (and the only one in Scotland) they grow their own malt – the barley for malting is grown in a traditional way at their 1,000-acre farm, Balvenie Mains, that overlooks the distillery. The only modern technology used is a combine harvester when the crop is ripe for harvesting.
The Balvenie distillery is also the only one to maintain and operate a working floor maltings in the Scottish Highlands – a process only a very few distillers still utilise. Here the malt men turn the spring-water soaked malt by hand until the malted barley is ready for the kiln. The malted barley is then dried using anthracite and a prudently judged amount of peat, adding further complexity to the whisky.
Balvenie also has its own in-house coppersmith to look after the stills. The shape and size of the copper stills are two of the most important factors affecting the taste of The Balvenie. The characteristic ‘Balvenie Ball’ shape is still been maintained in the sills used today and has varied very little from when the distillery first opened. The bulge or boil ball at the base of the swan’s neck is a feature replicated in the neck of The Balvenie bottle. This feature allows the vapours more time to mix before they carry on up to the head.
‘Toasting’ casks is a unique skill mastered by the coopers over many years. The continuous learning curve of repairing, rebuild, filling and sealing whisky casks begins with a four-year apprenticeship. Keeping everything ‘wind and watertight’ and getting the wood sugar to caramelise just enough to open the pores but not enough to burn too deep takes many years of experience.
David C. Stewart (MBE) is the longest-serving Malt Master in the Scotch whisky industry. Born in Ayr on the west coast of Scotland in 1945, David C. Stewart MBE started his apprenticeship at the age of just 17 at The Balvenie distillery in 1962 as a whisky stock clerk – not expecting to become a Malt Master.
Though a careful process of ‘nosing’ samples for a balance of notes and consistent character, David decides which casks can be bottled after 12 years, which will be perfectly finished in oak or selecting the ones that will mature on.
Three Master Craftsmen from around the world, including Malt Master David C. Stewart MBE, face the challenge of ensuring all they have learned in a lifetime of craft is passed safely to the next generation – the mission is captured in the “Twillight of the Masters” film.
A unique, career-defining collection of whiskies from Malt Master David C. Stewart MBE is a handover of this knowledge in both written and liquid form. David has curated a collection of 25 whiskies to be released over five years that pay tribute to the distillery and his career. At the time of writing, the first three chapters have already been released.
In our view, The Balveine comfortably claims the title of being the most hand-crafted of single malts. Considering the attention to detail and expert hands-on involvement the full collection of The Balvenie single malts is simply staggering. The description for each item in the range provides a very accurate and valuable insight into what to expect as well as why and how the refined distinction is achieved.
Further information about the distillery and range: www.thebalvenie.com
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