Balvenie’s Whisky at The Lanesborough Hotel, London; a private tasting by Balvenie’s Brand Ambassador showed if you thought maturing whisky was as simple as filling barrels and waiting for them to age then think again….
I made my way to the refined and elegant surroundings of Knightsbridge’s Lanesborough Hotel for a most enjoyable hour or so sampling some really wonderful whisky from the Scottish distillers Balvenie . I was lucky to be given a private tasting by the charming Alwynne Gwilt, The Balvenie Brand Ambassador, who led me through five whiskies from the latest compendium released at the end of October, most aged of which was 55 years old. The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky is produced by William Grant & Sons Ltd, an award-winning independent family-owned distiller founded by William Grant in 1886 and today run by his direct descendants.
The release celebrates the master craftsmanship of The Balvenie Malt Master, David C. Stewart MBE who celebrates his 55th year working for the Speyside distillers, and is the industry’s longest-serving malt master. This latest offering, The Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3, is as much an explanation of the arcane decision-making processes of maturation and stock management as it is a personal memoir of David’s life in whisky. His skilful management of stocks has given the distillery one of the richest holdings of mature malt whisky in the industry, allowing it to maintain a full range of age-statement whiskies long into the future. It also facilitates innovation – providing David with the raw material to experiment with flavours and finishes.
If you thought maturing whisky was as simple as filling barrels and waiting for them to age, be prepared to have your preconceptions challenged. Maturing whisky is like playing a never-ending strategy game. Your opponents are the relentless passage of time and the unpredictability of nature, and to compete with them requires numerous unrepeatable decisions – which stock to bottle and which to lay down, what direction the flavour of a cask might take, which casks will survive and which might be taken by evaporation in the form of ‘the angels’ share’. After all which other industries manage their stocks a century or more into the future? So, a set of unique questions which can only answered by the most experienced of heads and the passage of time.
I was charged with enviable honour of working my way through the 1961, 1973, 1981, 1993 and the 2004. The overwhelming factor, that struck me about all the vintages, was a consistency of quality. It didn’t matter wether they had been predominantly aged in American oak, or European sherry casks the quality was always there, and a beautiful and authentic whisky the end product. This flight of vintages has been selected to be thought provoking and different, and it certainly kept things interesting with varying colour in the appearance of the bottles. On the palate I enjoyed them all in their variety I must say, with the 1961 a standout. Interestingly, this had little aroma to speak of, some floral notes, but nothing too strong. On the taste was brown sugar, toffee, spice and a sublime finish with superb length that just kept going and going, and is probably still going on somewhere! Simply stunning.
I would love to on be on top of a Scottish mountain with a any of these beauties or by a roaring log fire in a cottage by a loch with just me (and possibly with Mrs Man About Town) and the 1961! However, luckily, this delicious whiskies can be enjoyed anywhere and the The Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3 is a treat indeed.