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Balvenie. The luxury brand of William Grant & Sons.

November 4, 2016

Balvenie. This is William Grant & Sons luxury brand. As a normal consumer in a liquor store you would never know that Glennfiddich and Balvenie are not only run and owned by the same company, but are just down the road from each other. Not only are the brands extremely unique, but their visitor experience is completely different as well. At Glennfiddich, which is one the largest producers of single malt Scotch whisky in the world, has tour buses shuttling people in to the visitors center 7 days a week, all year round. The Balvenie on the other hand, you have to book in advance and it took me two months to get a spot. There are only a few tours a week and with limited space. The tour lasts about 3 hours and is definitely one of the more in depth within all of Scotland. If you can plan ahead, I definitely recommend it!

 

This year Balvenie is on schedule to produce about 6.4 million liters of new make spirit, so they are definitely not a small operation. As of right now the majority of production is dedicated to single malts and only a small percentage will go into Grant’s blends. Nothing is sold to outside brands. They still malt about 15 percent of barley on site to continue their heritage. If you look around the distillery you can see that the 15% comes pretty much from the local farmer’s right around the distillery. The barley malted on site is peated at about 5PPM, so very lightly peated and the rest of the fire source is coming from anthracite. I asked if they get the same yield from a tonne of their own malted barley versus the malt coming in from suppliers. Apparently it is quite comparable. They look for about 400 liters of alcohol per tonne of barley.

 

When you walk into the production facility you will notice they have two very large mash tuns. They actually house some of the equipment for Kininvie on site. Meaning that only one of the stainless steel mashtun’s you see is actually used in the production of Balvenie whisky. They run three waters ranging from 65-75-85 degrees Celsius. We didn’t actually get to see any of the six Balvenie washbacks up close because they were painting the roof in that building. We actually ended up taking a look at Kininvie’s wash, but their washbacks are identical in size holding about 53,000 liters of wort. The fermentation period lasts about 65-70 hours after adding about 260 liters of creamed yeast. There are five wash stills and 6 spirit stills that all have an onion bulge.

 

The Balvenie bi-products such as the draff and the pot ale are actually sent over to Glennfiddich where they are put through an anaerobic process to produce methane. This bio-mass plant and its methane production is new and apparently making William Grant & Son’s quite a bit of money. The spent lees unfortunately is still just a waste product. The range of capabilities that ownership has put into both distilleries is incredible. On site at Balvenie you will also find a working cooperage, bottling facilities and coppersmiths. Anything older than 14 years of age actually still gets bottled on site. The rest, as expected, is tanked to facilities in the south of Scotland. A cool part of the tour is the ride in their Land Rover that brings you over the warehouses and cooperage. There are over 40 warehouses on site that hold both Glenfiddich and Balvenie spirit.

 

I expected to enjoy visiting the cooperage because of how impressed I was after touring the Speyside Cooperage facility. They have eight coopers working and the multiple brands within the company can of course keep them very busy, but they are paid salary. If you compare this to the Speyside Cooperage where they are paid by the barrel: may I dare say they weren’t working quite as fast as the coopers at Speyside? That’s my own personal opinion! Check out the video below- it is still very impressive work.

 

As you might be able to assume by the different styles of Balvenie, they use quite a wide array of casks. The majority of its spirit though will age in ex-bourbon casks. The oldest cask on site is from 1961 and we are still waiting to hear from David Stewart, the Master Blender, on when this will be bottled and released. Balvenie is also known for their vat or tun system. They actually have a bottling named after their Tun 1509 which you will find in one of the warehouses. They only make one batch of Tun 1509 per year and they are now on their third year. This is definitely something for the collectors since this is a true batch system and you can taste the variation between years. I was able to try quite the range of Balvenie, which is really exciting. It might be hard to believe and I didn’t dare admit it during my visit, but I had never had any of their bottling's before! Here are a few of my notes…

 

 

Balvenie 25 YR Old Single Barrel

 

Holly’s Tasting Note..

Nose: Potpourri, lavender, vanilla, honey and prunes.

Palate: Butterscotch candy, ripe yellow apples, cinnamon and warm milk chocolate.

This was delicious!

 

Balvenie Members only 42 YR Old

 

Holly’s Tasting Note..

Nose: Buttery cookie, honey, toffee, vanilla lotion.

Palate: Oak toffee, peanut brittle and hay.

This is 410GBP a bottle and is pretty sharp on the nose.

 

 

Balvenie Caribbean Rum 14 Year Old

 

Holly’s Tasting Note..

Nose: Guava, mango, mango sherbet.

Palate: Orange, Christmas sugar cookies, some spice and coca cola.

This was really good! Definitely different finish from the classic bourbon and sherry barrels you normally see.

 

Balvenie 17 Year Old Doublewood

 

Holly’s Tasting Note..

Nose: Raisins, maple syrup, jam, apples.

Palate: Cinnamon, barley/granola, fig newton.

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