Travel inside the legendary distilleries: The Balvenie
The Comptoir Irlandais team went to The Balvenie to discover the latest bottlings in the distillery and make exclusive selections.
With the words of our whisky expert, Quentin T., we share this adventure with you.
Here we are, at the entrance of a legendary distillery: The Balvenie.
Based in the heart of Speyside since 1892, surrounded by fields of barley awaiting the harvest which should not delay any longer, it is capable of producing 7 million liters of alcohol per year.
This morning, Scotland welcomes the Breton people as it should: big sun and 9°. Accompanied by Damien Anglada (French ambassador of The Balvenie) and David (guide at the distillery for decades), we left for a morning in one of the most cult, exciting and traditional malt distilleries in the world whisky. Indeed such a reputation and such consistency in quality is never due to chance ...
Barley fields are everywhere here, they surround the distillery. Clear golden, they are easily seen and give a touch of clarity to dark and austere landscapes. In the midst of rocky mountains and deep forests, the barley fields of the Spey and Fiddich valleys are like oases.
The Balvenie is one of the very last distilleries in Scotland to grow and malt barley itself.
The malt house at this time of year is in full swing. The granaries and the malting areas are full, however there is no hurry, and the malting seems almost peaceful. Indeed it takes no less than 6 to 8 days for barley to germinate. Whisky, at all stages, is a question of time…. The time that nature, accompanied by the know-how of the "guys" from the distillery, influences at each stage of production the final character of our dear Single Malt. Malting is the step that extracts sugars and starch from the cereal. These are precisely the compounds that will subsequently react with the yeasts during fermentation.
Once the barley has germinated, it is sent to the Kiln, this large oven in the shape of a Japanese pagoda, where the green malt is dried with hot air and anthracite fire, this coal which, when burning, generates no smoke. The Balvenie is, without exception, an unpeated malt.
Then head to the brewing and fermentation tanks. Until then, whisky production has been like beer. The aromatic character of the whisky is already being shaped. Indeed, the long fermentation in Oregon Pine vats operated by the distillery allows to highlight the powerful and superb malty and fruity aromas of The Balvenie.
We are heading towards the Still House... A real copper forest with golden green reflections, a deafening din and a heat worthy of a saunate, where the magic takes place. It is here, in these large pots that the wort, beer with malty and fruity accents, becomes by distillation, the "spirit", the distillate, the transparent, oily, fine and rich brandy, titrating to more than 70% alcohol!
This distillate is not yet a whisky. It requires the legal minimum of 3 years in oak barrels ... But The Balvenie, of a most total classicism, imposes a very different rule which alone proves the mind-blowing level of quality that the distillery has offered us since 1892: no liter of spirit ages less than 12 years! The Balvenie, thanks to a family, independent and artisanal management, allows itself the luxury of not bottling anything under 12 years of age! A feat when we know the global thirst for whisky in recent years.
Aging is here, driven and rhythmically mastered. David Stewart, both an unrivaled guardian of whisky traditions and at the same time a visionary of genius, has been the cellar master of The Balevnie for almost 50 years. Half a century that he has shaped spirit into a whisky with character. His nose and his science of oak allow the sublimation of a brandy already recognized among the best in the world. These oak barrels having contained sherry, port, rum and bourbon, release all their aromatic power and come to match, balance with distillate and time, under the expertise of David Stewart.
David Stewart is the creator of liquid expressions where the words "Single Barrel" and "Double Wood" collide, accompanied by a mention of always venerable age and are the echo of all the knowledge accumulated since the culture from barley to the bottle.
At the same time, The Balvenie hides another secret, a tool that really makes it a separate distillery, almost unique in the world: a cooperage!
The Balvenie is one of the only distilleries in the world and in Scotland to have its own cooperage. This anthill, below the distillery, by the river, hidden by mountains of barrels waiting to be repaired, allows the distillery a supply of the highest quality barrels. The Cooperers have been trained in-house for over 100 years. This physical profession calls for unique know-how. The barrels seem violated: after having crossed the world, they are rolled, burned, hammered, quartered, dismembered ... but the idea behind all this din, it is ultimately to pamper the wood, to bare it, and bring it out all its aromatic complexity…
Bottled barrel by barrel, it is The Balvenie identity card: the paradox of fine power, superb creamy texture on the palate, malty and citrus aromas dangerously gourmet!
Each cask has its own charm, sometimes slightly finer, drier, spicier, more fruity…
Is this one of the ultimate whiskies? Old School, herbaceous, fruit in shambles ... a huge balance and aromatic precision of a class ... a richness, a texture and an incredible length in the mouth. An old-fashioned character, a tasting experience apart.
Article written by Quentin T.