Making Up for Lost Time, Part Two: Balvenie Distillery

On the same day we visited Aberlour, Sunjay and I penetrated further into beautiful Speyside and took part in Balvenie’s rather-exclusive distillery tour.

Although we were late getting there (ah, the travails of public transport), no one else on our seven or eight person tour seemed to mind — they were all enjoying tea and shortbread in the tasting cottage. How civilized!

We made our way to the malting floor, empty and a bit forlorn as the distillery was in the middle of silent season, but still redolent with the smell of malted barley and rather romantic thanks to its quaint fittings.

The guide allowed us to peer into the kiln where the malted barley dries so nicely. It looked (and smelled!) so inviting I wanted to lie down in it and take a wee nap. Instead I contented myself with a wee taste — nutty and rich, perfect for porridge!

No sleeping in here!

Of all the stills I’ve seen, the Balvenie pot stills are some of the loveliest. Notice the William Grant emblem — a charming logo I’d love to see in future brandings.

No visit to Balvenie would be complete without entering their marvelous cooperage. Simply walking through yards full of casks overwhelmed me with the kind of awe usually reserved for astronomical phenomena.

Witnessing the coopers hard at work putting casks together, taking them apart, repairing others was a privilege and much more riveting than I initially supposed: I could easily have poured myself a dram and whiled away the afternoon watching in fascination.

We ended the visit in the warehouse, which like all whisky warehouses is the sort of place I picture myself being locked in and happily living off fumes and the occasional siphoned spirit for the rest of my days. As at Aberlour, Balvenie offered a “bottle your own” experience from three different casks.

Of course, the visit concluded with a marvelous tasting of five Balvenie expressions: the Doublewood, Signature 12yo, Single Barrel 15yo, Portwood 21yo, and the 30yo. As I’ve already reviewed the first four, I’ll only give my notes for the 30yo here. (Comparing my notes from earlier in the year with those from this last visit is interesting though: it’s nice to see the progression of my palate, however small that progression may be.)

Balvenie 30 yo
Nose: Dark fruits, honey, wet grass, and hay.

Palate: Incredibly complex with dark chocolate and a mocha flavor that was nearly stout-like. Balanced well with vanilla, spice, and plums, hints of icing sugar.

Finish: All I wrote was “goes on forever”.

Having had the privilege to taste a couple of 30yo + Balvenie single cask whiskies earlier in the year, I knew the standard 30yo expression would not disappoint. In fact, the only disappointing thing is that at £335 I am going to have to wait a long time to afford a bottle of my own!

I really enjoyed my visit to the distillery, which is set far off the road behind a somewhat mysterious stand of forest. Although our guide admitted that she was more of a Glenfiddich devotee, she gamely led the tasting with notes from, I believe, master blender David Stewart. My previous enjoyment of Balvenie allowed me to take this tasting a bit casually, quaffing some and sipping some whilst exchanging banter with others on the tour.

As a note to those who want to visit Balvenie, be sure to book your spaces well in advance. The tours are kept deliberately small (a major benefit, in my opinion) and it’s my impression that they fill up quickly during the high season. If you manage to get a spot, I hope you find it as enriching and delightful as I did.


5 thoughts on “Making Up for Lost Time, Part Two: Balvenie Distillery

  1. Awesome post! I was lucky enough to visit Balvenie myself this past March – however it was during the 1 week that they completely shut down to clean everything from top to bottom so I didn’t get to see things in action like you! Love that you saw the coopers working too – that’s really cool. Fun to compare photos (quick link to photos of my tour: Wonderful people – I’m impressed that you navigated your way there via public transportation!

  2. Thanks, Allison! Your photos are fantastic, even if the distillery was “silent” during your visit too. I can’t believe David Stewart himself gave you the tour and poured what appear to be some truly special drams. Very jealous! You’ll have to make another visit someday just for the cooperage — it brings a whole new respect for the attention to craftsmanship that makes the whisky industry as a whole, and Balvenie in particular, so wonderful.

    • I do believe I will be back to Scotland soon. No immediate plans but I feel in love with the people, the beauty and of course, having such close access to Scotch & that part of the industry makes it particularly appealing! Thanks for sharing your experiences! (and yes, I still can’t believe my good fortune of having David Stewart give us the tour – “us” being defined by myself and Balcones distiller, Chip Tate). Talk about wonderful whisky geek conversations! Welcome back to NYC!

  3. Pingback: MUfLT, Part Three: Glen Moray Distillery | What Tastes Good

  4. Pingback: MUfLT, Part Four: Highland Park Distillery | What Tastes Good

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