Monday 28th July saw the official launch of the eagerly anticipated Balvenie 14yo Caribbean Cask expression in Australia. Held at The Cuban Place / Parke Davis bar in York Street, Sydney, it saw a gathering of the usual suspects to enjoy what William Grant & Sons Australia do best: Putting on a great whisky event.
Entering the venue, one was greeted immediately by a musical duo playing an intriguing & entertaining mix of songs on an electric guitar and a steel kettle drum! But before you could quite work out whether you were hearing ABBA or La Bamba, the inimitable James Buntin, Balvenie Ambassador, was there to offer you a dram or a cocktail. The cocktails – creations of the talented Dick Blanchard – were stylish, attractive, and…it must be said…dangerously more-ish. But when you walk in the door and you’re handed a glass of Balvenie 21yo within two minutes of arriving, you know you’re at a good event. The Doublewood 12yo & 17yo expressions were also on hand to try, making for a wonderful spectrum of Balvenie goodness.
Out there in whisky consumerville right now, there are three little letters causing a stir: NAS.
Neutral Alcohol Spirit?
New Amber Strathisla?
How about Non Aggressive Speysiders?
No, it’s “No age statement”. If you read the spite and vitriol from some commentators – mostly chided bloggers who feel the industry owes them something – you’d think it was the most sinful development in whisky since Robert Pattison turned to his brother Walter and asked, “Why don’t we buy some parrots?”
(Or, if that reference is a bit obscure for you, then how about the worst sin since the Cardhu Pure Malt fiasco?)
The story goes that aged malt is in high demand; supply is short; and bottlers want to flog younger, cheaper whisky. It’s no longer practical for a distillery portfolio’s “entry level” expression to be 12 years old, and – believe it or not – whisky is made to a price point. And so it is both simultaneously sensible and opportunistic to create blends or vattings with a large proportion of mostly young stock (say 3-7 years), add in a smaller proportion of older stock, and then bottle the new expression without an age statement, so that the whisky’s youthfulness is not apparent on the label. Shocking, isn’t it? The perpetrators should head straight to confession and say three hail Johnnie Walker Blue Labels, right?
Everyone has a bucket list, and I daresay most whisky drinkers would probably list visiting their favourite distillery as a “must do” at some stage in their life. But if you’re really serious about your whiskies and you could actually get yourself to six distilleries before qualifying for your entitlement of the angels’ share, what are the Top Six to visit? In no particular order…
Is it because it was the first distillery to actively and commercially market its own single malt? Is it because it’s the largest selling single malt in the world? Is it because it’s one of the largest distilleries in Scotland? Is it because it’s still independent and family-owned? Yes, it’s all of those things, but there’s one other key reason to visit here: It’s actually a really good distillery to see and experience!
There are a range of tours on offer at the Visitor Centre, from the free Classic Tour (which, amazingly, still includes a dram of the 12, 15, and 18yo expressions), to the incredibly comprehensive Pioneer’s Tour (£75) that includes some very special tastings and warehouse visits along the way, plus you can draw and bottle your own 200ml sample from a selection of four different casks. The guides are professional, knowledgeable, and entertaining, and – despite the fact that this is a major tourist attraction – you do see and experience the real deal.
From a technical point of view, despite being one of the largest distilleries and brands, production is still very traditional – including direct fired stills and stillmen who take the middle cut when the strength and purity is right, rather than when the computer goes “bing”. All in all, it’s the perfect glimpse into the malt whisky industry.
It still claims to be “the smallest distillery in Scotland”, which actually stopped being true quite a few years ago now, but Edradour can certainly lay claim to being one of the prettiest. Yes, it is small, and its production is quaint…..right down to the draff being hand-shovelled out of the mashtun and onto an old timber cart. But the valley, the stream, and the buildings are stunning, and the whole of production takes place in a building that’s smaller than most family homes.