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Saturday, 17 April 2010

Speyside Day Two: Spey Another Day

Day Two of the Speyside Tour and we woke for an early 9am start. Our first appointment was with William Grant & Sons, owners of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie distilleries.

Once again, does its utmost to find the ideal breakfast malt for our readers. This time, our search involved a couple of warehouses with Glenfiddich’s Global Ambassador & Master Distiller, Ian Millar.

After a quick coffee, Ian took us across to one of the main warehouses, where Glenfiddich's 'Solera System' is based: Sherry/bourbon matured casks and new oak whisky is married together in a giant Solera vat and then into smaller Solera tuns, before being bottled as a 15 Year Old. We’ve been in quite a few distillery warehouses over the past few years but have never seen anything like this. The Solera vat is enormous and the smell of maturing whisky fills the air, like the volcanic ash across Northern Europe. Ian was kind enough to draw a sample from the vat for us to try (the perfect way to start the day!) which was superbly fruity and fresh. Apparently, at last check the whisky is maturing at around 58.3%... and is essentially a cask- strength version their 15 year old bottling. The great news is 'Fiddich have bottled this and it is available in the distillery shop, where you can hand-fill and hand-label your own bottles for about £60- it all comes in a very nice, very heavy wooden box too!

We also got to see a couple of examples from the 'Artist In Residence' programme- remember the cask that was buried for 100 years? Well, we didn’t get to see the cask, but we did see the rubble where it is buried and received an official invitation from Ian Millar to the digging up, opening and tasting... in 2108! With the advancement of medical science, we’re are both hoping to return for that event... Two other pieces we saw from their programme were some interesting oval-shaped casks and an amazing sculpture called “The Angels Share”, of two small, pixie-like angels sat atop a cask, enjoying a dram. Cleverly, the artist has positioned the angles removing each other’s wings- no drinking and flying in Dufftown! A massive thank you to Ian Millar for his time.

Having explored some of the more intimate parts of Glenfiddich, it was time to take a tour around the sister distillery Balvenie, named after the castle (now only remaining in ruins) which overlooks the whole site. Jonathan was our excellent guide and walked us around the still room (11 stills) and their small malting section, even allowing us to step inside the kiln, sinking deep into the barley as it soaked up the smoke from anthracite and peat mix (Balvenie is peated to 2 – 3 ppm, a total departure from the Octomore/ Supernova bottlings of this world!); this was really a fantastic experience.

We then walked the short distance back across to Glenfiddich to have a browse around one of their still rooms... and it’s quite big! You know what they say about distilleries with big output... they need big still rooms and Glenfiddich is currently the largest ‘whisky’ distillery in Scotland, annually producing 10 million litres of the stuff, so they need big facilities. Jonathan was an excellent guide; very knowledgeable, very articulate and... English!

After wandering around the facility and taking in the beautiful Scottish sunshine, it was time for a dram or two, so we headed over to the reception room to see what was on offer...

Balvenie – Signature – 12 Years Old - Batch 3 – 40% Vol

Nose: Honey, Cigar Tobacco, Limes and brown bread.

Palate: The sweetness really hits through, carrying Demerara sugar and raisins steeped in good sherry. Next, a biscuity characteristic gives this Balvenie enough bottom end to balance out the sweetness.

Finish: Apricots, subtle oranges and morello cherry. Onwards into aniseed, then cloves and finally cinnamon. A long finish for something at 40%

Overall: We really didn’t like Batch 1 of this release. It had an overall note of stale tobacco about it, but this time they’ve got it bang on the money. The cheap cigarette tobacco has morphed into rich cigar tobacco. It’s taken them 3 batches, but they’ve finally found their feet with the Signature.

Balvenie – Single Barrel – 15 Years Old – Cask No. 74 – Distilled 12/01/1994 - Bottled 24/03/2009 – Bottle Number 12 – 47.8% vol

Nose: Very light with fresh green notes of undercooked garden veg and chopped herbs. Mint and cereal back up the fresh tones.

Palate: Vanillas, bananas, buttered white bread toast- this is very drinkable.

Finish: Crunchy-nut Cornflakes. Delicate.

Overall: A delicious dram. They knock these out at around £50 each, which is exceptional value for something so unique. Obviously, each much be judged on their own merit.

Balvenie - Portwood Finish - 21 Years Old – 40%

Nose: Superb fruity notes from the off, with stewed plums, strawberry sherbets, some fern/herbaceous freshness and a delicately perfumed waxiness, reminiscent of scented candles.

Palate: A warming maltiness comes through initially, followed by some mint humbugs, lemon zest, a hint of dry oakiness and then a plum jam’esque fruit hit. With water- and the fruit continues with a mouth coating sweetness. Drinkable, with a capital D...

Finish: Lingering notes of malt, lead into a very satisfying and warming oaky finish.

Overall: We reviewed this dram early last year and today is a very welcome reminder of how brilliant it is. Sure, it may taste better drinking it in the surroundings of the distillery, but one thing’s certain, I’ll be leaving Speyside with a bottle of this under my arm, at all costs.

After a spot of lunch in the wonderful Scottish sunshine, we headed out to walk down to the Speyside Cooperage where we had an appointment with Gary Taylor, the all-seeing-eye in the world of the Cooper. The time we spent there was so informative and utterly educational that we’ve reserved this for “Part Three” of our first visit to Dufftown… stay tuned, folks!