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Virtual Tour of The Balvenie Distillery

The Balvenie Distillery (Photo Credit: thebalvenie.com)

With international borders still close in most countries, travel is made impossible. For those of us who miss Scotland and her beautiful people, we will have to wait some more. We were, therefore, absolutely delighted when William Grant and Sons invited us to go on a virtual distillery tour at The Balvenie. The highlight, however, was the promise that David Stewart, Malt Master for The Balvenie, would be available for a chat.

A wee trip to Speyside

Some of you know that I love The Balvenie, especially the single barrel range of 12 and 15 years old. I also adore their tea-spooned blended malt, Burnside, with its huge fruit notes and oakiness that does everything to lift the whisky up. Therefore, a tour at The Balvenie distillery is a big treat. I turned up at the Youtube page bright and early (well, in Scottish time at least), and waited for the tour to start.

James, our tour guide for the day

Our tour started with Brett Bayly turning up on screen looking all prim and proper with his suit. He looked a wee bit uncomfortable, but hey, he was enjoying The Balvenie 12 years old Doublewood. I think that should take away all the discomfort! Next online was Gemma Paterson, the lady of the distillery. Gemma is the Global Brand Ambassador for The Balvenie, and she is a familiar figure for anyone who knows The Balvenie well. James was last onboard, but he was sitting happily onsite at The Balvenie distillery, ready to bring us on a tour!

As with all proper distillery tours, we started at the glorious floor malting, which The Balvenie has kept intact since 1929.

The Malting Floor

The mountain of barley at the Malting Floor

It was the first time that I saw such a huge malting floor. I did not manage to visit Speyside on my last trip to Scotland, but I did see a malting floor at Laphroaig distillery. Compared to what I saw during the virtual tour at The Balvenie, the malting floor at Laphroaig was smaller. The Balvenie distillery also employed very manual processes. The malt man loads up a machine that would transport a batch of raw barley from the floor to the steeping tank, where he adds water to encourage the germination process to start.

Once the malt man completes the steeping process, he lays the barley on the ground to grow. After that, the barley goes into the kiln, where they dried the barley either with coal fire or peat. Let’s go take a look at their kiln.

The Kiln

James took us down to see the fire, where it was warm and toasty for him. The kiln looked cool, but it’s very hot to touch. Using a metal hook, he eased the door opened and showed off the gentle fire. The small fire generated enough heat to dry and stop the germination of the barley, but not hot enough to burn them. As a real life experiment, he took a small piece of peat (the distillery produces their own peated malt too) and throw it into the coal fire. Will the peat contributes to a small phenol level in the current kilning process? Perhaps.

The Still House

Next, we headed off to the still house, where The Balvenie distillery produces their new make. The distillery houses 5 wash stills and 6 spirits stills. The wash stills have a capacity of 9100 litres which the spirits stills hold 12,750 litres each. The total distillation hours are 15.5 – 16.5 hours. Balvenie takes the cut of the heart between 74% to 64% abv, pretty much like most other distilleries. Finally, 4250 litres of spirits will be obtained from the original 53,000 litres of wort. A word on the cut of the heart – the peated malt has a lower and more precise cut that is lower than 70% abv.

The second picture showed James’ finger on the bulb of the spirit stills. This is an important part where the shape of the copper still encourages more reflux, creating a higher rectification during distillation. The higher rectification creates a cleaner spirit with fruity notes. The final step of the distillation process is at the spirit safe. Here, the still men will work manually to check on the spirit coming off the still. The new make is collected between 74% abv to 64% abv for the unpeated malt. The cut of the heart is lower when they are distilling peated malt.

Warehouse 24

A distillery tour is not complete without a peep into the warehouse. James took us to warehouse 24, where some of the older casks of Balvenie are still sleeping.

It is a huge warehouse but not filled to the brim with casks. Each cask is given enough space to breathe and do its magic on the whisky it is holding. Some of these casks dated back to the days where David Stewart, the Malt Master of The Balvenie, first became the Malt Master!

In the warehouse, James shared the story of the copper dog, a device used to sneak whisky out right under the watchful eyes of the excisemen. There is a story behind the copper dog and a man named Dennis, but I would leave the story untold. It’s more exciting to hear it first hand when you visit The Balvenie Distillery after the pandemic. James demonstrated how a man can use the copper dog to draw whisky out of a cask. It was pretty exciting, but perhaps, he was making too much noise trying to “steal whisky out of a cask”!

The Copper Dog

A copper dog is a device usually made of copper, although it can be made in stainless steel. The first picture showed the copper dog as it is, a container with a long chain. If you are a warehouse man in the past, you may get your mate to distract the exciseman and you use the copper dog to draw whisky from the cask. All you need to do is to drop the copper dog into the cask, draw it back up, and cap it. Put it back into your pockets and share a dram with your mate later on.

In James’ demonstration, he poured the whisky into a wee glass container to show us what the whisky was – a Balvenie 16 years old in a sherry butt.

Meeting David Stewart, the Malt Master at The Balvenie Distillery

At the end of the virtual tour, Gemma Paterson introduced David Stewart, the Malt Master. David joined the distillery in his youth (see the picture above) and has spent his entire career at WG&S. David is the most experienced malt master in Scotland, having 59 years of experience. He also nosed about 500,000 casks across his career. Meeting David was a treat, even if it was an online chat. He shared his experience of creating one of the most well-loved Balvenie expression – The 12 Years Old Doublewood.

David designed the “wood finishing” process in 1982 (gulp! I wasn’t even born yet) and began to experiment with it. Over time, he developed a sound concept and used it for the 12 Years Old Doublewood. To make the whisky, David takes a batch of whisky matured in American ex-bourbon casks and vat them together before transferring them into sherry butts for 9 months. Then the whisky are again put into a marrying tun for another 2 to 3 months before bottling. While each bottle of the Doublewood is labelled as a 12 years old, the process makes the whisky just slightly short of 13 years old.

The Balvenie 12 Years Old Doublewood

The Doublewood launched in 1993, and immediately took the limelight. The whisky gains its distinctive character from its maturation in two wood types, and these casks give the whisky unique characteristics that would not be available in the other wood. While the bourbon casks soften and give the whisky its roundedness, the sherry casks add depth and flavour to the whisky. It is truly one of the most delectable offerings from The Balvenie!

Comments from WhiskyGeeks

We really enjoyed the tour, and also the media kit that was delivered to us. It holds a copper dog (yay!), the beloved Balvenie Glencairn glass, a 12 Years Old Doublewood and a 12 Years Old Triple Cask. The team is definitely looking forward to drinking the whiskies. The tour gave us a good overview of the distillery and we are now looking forward to visiting the distillery in Scotland for real when the pandemic is over. We want to thank Gemma, James and Brett for the lively tour and David for taking his time out to speak with us.

For now, let’s drink and stay safe! Slàinte!

BenRiach’s New Range

BenRiach has always been GlenDronach‘s shy sibling, but not anymore! Dr Rachel Barrie has shaken up the core range and BenRiach is getting more of the spotlight!

BenRiach – The Chameleon Malt

BenRiach is a distillery in Speyside, known for its experimental distillation and maturation ever since Billy Walker bought over the distillery in 2003. Why do I spell BenRiach with a capital R? It’s Billy Walker’s signature mark to capitalise a letter in the middle of the name, like GlenDronach or GlenAllachie. Pretty much like the late Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies. Being one of the first few distilleries in Speyside to triple-distil their spirit shows how willing they are to break regional stereotypes and experiment! They even started distilling peated spirit since the 1970s!

In some whisky circles, BenRiach single malts have been known as the ‘chameleon malt’. To clarify, this means that the spirit character adapts well to various casks and cask finishes. What is cask finishing? It is taking a matured whisky in a more gentle cask, usually American white oak casks and transferring the whisky to another cask to add a layer of flavours. And just how adventurous was Billy Walker with cask-finishes? Well, just for example, if you would look into the archives, BenRiach has gone into Madeira casks, Sauternes casks, dark rum, tawny port and wine casks! The spirit worked well, fitting into various casks of different flavours, like a chameleon changing colours based on its environment. However, some people find it difficult to pin down BenRiach’s signature spirit character.

The baton is in good hands

Dr Rachael Barrie, Master Blender and Keeper of the Quaich. Photo Credits to Brown-Forman and MaltWine Asia

So, how has Dr Rachael Barrie changed the new range? In my opinion, I think that she played to the strengths of BenRiach’s chameleon character whilst addressing its confusing nature. That is to say, the new bottlings feature BenRiach matured in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in casks like Jamaican rum, Port, or Marsala and blends it with full-term matured Benriach to create unique flavour combinations. In my opinion, this is absolutely genius! It showcases BenRiach’s chameleon nature with cask finishes whilst securing a consistent house-style with ex-bourbon maturation. In addition, Brown-Forman, who owns several American Whiskey distilleries, is also providing BenRiach with quality ex-bourbon casks!

The new packaging is ironically a call back to the packaging of BenRiach in the 1990s, when BenRiach was owned by Seagram’s.

Photo Credits to Brown Forman, Malt Wine Asia, and WhiskyBase

BenRiach The Original Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Original Ten is a combination of peated and unpeated spirit. As a result, the blend produces a lightly smoky malt, which was what some Speyside whiskies were like in the past. Bottled at 43%, the label declares the casks used, namely, Bourbon casks, Sherry casks and Virgin casks. This is largely ex-bourbon dominant, so this bottling has a more fruit-forward character with a trace of smoke that becomes a little more distinct with time and a couple drops of water!

Out of the four new releases, I really enjoy this the most! I was surprised by the blending expertise that ensured the balance between peated and unpeated Single Malt. It gave me flashbacks of the Arran Smuggler’s Series. Although, I would love to see a version of this at an abv of 46% or higher someday!

BenRiach The Smoky Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Smoky Ten is a revamp of the 10yo Curiositas, but a little funkier! This 10-year-old single malt features some peated BenRiach with a Jamaican rum cask finish, giving it more fruitiness! With the Virgin oak contributing more to the body, I would say that this would be a delightful daily dram for a peat lover!

BenRiach The Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

I expected this unpeated 12yo to be pretty popular in the room for the media event, and it was. Being based on the previous sherried BenRiach 12yo bottlings, this now features a combination of full-term sherry matured single malt with some Port-cask finished stock. In my opinion, this brings about more of that bourbon-cask fruity house style. For any sherried malt lovers, this bottling would be something you might want to try!

BenRiach The Smoky Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

This is a rather interesting entry, as it offers the BenRiach peated experience with a bit more European oak spice notes from the sherry and marsala casks. I like it that the core features casks from more unique fortified wines!

Concluding Thoughts

As a person who causally blends whiskies as a small party trick or for my own enjoyment, I can feel the expertise and mastery of the art Dr Rachel Barrie has put into this core range. And I know it’s out of her control, and I know Brown Forman does want to make BenRiach appealing for the mass market, but I do wish some of these entries were unchill-filtered so I could really get the full character of BenRiach. Maybe we need to start educating more whisky drinkers to understand the beauty of scotch mist!

If you’re interested in the new bottlings or the old unchillfiltered bottlings, do check out MaltWineAsia with this link! They have both! There are some cask strength single cask BenRiachs under S$200 as well!
Special thanks to MaltWineAsia, Brown Forman and Stewart Buchanan! Look out for the BenRiach distillery article next week!

Educational Chat with James Cordiner, Brand Ambassador – Balvenie

James Cordiner with the Balvenie Core Range of Products

I always get lucky to represent WhiskyGeeks when a handsome, young man comes to Singapore. Allow me to introduce Mr James Cordiner, Brand Ambassador of Southeast Asia for Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky. James is not just another brand ambassador; he is the man after our hearts with his passion for whisky.

James is possibly the only brand ambassador that I have met so far to earn so many credentials in whisky production. He holds a General Certificate in Distilling, a distinction award in WSET 2 and is currently pursuing his Master Degree in Brewing and Distilling with Entrepreneurship at Heriot-Watt. He aims to complete the Master’s next year after his research project with William Grant and Sons.

Let’s hear more from the man himself.

Growing up in Speyside

James grew up in Speyside, Craigellachie, to be precise. As a young lad, he saw that the economy of the country revolves around the whisky industry. It was the biggest employer in Speyside, and naturally, most of his friends and neighbours have something to do with whisky. James was not interested in whisky because everyone else was. He wanted to be the best vet in Speyside, tending to the sheep and Highland coos.

However, fate tends to intervene.

When James came of age, he began to work in some of these distilleries during the summer as a tour guide. It was an excellent way to spend his summer, and he got to work with his friends. James also enjoyed all the interactions he had with the tourists. As he immersed himself in the world of whisky, James discovered that he loves to know more about whisky production. After university, James had a tough choice. He could put in another five years in Medicine and fulfilled his childhood dreams to be a vet, or he could put in just one year to complete a Master in Biomedical Science. He chose the latter.

During his time in university, James also began to work in Speyside whisky bars as a bartender. He also became the president of the whisky club. After graduation, he worked as a bartender for some months before joining Chivas Brother as a brand ambassador for the U.K.

In 2018, James decided to go back to school to obtain a Master’s degree in Brewing and Distilling. He wanted to add on to his knowledge on the technical part of whisky-making just so to satisfy his geeky side. He will complete the course once he finishes the research project that he will take on at William Grant and Sons in 2020.

How did James end up as the Balvenie Brand Ambassador?

Gemma Paterson, the Global Brand Ambassador of Balvenie, was at the Speyside Whisky Festival in May 2019, and James had a chance meeting with her. Their friendship goes way before this meeting, as Gemma knew James when he was working as a tour guide in Glenfiddich and also when he was working as a bartender for one of the whisky bars in Speyside. Gemma told him that there is a job for Balvenie and James naturally said YES! He went for the interview on Gemma’s recommendation and viola, here he is – the Southeast Asian Brand Ambassador for Balvenie!

Why be the Geek?

James is the perfect person to be geeky with. He has all the credentials to teach us more about whisky. First, however, we need to know why he is so in love with whisky production. James has always been quite a little explorer as a child. His ambition to be a vet led him to study science and chemistry. While his grades eventually did not manage to get him a place in the course he wanted, he pursued a course in research into Family Medicine. The knowledge helped him tremendously when he decided to switch his career plans. Due to the switch, James also decided to put in more efforts and time to study what he chose to do for the rest of his life. He is genuinely excited to commerce his research at William Grant and Sons to earn the Master’s degree!

Onwards to the Geeky Side of Things

The Balvenie Core Range of Products

I had to ask the one question that everyone likes to ask me: What is the most important part of whisky production?

James looked at me seriously and said, “Well, every part counts!” He explained that many of the distilleries do use the same type of barley, the same yeast from the same company, and yet produces different kinds of whisky. Therefore, it is the uniqueness of all the parts, adding together that makes a whisky special.

As a geek myself, I could stop myself asking for more details about the production process.

The Whisky-Making Process at Balvenie Distillery

Balvenie still has a traditional malting floor in which 10% of their barley is malted on-site. The remainder comes from professional malters. The malting process starts with two days of steeping the barley, before laying them on the floor for six days to germinate. Once the barley germinates, they go into the kiln for forty-two hours of drying. This malted barley then undergoes milling, and the end product is called grist.

The grist then goes into the mash tun. Each batch of mash uses 11.8 tonnes of milled barley. Mashing takes five and a half hours, with the first water at 68-degree Celcius, the second water at 75-degree Celcius, and the third water at 86 degree Celcius. At the end of the mashing process, the wort produced goes into the washbacks.

Balvenie has 15 washbacks that can hold 75,000 litres each. Fermentation takes place in the washbacks. However, the distillery only adds 53,000 litres of wort into each washback to aid fermentation and prevent overflowing. Two hundred sixty litres of yeast is added to the wort in the washback and left for 68 hours. After the fermentation is done, the wash is at 7-8% abv.

Next comes distillation. Balvenie has five wash stills and six spirits stills. The wash stills have a capacity of 9100 litres which the spirits stills hold 12,750 litres each. The total distillation hours are 15.5 – 16.5 hours. Balvenie takes the cut of the heart between 74% to 64% abv, pretty much like most other distilleries. Finally, 4250 litres of spirits will be obtained from the original 53,000 litres of wort.

It takes a total of 15 days to go from malting to distilling. Do note that Balvenie also has its cooperage.

Terroir: Opinion of a Speyside Lad

Does terroir affect whisky? James thinks that it does but in very minimally, especially when compared to wines. “Things like water source are important. [It is] not so much [about] the flavours of the water going in, but the chemical balances, especially the PH, which will affect the later process, such as the fermentation and mashing.”

James goes on to explain that the flavours of the whisky come mostly from the cask, making up about 60-70% of the influence. Of course, when the whisky gets older, the impact of the cask gets stronger. Therefore, it is not really about terroir when it comes to flavours, but terroir does play a part in the entire process of whisky-making.

We also began to talk about barley, and if different barley affects the flavours of the new-make spirits. James commented that most distilleries use the same type of barley that is commercially available. Therefore, it would be hard to say that barley affects the flavours by a significant percentage. Whisky undergoes distillation, and the chemical process changes the character of the new-make based on the time, temperature and technics of each distillery. Barley should not make a big difference to whisky. It would, however, make a difference to beer, but that’s for another day.

Is Older the Better? Musing from an Expert

The chat moved into the zone of whether older whiskies are better at this point, and I think we had it well covered.

“I’ve tasted a lot of old whiskies that are incredible. It depends on what flavours you like, so, as it gets older, it is going to get much more influence from the oak, tannins from the wood. I have a lot of people who tried the old whiskies, and they don’t like that sort of dryness from the oak itself. So it doesn’t mean that it is a better whisky. But [what] does tend to happen with age though, is sort of [the] mellowing out of the whisky, so you get the evaporation of the harsher alcohol and tends to become much smoother the older it is, which I think a lot of whisky connoisseurs and geeks really appreciate that sort of old woodly oakiness in the whisky.”

The Different Offerings of Balvenie

Balvenie DCS Selection

Since we were on the topic of older whiskies, we started talking about how Balvenie got everyone covered with their fantastic range of products. We get the core range of products from the Balvenie 12 Doublewood to the 21 Portwood for our daily drams and some exclusive cask strength whiskies for the occasions.

James then pulled out the big guns – the Balvenie DCS Selection. I do realise by now what a treat I was going to get, and I was trying very hard not to show my excitement. The DCS Selection that I tasted range from 1981 to 1985, with the youngest whisky being 30 years old.

After all four drams, I would rank them as such: 1985, 1984, 1981 and finally 1982. I love how each of them stands out on their own, with different characteristics but yet still showing the true Balvenie spirit. 1981, 1984 and 1985 are bourbon-matured while 1982 is sherry-matured.

Final Question: What is the most challenging thing you face when moving to Singapore?

I just had to ask this question because having just been back from Scotland; I know just how different Singapore is. James laughed and exclaimed, “The Weather!” He is truly a Scot to talk about the weather! James found the heat and humidity terrible to bear at first but he is slowly getting used to it. He will always miss the Scottish weather, but for now, he is ready to take on Southeast Asia to bring them more of Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

We really must take our hats off this guy!

All the best to you, James, and we will be seeing you soon!

 

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    Whisky Review #103 – Tamdhu 15 Years Old (OB)

    Tamdhu 12 and 15 Years Old

    The last whisky review I did on WhiskyGeeks was a long time ago; 7 months ago, to be exact. There wasn’t a lot of time for me to sit around to relax and enjoy during these 7 months, so there wasn’t a point to do a review. I finally get some time today and worked myself into the mood to enjoy something nice.

    I would like to change the scoring for our reviews from this post onwards – we will no longer score the whiskies based on a 20/20/20/40 system for the nose/palate/finish/balance. Instead, we will follow the standards by most whiskies review sites to use the 25/25/25/25 scoring system. I hope the change would make our scoring fairer.

    Tamdhu 15 Years Old

    I was given a sample of the Tamdhu 15 Years Old when I did the exclusive interview with Jonathan Scott. The Tamdhu 15 years old is the new kid on the block for their core range and the Asiaeuro team had graciously shared a sample with me. Here are my thoughts on it.

    Tasting Notes:

    Colour: Amber
    ABV: 46%

    Nose: Oranges waft to the nose but cloves and cinnamon quickly replaced the sweet oranges. As I put aside the spices, I get sweet toffee, plums and some musky earth. (20/25)

    Palate: Oily mouthfeel; sweet toffee envelops the mouth before the cloves work their way to give a spicy punch to the palate. Black pepper replaces the cloves after that. As the spices settle down, sweet toffee returns and bring along oranges, plums and honey to the palate. (23/25)

    Finish: Long finish; the oranges linger for a short while before the cloves come back with a vengeance. Black pepper burns down the throat, giving an unexpected warmth. Finally, the finish turns dry and tannic, giving away to oakiness that lasts for a long time. (22/25)

    Body: The Tamdhu 15 Years Old is a relatively complex dram that whisky lovers can enjoy for a long while. The spiciness of the dram may put some people off, but it does benefits from some airing or water. Once the whisky opens up, the sweetness of oranges, plums and honey takes the dram to another level. (23/25)

    Total Score: 88/100

    Comments:

    Zerlina: I enjoyed this dram. On the surface, it looks like a simple whisky at 46% but the complexity of the dram is quite impressive. This is probably not so suitable for someone who just starts the whisky journey, but for someone who has been drinking whisky for a while, this will prove to be an enjoyable dram. 

    Zico: I am working on a cocktail at the moment – and hence will not be able to give an unbiased comment. Hahaha!

     

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      Speyside Distillery – A History with Al Capone

      Everyone knows that Speyside is part of the Highlands in Scotland. The region boasts of many beautiful distilleries and whiskies that many would pay an arm and a leg (or maybe a kidney) to buy them. However, there is one distillery, which despite its name, is often overlooked.

      The Speyside Distillery is an underrated distillery located at Speyside, cuddling the magnificent Cairngorm Mountains. For those who know the land, it is probably one of the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland. The site that the distillery stands on today was once a barley mill and croft in the 1700s. It closed in 1965.

      The beginning of the Speyside Distillery

      The story began in 1770 when John and Robert Harvey founded Yorker Distillery. After which, they also built Dundashill and Bruichladdich Distillery over the years. Their experiences over the years led to the birth of the Harvey’s Codex in 1856. It was a family-only secret which detailed the art of malting and distilling, as well as the methods in choosing the source of Highland water and the type of casks. The family called their whisky “Harvey’s”.

      Lord Byron was a supporter of the Harvey brothers, and in 1815, he gifted a cask of Harvey’s single malt whisky to King George III when he married the daughter of Seaham Hall’s owner, Lady Annabelle Milbanke. A recent tracing of this cask to Kew Palace puts new evidence that Speyside Distillery had a royal connection in the past under its old brand name.

      The glorious history, however, came to a sad ending. The Harvey brothers were forced to relinquish their distillery in 1906 and focused on trading whisky made by their friends using the Harvey’s Codex. The industrial brothers did not give up. Instead, the focus on trading whisky helped them to control the quality of their whisky as well as creating a luxurious packaging. The whisky became well-known as Spey. These paid off during the Prohibition Years.

      The Harvey Brothers during the Prohibition Years

      Spey as a brand was sought after in the US black market during the Prohibition Years. Famous underground names approached the Harveys to export their whiskies from Seaham Hall (where they stored the whisky) into the US black market. Alec Harvey (son of John Harvey), worked with criminal minds such as Al Capone and George Remus during those dark years and reaped a lot of rewards financially. Belle Livingstone of Country Club and Owey Madden of Cotton Club were their esteemed customers too.

      The Spey brand became the illegal secret that could not be named. Cotton Club and Country Club both ran membership-only clubs offering luxurious evenings of pleasure that included Spey.

      When Prohibition ended, whisky became legal. The legend of Spey lost its illegal secret status but continued to be popular among the rich and powerful. However, the whisky supply dwindled and eventually ran out.

      The Turning Wheels of the Modern Era

      Alec Harvey’s daughter, Doreen, married John McDonough in 1955. Their first child, also named John, was born in 1956. As a child, John learned about his grandfather’s entrepreneurial journey and took an interest in both business and whisky trading. John Jnr. began a long career with Grand Metropolitan-International Distillers and Vintners and even relocated to Taiwan.

      He worked hard to restore his family legacy as a distiller and brand master of Spey. His work in Taiwan inspired many industry players within the country, and they rallied behind him when he sought to relaunch the Spey brand.

      The Relaunching of Spey and the Beginning of the Speyside Distillery

      John Jnr. relaunched the Spey brand in Taiwan in 1990, with the support and help of his Taiwanese friends and colleagues. The group build the brand successfully into the No. three malt brand in Taiwan within a few short years. Finally, in 2012, John Jnr. revived his family legacy as distillers with his purchase of the Speyside Distillery Company Limited (SDCL) to operate the Speyside Distillery. The acquisition allows Spey whisky to go home finally and also helps to safeguard the supply of Spey for generations to come.

      The Spey Whisky Range

      The Spey is known as one of the smoothest and most approachable malts amongst the Speyside region due to its light and delicate character. The variety within the range offers drinkers a choice between ages and styles. You can find the range of whiskies from the Speyside Distillery here.

       

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        Speyburn – A distillery built for the Queen

        Previously, we have spoken about a distillery that was once a favourite of the King of Scotland. Now, we will talk about a distillery that was built for a Queen – Queen Victoria of United Kingdom, to be exact. The Speyburn distillery is located in the heart of Speyside, right in the glen near to Granty Burn – one of the major tributaries of the River Spey.

        History of Speyburn

        John Hopkins & Company founded Speyburn distillery in 1897 after Hopkins discovered the site of Granty Burn. He knew that the untouched nature and the refreshing waters of Granty Burn were perfect for a distillery. Going with his instincts, Hopkins built the distillery in the glen, using stones from the river.

        Hopkins appointed the famous architect, Charles Doig to design the distillery and, to this day, Speyburn sports the classic pagoda ventilator, a trademark of Doig’s design.

        John Hopkins had built the distillery as a commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Hopkins was determined to run the first spirit before the end of 1897. When the stills became operational, the distillery had no doors or windows. Therefore, the distillery men worked in overcoats and mufflers to battle against the bitter cold to run the first distillate on 15 December when the distillery’s construction delayed. For the next two weeks, the men worked in terrible conditions as snowstorms raged around them. Their hard work finally paid off, and they produced and bonded one butt that bore the year 1897 on December 31, 1897.

        120 Years of Speyside Experience

        Speyburn has been in operation since Hopkins first built it in 1897. After 120 years, the distillery is well-known for its bold and bright whiskies. Speyburn whiskies are pure but full of character, symbolising the speciality of Speyside. Their core range of whiskies is a symbol of what Speyside can offer. Often, you can hear people saying, “Speyburn is Speyside”.

        Currently, Speyburn is owned by Inver House Distillers Limited. With only one wash still and one spirit still, the distillery produces 1 million litres of alcohol annually.

        Speyburn Whisky

        Speyburn has three different bottles for their core range. They are the Bradan Orach Single Malt, the Speyburn 10-year-old and the Speyburn 15-year-old.

        Bradan Orach Single Malt

        The Bradan Orach Single Malt is a NAS expression that is a classic, welcoming Speyside Whisky. It is matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks and named after the world-class salmon fishing found on the River Spey. In fact, “Braden Orach” means “Golden Salmon” in Gaelic.

        Speyburn 10-year-old Single Malt

        The Speyburn 10-year-old single malt is another classic expression of the Speyburn range. Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry American oak casks, it is sweet and refreshing as a typical Speyside single malt.

        Speyburn 15-year-old Single Malt

        The Speyburn 15-year-old single malt is a bold expression that embraces the precious elements of Speyside. It is matured in both American and Spanish oak casks for 15 years before bottling. The vibrant nature of this liquid has endeared itself to many whisky drinkers around the world.

        Besides the three whiskies above, Speyburn has another expression – the Arranta Casks Single Malt.

        The Gaelic word meaning “intrepid and daring” inspired the Arranta Cask Single Malt. The spicy whisky is matured in specially selected first-fill bourbon American oak casks. The bold and flavourful character of the whisky earns an “A-star” from the distillery Manager as a seal of approval.

        Event: Launching Macallan Edition No. 3

        WhiskyGeeks attended the media launch of Macallan Edition No. 3 last Monday, 16 October at the Luxe Museum. If you have seen the pictures on their Facebook page, you would know that it was a grand event indeed!

        The Greeting

        The above picture was what greeted us when we walked in. The cask that you see on the left was one of the casks that they used in the Macallan distillery. Macallan shipped to Singapore specially for the event. We were ushered into the main hall behind the frontage to a bar where the staff offered us a cocktail.

        We were feeling a little cheeky that night, so we asked for a glass of neat Macallan instead. The lovely staff told us that the good stuff was in the last room. We were surprised at the mention of rooms, and upon further queries, we understood that Macallan has split up the Luxe Museum to various “rooms” where different flavours of Macallan Edition No. 3 were displayed.

        The Journey in the land of Macallan Edition No. 3

        The setup was a series of “rooms” where guests explored at their leisure. The relaxing atmosphere created here was a luxury that many guests enjoyed. The stroll through the flower garden, the woodlands of oak casks and the modern chic living room filled with precious liquids from Macallan was splendid. Staff members were on hand to serve small bites to the guests. There was a station for ice cream too! We tasted the blood orange ice cream – delicious!

        The journey ended in an inner room where they hid the real gems. Staff at the bar were dishing out glasses of Macallan 12 Years Fine Oak to all patrons, and we finally jumped into the action. Sipping the palatable liquid, we waited patiently for the launch to start officially.

        Launching the Macallan Edition No. 3

        Macallan had the honours of inviting Roja Dove, the Master Perfumer who collaborates with Master Whisky Maker, Bob Dalgarno, to Singapore for the launch of Macallan Edition No. 3. We also had to pleasure to hear him explain why and how they created Macallan Edition No. 3. This particular edition showcases the nose more than the others because Macallan wanted to impress upon whisky drinkers that the nose is just as crucial as the palate and finish. Macallan wanted to be different by creating this lovely whisky.

        After Macallan officially launched the whisky, all the guest (that’s us!) got to taste it! The beautiful notes of floral and citrus waft up the nose immediately. The chocolate came after with vanilla sweetness in the background. Lovely! The palate was elegant and slightly dry. Caramel and vanilla mixed to complement each other without overpowering sweetness. It was somewhat typical Macallan. The finish was reasonably long, with the taste of vanilla cupcakes lingering for quite a while.

        Meeting Roja Dove

        We managed to meet Roja Dove while heading to the counter for a second glass of Macallan No. 3. The jovial fellow greeted us warmly and patiently answered all our questions. In return, he asked how we like the Macallan Edition No. 3. Well, let’s just say that he wasn’t the happiest man after hearing it! That’s because we told him that we love the nose of the whisky, but the palate seems a little flat. While he was not too happy about our comments, Roja was a perfect professional. We spoke a little longer before we left him to be surrounded by others. It was only much later that we realised we forgot to ask for a picture together!

        Rounding Up

        It was a dazzling night for us, but it was time to call it quits before all of us get too tipsy to head home. While we were a little disappointed with the liquid, we had an enjoyable evening. On a side note, we got to say that the Macallan 12 Years Fine Oak is a fantastic dram! If you have not tried it, you should.

         

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          The Historic Balmenach Distillery

          Picture Credits: www.pinterest.com

          The Balmenach distillery is one of the earliest distilleries in Speyside. Located at the bottom of the Haughs of Cromdale in the Spey valley, it sits on the historic site of the defeat of the Jacobite uprising in April 1690. It was in these hills that dragoon guards ambushed an army of Jacobite soldiers on 30th April 1690 during their sleep. They killed many Jacobite soldiers and chased the rest into defeat.

          History of the Balmenach Distillery

          In the early 1800s, the McGregor brothers set up a farm in these areas. One of them, James McGregor, also set up a secret still on the site. James obtained a license for his distilling operation in 1824 and formally set up the Balmenach distillery. The McGregor family owned and operated the distillery until 1922 when DCL bought it. Balmenach distillery continued to run smoothly until 1993. UDV decided to mothball the distillery in 1993, and for the next five years, the distillery lay silent.

          In 1998, Inver House Distillers bought the Balmenach distillery and reopened the distillery. The first distillate of Balmenach flowed in March 1998 under the watchful eyes of Inver House’s master blender.

          Operations at the Balmenach Distillery

          Balmenach distillery uses traditional machinery and methods used in the olden days. The distillery uses a cast iron mash tun which mashes around eight tonnes of barley every seven and a half hours. The wash is then fermented in six Douglas fir washbacks for at least fifty hours before it is ready for distillation.

          The stillhouse of Balmenach has three wash stills and three spirit stills. The total capacity of these stills is around two million litres of whisky a year. The spirit travels through a worm tub before entering one of the two spirit safes in the stillhouse. After that, it transfers into a spirit vat. Finally, the spirit goes in oak casks before getting transported to the warehouses where they mature.

          Single Malts at Balmenach Distillery

          Balmenach is still maturing their single malts in the warehouse. Despite rumours that said Balmenach would soon launch their official single malts bottling, our chat with Master Blender, Stuart Harvey, proved otherwise. Stuart shared that it will be some time yet before the world gets a treat from Balmenach’s official single malts bottling. Nonetheless, you can find fantastic Balmenach single malts by independent bottlers such as the one from The Single Cask that we had some time ago.

          The Distillery Today

          The distillery is producing both whisky and gin today. Balmenach distillery produced Caoruun Gin, Inver House Distillers’ premium gin. Five Celtic botanicals found in the surrounding hills of the Balmenach distillery go into Caoruun Gin. Handcrafted and distilled in small batches, Caoruun Gin’s quality is tightly controlled by Gin Master, Simon Buley.

          The whisky produced at Balmenach continues to define this historic distillery that honours the traditional methods of production. We look forward to the day when we get to taste the first official bottling of Balmenach Single Malts.

           

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            Whisky Review #44 – The Single Cask Balmenach 12 Years Old

            Balmenach Distillery is not a well-known one considering its links to the blending houses. In the 1800s, the distillery was one of the many illicit distilleries in Scotland. James McGregor founded the Balmenach Distillery officially in 1824 after he obtained a license. The McGregor family sold the distillery in 1992 and it was mothballed in 1993 by its new owners. Inver House Distillers bought the distillery in 1998 and the first distillate of Balmenach was produced in March 1998. The distillery provides blending houses with whisky and hardly ever bottle their own single malt. However, rumours have it that we might see something from Balmenach in 2018. The distillery also produces the popular Caorunn Gin on its premises.

            Balmenach distillery uses worm tubs for distillation, which makes their whisky sulphuric. Worm tubs make use of 100m long copper coiling submerge in water for distillate to pass through. While copper usually “purify” the sulphur in the distillate, worm tubs make it harder for the copper to perform “their duties” as they have to clean the water too. That results in a new spirit that still contains sulphur.

            Let’s move on to the review now.

            Tasting Notes:

            Colour: Deep Gold
            ABV: 50%

            Nose: Hmm…the first nose reminds me of Juicy Fruits – the popular chewing gum flavour from Wrigley’s. Sweet bananas, cherry liquorice and cotton candy blend together to create a pleasant nose. Hints of savoury meats (roast pork) and spices linger in the background. (18/20)

            Palate: The entry is full of butterscotch and banana, but the spice that is promised in the nose is also on the forefront. The blend of sweet and spice makes a good balance on the palate, making it a relatively easy drink even at 50% abv. (17/20)

            Finish: A long finish that is spicy with some sulphuric notes. The sulphur becomes extremely distinguished if water is taken when the whisky is still lingering in the mouth. (17/20)

            Body: A superb well-balanced expression that impresses me with its quality mix of sweet and spice. The palate delivers what the nose promises and the finish does not disappoint. (35/40)

            Total Score: 87/100

            Comments:

            Geek Flora: “This whisky brings me back to my childhood where I chewed on Juicy Fruits gums for hours even after the flavours were gone. Putting my sentiments aside, I think this whisky is a great dram as it makes a good balance on the nose, palate and finish. If you are thinking of buying your next whisky bottle, do consider this one!”

             

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              A Relatively Short History on Allt-A-Bhainne

              The Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery (Picture Credits: www.whisky.com)

              The Allt-a-Bhainne distillery produces the whisky for the Chivas Brothers blend and currently belonged to the Chivas Brothers. It has a relatively short and undisturbed history but having been mothballed once, it is an interesting distillery to explore.

              History of Allt-a-Bhainne distillery

              Seagram built this lesser-known distillery in 1975. The Canadian drinks company also owned Chivas Brothers back then. The company built Allt-a-Bhainne to cater to the rising demand for blended whiskies such as the Chivas Brothers and other popular blends owned by Seagram.

              During the economic downturn, Seagrams ran into problems and sold off its assets to other drinks company, primarily Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Pernod Ricard took over Allt-a-Bhainne and Chivas Brothers in 2001. They promptly inaugurate the distillery into the Chivas Brothers brand. The distillery mothballed in 2003 for some unknown reasons but reopened in 2005 by the Chivas Brothers to produce whisky for its blends.

              Uniqueness of the Distillery

              Working on Distillation in Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery (Picture Credit: www.scotchwhisky.com)

              Allt-a-Bhainne distillery stands out as an oddball in Speyside mainly because of its modernistic design among the rest of the fanciful distilleries. It is located in the Fiddich Glen, near to Dufftown. The name meant “milk on the burn (steam)” in Gaelic.

              The distillery’s design is extremely functional in order for it to be run with minimal staff. All its equipment is located in a single large room with the mash tun at one end and four stills at the other end. The distillery currently produces 4 million litres of pure alcohol per year for the blend production of Chivas Brothers.

              It has no official single malt bottling as it is mainly a workhorse for the Chivas Brothers blend. Nonetheless, you can find single malt independent bottlings that carried the Allt-a-Bhainne name such as the one we tried from Gordon and Macphail.

              The Distillery Today

              Allt-a-Bhainne distillery remains as a workhorse for Chivas Brothers and its liquid goes into Chivas Regal, Passport and 100 Pipers. Due to its nature as a small, productive distillery, it is not open to the public and has no visitor centre since it is not looking at expanding its name and produce to the world.

               

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