Okay. I’ll start here with an apology. This is possibly the most overdue blog post in the history of man (except my review of Dead Rabbit NYC, that’s more overdue). Things have happened since then, y’see. Things involving setting up new and exciting drinks distribution companies, developing a whole mess of new products, and the introduction of a mini sleep-terrorist into my house. These things have precluded me from doing what I should have done ages ago. The last one has also probably precluded me from spelling any words in this post correctly or being sure if my hands are, in fact, my hands. If you’re reading this, Ballantine’s-press-folk, you can have one free shot next time I see you, subject to the normal rules of course*.
The Ballantine’s range
Back in June, the lovely folk at Ballantine's were kind enough to invite me up to Linn House – Chivas Brothers' stunning guest-lodge – for a tour of Glenburgie distillery. Glenburgie, y’see, is the backbone of Ballantine’s Blended whisky, which they are all about promoting. More specifically, and maybe even more interestingly, they are all about promoting the use of Ballantine’s 12 Year Old in cocktails, of all things… We’ll come onto that later.
The View from Linn House. Shabby.
Now – I shan’t bore you too much with loads of distillery information, but I’ve got all these pretty pictures that I took, and it seems a shame not to use ‘em.
Obligatory Malt Mill picture
Fun fact for you – like pretty much every distillery, Glenburgie uses a Porteus Mill. Porteus were the premier manufacturer of malt mills for distilleries back in the day. Porteus did their jobs rather well, all-considered, building fantastic machinery that never broke down, or needed replacing. Consequently, pretty much every distillery in Scotland bought one. After every distillery in Scotland bought one, there was no more need for Porteus, so they closed down. Not quite sure what the moral of that particular story is, but nevertheless...
100% unpeated barley by the way. No smoke. Yuk.
No prizes for guessing the main production motivation at Glenburgie
Glenburgie was completely re-built in 2004, coinciding with the need to up-scale production to cope with the extraordinary demand for Ballantine's. This actually makes it the very first distillery to be constructed in the 21st Century.
Foreground entirely taken up by 7.5-ton mash-tun. That’s almost exactly one imperial fuck-ton.
Mashing takes about 5 hours, and due to computerised wizardry, combined with careful strain-selection for the grain, Glenburgie is getting some of the best yields in the industry.
The stainless steel Washbacks hold 36,000 litres, yielding an overall capacity of somewhere between 3m and 4m litres of pure alcohol per annum. It’s a pretty big distillery in the scheme of things. For comparison, Glenfiddich (massive) has a capacity of about 10m litres, and Kilchoman (teeny-tiny) has a capacity of only 90,000.
3 Wash Stills, 3 Spirit Stills.
The stills are probably the only bit of the old distillery that’s been retained in the new building. Run-times are 5 hours for the wash stills, and 10 for the spirit stills.
Obligatory Spirit Safe Photo.
Interestingly, a pair of Lomond stills were installed in 1958, and used to produce Glencraig Single Malt right up until 1981 when the project was ditched and the stills scrapped. Some casks still remain in the hands of bottlers such as Signatory, and from what I’ve tasted, they’re worth a try...
Traditional Dunnage warehousing housing only ex-Bourbon.
Glenburgie fill solely into ex-Bourbon casks. As the key blending component for Ballantine's, consistency is important, and this is achieved through careful tracking of each cask’s age (not just the age of the spirit, but the age of the actual cask as well). As Ballantine's master blender, Sandy Hyslop would later point out, there’s a hell of a difference between a second-fill cask that’s 6 years old, and a second fill cask that’s 80 years old, both of which they have in the warehouses.
At this point, we were ushered up to a room at the top of the distillery to answer a series of questions we’d been asked throughout the tour. I was nice enough to not only take photos of these questions, but to save all the prizes to give away to one of you lucky readers. I’ll tell you what *I* definitely didn’t do; *I* didn’t use the wonderful card-holder myself in the interim to carry my cards around in. Nope. Those would be the actions of a bastard.
Prizes. Lovely gift-wrapped prizes.
So I think at this stage we’ll take a short break and do a little competition, hmm? There are 4 questions below – the first to post answers to all 4 of them to Jake’s satisfaction will win all the lovely prizes pictured below. That and a bottle of Ballantine's Finest. It’s only fair.
Free items! Huzzah!
Hand-modelling courtesy of the ever-lovely Miss Whisky
So – with the distillery our over, we moved onto the blending part. Be sure to come back on Thursday for the next thrilling instalment...
*Upper arm only, no run-ups, no rings.