Back in October we heard that there was to be an exciting, new, secret product from William Grant & Sons and our thoughts immediately turned to a long-anticipated Kininvie single malt release. On that occasion we quickly realised that the imminent launch was in fact for Girvan single grain, but not this time folks. This time it’s the real malty deal!
Kininvie has been William Grant's slightly mysterious, almost secret distillery for 24 years now, and I'm sure Brian Kinsman has lost count of the times people have asked him whether they'll ever release an official Kininvie single malt. Well last year they did just that - with an exclusive release in one country - and now it's the rest of the world's turn...
If you’ve ever visited Balvenie, then you may well have seen Kininvie distillery, it’s that corrugated iron shed in its more famous brother’s back garden.
Modest digs. Some brothers get all the luck.
Only kidding (at least as far as the pic is concerned anyway!), and in fact, it’s a fallacy that Kininvie is only a still house anyway. Kininvie has its own 10,000 litre stainless steel full lauter mash tun next to Balvenie’s as well as 10 douglas fir washbacks in two separate rooms (the wash is then piped 200m to the still house). The only piece of equipment it shares with Balvenie is actually the mill. The still house itself, meanwhile, is equipped with 3 onion-shaped wash stills and 6 spirit stills that are computer controlled and heated by steam coils. Opened in 1990, the current capacity of Kininvie is 4,800,000 litres (although in practice they produce 2,500,000 litres). The cut point is high and the fermentation time is relatively short.
Alright, so here’s the real thing. (Sorry about before.)
Janet Sheed Roberts at the opening of Kininvie distillery in July 1990 (not 1996).
So where has all this single malt been going all these years?! Well, into Grant’s and other blends, primarily, but with the opening of Ailsa Bay in 2007 (whose own capacity doubled in 2013) the need for a Kininvie as simply a workhorse was greatly alleviated. Indeed, this led to the distillery being closed from October 2010 through to 2012.
Other bottlings have also emerged of what is effectively Kininvie, except William Grant always ensure casks they sell are ‘spooned’ with a tiny (imperceptible) quantity of Balvenie, for example. What this means, of course, is that they're technically blended malts and can't be sold as Kininvie (even though for all intents and purposes, they are). This led to a bit of a hoo-hah back in 2007 when the German company Glenscoma labelled their 'Glendunie' as "a vatting of Kininvie Single Malt with a spoonfull (sic) of another Dufftown Single Malt". The bottling was ultimately withdrawn.
Kininvie is also a key component in the popular ‘triple malt’ (their term for a blended malt consisting of three single malts) Monkey Shoulder, alongside malt from Balvenie and Glenfiddich.
(Actual Maltstock 2013 quiz question): “How many monkeys are there on a bottle of Monkey Shoulder?”
That’s right, there are six of ’em. Six Monkeys.
Some of it has actually made its way into bottles as a single malt, however. To date there have been two bottlings under the Hazelwood label (a 15 year old that was only given to staff and a 17 year old Reserve only available at a single airport terminal, released 2006 and 2008 respectively) as well as the first official Kininvie bottling - a 23 year old 35cl Taiwan exclusive called Batch Number One, released in October 2013 (so, actually, they did release a Kininvie back in October!).
The first two were released to celebrate the 105th and 107th birthdays of Janet Sheed Roberts (pictured above and below), William Grant’s last surviving granddaughter, who lived to an incredible 110 years old! After working as a lawyer for many years she went on to be become a director of William Grant & Sons and, towards the end of her extraordinary life, Scotland’s oldest woman.
Hazelwood (Kininvie) 15 year Old 1990 (top left), Kininvie Batch Number One (right) and Janet Sheed Roberts at Edinburgh University, the only woman in her law class (bottom left, obviously).
Thankfully, you don’t have to travel to Taiwan or engage in dangerous time travel involving airports* to get your hands on some, as Brian Kinsman and co. are now delighted to announce the UK launch of Kininvie single malt. Yay!
"We Did It!"
'Batch Number Two' (batch sizes here are anything up to around 7,000 (half-sized) bottles with 1,286 bottles of Batch Number Two allocated for the UK), still in 35cl bottles, is due for release very shortly. Production is set for the 14th July so we should be seeing these by August. Thanks to Kevin Abrook, Global Marketing Manager off of William Grant & Sons, we were fortunate enough to taste not just the new batch last night, but a selection of what the distillery has been producing.
Kininvie Single Malts!
Kininvie 2006 (Cask Strength) - American Oak (66%?)
After some initial debate over the strength of this sample (some people seemed physically unable to let this slide) I think everybody agreed it was rather good. Originally created to match honey duck (no, really) it had notes of marmalade, apple and a big hit of cream soda-like vanilla.
Kininvie 17 Year Old (42.6%)
Due for release as a travel retail exclusive in the next month or so, this one was matured in 80% American oak and 20% Sherry casks (the same as the 23 year old releases). Still fragrant, with the floral notes Kininvie is known for but this one seemed more chalky and grassy with a little of that cream soda once again. A little meaty and new make-y, in fact, but well-rounded.
Kininvie 1990 (50%)
Matured in 100% American oak hogsheads that were filled on 4th July (see what they did there?) this third sample was more honeyed, with more fleshy fruit character and some oat biscuit notes that carried over onto the palate as oatmeal or porridge.
Kininvie 1990 (58%)
As you can probably tell from the pic above, this one was 100% Sherry matured (in butts), with big, fun candied peels, orange and fragrant polished woods. Delicious, but not really showing off the style of the distillate at all.
And so onto the main event, - the first official Kininvie release for the UK:
Okay, this is still actually a bottle of the Batch Number One (the Batch Two labels aren't ready yet), but it was a sample of the second batch that we tasted...
Tasting Note for Kininvie 23 Year Old Batch Number Two (42.6% - 35cl)
Nose: Sweet, sugary fruits and deep syrupy goodness. Markedly different from the 17 year old, those 6 years make a hell of a difference. Spicy, ripe peaches being torn open, vanilla, a little kiwi, hints of that Sherry.
Palate: More peach, with cream at first like a Campino sweet, before becoming more removed from the central sweetness with gentle oak building. All fairly light, but full of flavour.
Finish: A little bigger and longer than expected with more sweet syrup notes.
Overall: Wow. Hands down the best sample of the night. That combination of 80% bourbon and 20% Sherry along with the 23 year maturation is the mutts nuts - no wonder they chose to finally release a Kininvie!
As far as the half size bottle goes, as a bottler of a range of 50cl whiskies and 3cl samples, we're not exactly 70cl purists anyway. What William Grant are doing though is playing on the secret nature of this 'other' distillery, which people have been asking after as a single malt for years. "Good things come in small packages", they say, as do special or precious things. This also allows them to have a price point of under £100 (RRP is £97), which they hope will make people more likely to buy Kininvie as a nice pressie, as well as making it more tempting to those who like to buy two of everything (one to open, one to drink).
Three Monkeys? Six Monkeys? Twelve Monkeys?
Bloody Maltstock quiz. (Although, I actually got that question right!**)
* And there's always a chance that you travelling back in time is the very thing that creates this present in which you don't have a bottle of Kininvie in your hand...
** And according to the conventions of watching University Challenge, as long as you answer one question correctly, you're probably still a genius and are then allowed to change the channel, right?