Forget pinch, punch, first of the month – today is all about drams! That’s right, we can finally open our Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and enjoy what’s behind window #1.

The wait is over. Advent is here. 

On the one hand, this is not good news. It’s come around too quickly again. You need to start making your Christmas shopping list (#WhiskySanta might be able to help with that). You need to start mentally preparing yourself to untangle the impossible ball of Christmas lights and awkwardly hoist the old tree down from the attic. It’s also worth working on that inevitable explanation/apology for when your family points out that you were adamant that tree had another year in it. In your heart, you always knew it didn’t. It’s more brown than green.

On the other hand, though, it is good news. Very good news. Brilliant news, in fact. Why? Because we finally get to rip open the first window of our Advent calendars. Because you’re totally rad, you’ve ditched boring old chocolate and got the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar. Which means a delicious Scotch whisky awaits…

What’s behind window number #1?

It’s Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak!

The first dram of this Advent season is part of the recently launched The Balvenie Stories range. As the name suggests, the classic Speyside distillery made this selection to celebrate the tales behind the tipple. The Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak, for example, was created to demonstrate what happens when ancient techniques and fresh ideas are blended, and was apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie’s experiment. Matured in twice-toasted virgin white American oak casks from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky, The Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak was bottled at 43% ABV.

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Look – it’s McKechnie (L) and global brand ambassador Gemma Paterson in Kentucky!

Happily, we had the chance to catch up with McKechnie to find out her story.

Master of Malt: Talk us through the creation of your own dram for the Stories range.

Kelsey McKechnie: It was so exciting. Working on something and being able to tell the story right from the very first point of conception, when we had this idea to do something different with virgin American oak barrels, has been great. It’s so exciting, especially when we’ve had the liquid for such a long time and we’ve tasted it a lot. I definitely want it to be more of an opening into people understanding a little bit more about what a malt master does as well. As far as a narrative, for me, it’s an opening for people to talk more about how we actually make the spirit, how we mature it and why finishing times are so important. It sparks a lot of those questions and gives people an answer to the question of what is it you really do in this role.

MoM: What was the profile you were going for? Why virgin American oak barrels?

KMcK: With the virgin American oak barrel, we wanted to give a big flavour boost to the spirit and experiment with how would we go about, in effect, exhausting a virgin American oak barrel and a single finish. We really wanted to ramp up the flavour of the 12-year-old spirit. The fact that we get things like the big toffee and the sweetness and that candy fruit flavour really jumping to the forefront, it’s exactly what we were looking for, so to find it with the virgin American oak is perfect.

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

The Balvenie Stories Range

MoM: What are your own personal taste notes on your dram?

KMcK: There’s an upfront, syrupy sweetness of toffee and caramel. Off the back of that, once the sweetness passes a little bit, there are notes of spice and citrus coming forward. Then it will leave us with that classic mouthfeel, which we call the ‘marzipan effect’ and the coconut burst that we get with Balvenie.

MoM: How would you describe the Balvenie profile?

Our new-make spirit has a cereal sweetness. As soon as the pure spirit runs off the still, every time we nose the vats, every distillation run, we want cereal sweetness. Almost like a loaf of bread. When the spirit matures, there’s more of richness that comes forward, coconut, marzipan, citrus. These flavours really jump to the forefront with Balvenie. Although we can do a lot of different finishes, we always want to layer them on the true DNA of Balvenie so that these notes always jump out at us. If we were to lose any of that character or the depth of the spirit, we wouldn’t be doing justice to the distillery.

MoM: How has your first year as the Malt Master apprentice gone?

KMcK: Amazing! It’s definitely been a lot of fun. I’ve been really lucky that this has in a lot of ways been my second year because we almost had that little silent year. It’s been fantastic working alongside David, learning all these little nuggets about when the cask-finishing becomes absolutely perfect or how we know when the spirit is just right. It’s been a fantastic year and I’ve learnt so much, I’m having a great time. 

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Thank you very much to Kelsey for speaking to us. The only thing left to do is crack open the Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak and kick off this year’s Advent dramming!

Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak Tasting Note:

Nose: Lusciously malty with some sweet fudge, followed by citrusy and oak vanilla aromas with layers of spicy oak notes of ginger and cinnamon.

Palate: Candied orange and lemon peel, vanilla toffee and butterscotch, layers of blossom honey, some melted brown sugar and oak spices at the end.

Finish: Rich and malty with gentle waves of oak vanilla and subtle spices.