The Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar features something a little different from a familiar name today…
There’s a lot of stress and mayhem that seems to come with Christmas. But, underneath it all, it really is a very comforting, familiar celebration. The iconography, the food, the soundtrack – it’s pretty much the same year on year. You know exactly where you are with Christmas, and this has its merits. Change can be jarring.
However, change can bring out about new wonderful discoveries, as The Balvenie found out not long ago. The Speyside spirit-makers, renowned for making sublime Scotch whisky filled with those classic honey, vanilla and fruit notes, decided to trail drying its barley with peat for the first time in 2002. Not iodine-heavy, hardcore Islay peat, mind. The Balvenie favoured an earthier, more subtle peaty profile. The result was ruddy delicious.
Which is good news, because behind window #19 is Balvenie 14 Year Old – The Week of Peat!
As you might have guessed already, The Week of Peat is an evolution of The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Year Old and was launched as part of the Stories range in May 2019. This expression remembers when Stewart and former distillery manager Ian Millar experimentation with the smokier style for the first time after a week’s gap in the distillery’s production schedule provided the opportunity to use peat.
We caught up with Gemma Paterson, global brand ambassador for The Balvenie, to talk more about this tale and more…
So, we understand that this is a whisky with quite a story…
Yes! Back in 2002 our distillery manager at the time was Ian Millar. After having worked in the industry managing distilleries for a number of years already he was very excited to take the helm at Balvenie with our floor maltings (a big toy as he calls them…) and begin a series of experiments at the point of distillation. He went on a bit of a journey around Scotland visiting distilleries and garnering inspiration. This journey led him to Islay where he spent a bit of time thinking about peat. On his return to Balvenie he introduced a peat burner to the kiln (the large black metal burner to the side of the brick kiln for those who have visited us). This allowed the team to segregate the peat from the anthracite and so the peat trials began. There was quite a buzz on site. This was September 2002 and we hadn’t seen thick black peat smoke billowing out of the kiln like that since the 1950s. Everyone came down to check out the peat reek. Mashman Jim told us his wife complained about the peat reek lingering on his clothes at the end of a shift! Here we are now 17 years later and we still have an annual Week of Peat at the distillery. And the team still complain about the peat reek every year! All thanks to Ian’s legacy…
What happens to the profile of Balvenie whisky when it is peated?
We’ve experimented with a few different methods. Malt master David Stewart’s first foray into introducing a peated Balvenie was the 17yo Islay cask released in 2001 using an ex peated Islay hogshead to drive in that peated character, then in 2009 the 17yo peated cask we saw the first experiments using our own peated whisky, again another finish with that whisky having spent the first 17 years in a traditional American oak barrel to then be transferred to a barrel that had been seasoned with 7yo peated Balvenie. We find the profile of Balvenie in the American oak really still shines through – characteristically honeyed, malty and sweet with just a wee wisp of smokiness lingering there. The malt itself was peated to 28ppm but once in the bottle it’s mellowed right down to 5ppm.
The Balvenie operates a working floor maltings, what impact does this have on the style of whisky you produce?
Every batch of Balvenie has a small percentage of our homegrown and malted barley blended into the mash bill, paying tribute to the legacy of generations of farmers and maltmen who have nurtured the barley in the fields and tended the malt on the floors from one generation to the next. When it comes to style we have a number of special casks that have been laid down over the years resulting from many experiments originating from the floor maltings. A few of these have been released and a few we will hopefully be able to share in the years to come!
What have been your 2019 highlights at The Balvenie?
What a year! The most exciting thing about 2019 has been the launch of our Stories Range. A year of discovery, working with our craftsmen, listening to their stories and having the opportunity to travel across the world and share them with our whisky community. We recorded podcasts for each of the whiskies, each one taking the listener on the journey of the whisky and meeting with the people who made the dram. So if you want to hear all about this whisky from Ian himself and the team who have nurtured the spirit in cask over the years then I would recommend seeking out the podcast online either via our website or searching your favourite podcasting platform.
What will you be drinking this Christmas?
I’ll be spending Christmas back home on the Isle of Lewis where the days this time of year are short and the nights are long. I’m looking forward to sitting around the table with friends and family and sharing stories with each other until the wee hours. Top of my list for dramming has to be the Balvenie 26 Year Old – A Day of Dark Barley. I also love some eggnog. Maybe I’ll try my hand at making some this year with some Balvenie DoubleWood….
Thank you very much to Gemma for taking the time to join us. Now go and enjoy your dram!
Balvenie 14 Year Old – The Week of Peat Tasting Note:
Nose: Gentle sweet peat smoke, lighter floral notes and delicate butterscotch honey.
Palate: Velvety and round to taste with the peat smoke balancing citrus flavours, oaky vanilla and blossom honey.
Finish: Gentle smoke with a lingering and creamy vanilla sweetness.