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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: The Balvenie

Train your nose with The Balvenie’s Alwynne Gwilt

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on…

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on how to get the most out of your olfactory system.

It was a tasting at Milroy’s of Soho in 2011 that changed Alwynne Gwilt’s life forever. Originally from Canada, she was not a whisky drinker but that fateful evening she fell in love with the spirit, and, rather as Peter Parker became Spider Man thanks to a bite from a radioactive spider, Gwilt was transformed into. . . Miss Whisky! She set up her own website that same year and began to immerse herself (not literally, of course) in whisky full time. Since then, she has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, appeared on TV and radio, and won awards including International Whisky Ambassador of the Year at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, She now works as a brand ambassador for William Grant, representing The Balvenie.

Alwynne Gwilt

Alwynne Gwilt in the still room at The Balvenie

We caught up with Gwilt at The Wigmore, a bar in London, for a nasal tune-up. Her view is that we don’t make full use of our sense of smell because we are so visually-oriented. But we do actually have a fine nasal system from our hunting and gathering days which just needs to be used properly. “Humans have become generally quite lazy when it comes to the nose, but our noses would have been a thing. Before we were cooking meat and we were processing food, we would have been much more aware of the wider environment around us and using our nose to help keep us safe,” she said. “Now our eyesight has taken over but the ability of the nose to learn things and to understand aroma is just as great as it always has been.”

Smells helps us remember things, Gwilt explained. “Your aroma receptors are close to the amygdala and the hippocampus, which is where you start thinking about emotion and memory. So, more than sight, more than sound, when you smell an aroma and you categorise that in your head, you’re much more likely to remember that moment, that time, that place.” What a piece of work your nose is! Now here are some tips on how to use it better:

Free your mind, and your nose will follow

Even people who’ve been drinking whisky for years can be extremely reticent about trying to describe smells. Gwilt explained to me:  “I can stand up there as someone who’s been drinking whisky for years and go, ‘I get aromas of raisins and chocolate’, and someone might look at you like you’re absolutely nuts because they’re like, ‘well it just smells like whisky!’.” So, don’t be embarrassed; try to put what you smell into words, and remember there are no right or wrong answers. A great way to do this, according to Gwilt, is to try to become aware of the smells around you when you’re out walking.

Alwynne Gwilt Balvenie

Building her flavour vocabulary

Build your aroma vocabulary

“Aroma is based hugely around vocabulary, “ Gwilt told me. “Just like we learn language, your brain does the same thing when it’s learning different aromas. If I were to say to you ‘this smells like curry leaves’, for instance, and you’ve never smelled a fresh curry leaf, then that’s not in your vocabulary. So you have to experience an aroma before you can then process it, understand it and recognise it in another scenario.” A great way to build that flavour vocabulary when you’re smelling whisky is to pretend you are in a supermarket, she said. “Imagine you’re walking through the fruit aisle and you’re picking out your fruit, and then you’re walking through the veg aisle. And then in each section, as you smell the whisky you think to yourself, ‘visualise it’. Say, ‘is this an orange, is this an apple, is this a banana, is this a carrot?’. Start going through those things individually, and if you go ‘no, no, no, I smell something sweet’, then go to the baking aisle. Is it a baked good? Is it a pastry? Or is it a Haribo?’. A lot of people will say, ‘I get sweet, I get spicy, I get smoke’, and it’s about continuously breaking everything down.”

Smell with your mouth open

You will look a bit like a goldfish but this really helps. “When you first start smelling whiskies, keep your mouth open, because that helps to circulate things,” Gwilt explained. “If you keep your mouth open, it helps to circulate the air, stopping you from just getting the alcohol.” We smell in two ways, she continued: direct olfaction (right up your nose), and retronasal olfaction (the back of the nose through the mouth).  If your mouth isn’t open, you’re not getting the full effect.

Hold it in your mouth  

You’ve seen wine tasters do it: swilling it around their mouths and making weird sucking noises. Well, it all helps get the flavour out. “A huge amount of what you taste is actually aroma; it’s the nose doing its job. It is not your taste buds,” she continued. “So when you go to taste a whisky, always hold it on your palate for ten or 15 seconds. That gives enough time for your brain to register what’s happening and start to pick out some of those aromas.”

Alwynne Gwilt at the Balvenie

Gwilt with this year’s must have accessory, the malt shovel

And finally, just to prove how hard it is to put smells into words without practise, Gwilt gave me a little test. I had to smell three essences which commonly crop up in whisky vocabulary.

The first was anise, which I correctly identified immediately. The second was coffee, which I guessed as roasted nuts. And finally, Gwilt gave me something to smell which initially smelt of vanilla, at least to me, and then of lemons. Apparently it was actually blackcurrant leaf. D’oh! C-, must try harder.  

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Whisky Advent 2018 Day #22: The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Year Old

Christmas is almost here, which means our Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar countdown is coming to a close. Only something truly delicious will distract us from this sorrow….

Christmas is almost here, which means our Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar countdown is coming to a close. Only something truly delicious will distract us from this sorrow. Luckily we’ve got just that behind window #22!

Last summer (NOT the boiling 2018 one, the one before, when we could actually comprehend something other than the weather) the talk of the whisky town for a good few weeks was the arrival of peated Balvenie! We got incredibly excited, and you can read all the full deets in this blog post right here. But to provide a brief overview, The Balvenie had been distilling wash made from barley peated to 30PPM (parts-per-mission) for one week a year. And Peat Week 14 Year Old was the result!

It marked something of a departure for the classic Speyside distillery known for its honey vanilla sweetness. But don’t be alarmed. The point of Balvenie Peat Week isn’t to pack a full-on smoke punch. For starters, it’s not made with that distinct Islay peat, so there’s less iodine and more earth. Plus, by the time the whisky comes out the bottle it tastes more in the region of 5PPM. The Balvenie Character is still there.

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Brilliant boozes for Bonfire Night!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November fondly this year with these cracking tipples… Bonfire Night, or as those who own cats and dogs presumably call it, National Scare the Crap…

Remember, remember the Fifth of November fondly this year with these cracking tipples…

Bonfire Night, or as those who own cats and dogs presumably call it, National Scare the Crap out of My Pet(s) Day, has come around again. This is great news because Bonfire Night is brilliant. Countless fireworks lighting up the sky. Heaps of amazing autumnal food. Plus there are the actual bonfires, carrying that fantastic scent and welcome heat through the crisp night air.

For some people, it’s all about the festival atmosphere at parties and displays. For others, it’s all about wrapping up warm and snug at home, enjoying the spectacle from afar. Ultimately, we’re all going to take advantage of another perfectly good excuse to indulge in some spectacular seasonal spirits. Right?

For those nodding enthusiastically in agreement, we’ve decided to round up some of the best Bonfire Night boozes and fireside beverages, each with an appropriately smouldering serve. Enjoy!

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The Nightcap: 26 October

It’s (probably) the spookiest weekend of the year, but before you cover yourself in fake blood and wander around with a plastic hatchet “lodged” in your head, fill that noggin…

It’s (probably) the spookiest weekend of the year, but before you cover yourself in fake blood and wander around with a plastic hatchet “lodged” in your head, fill that noggin with news from The Nightcap.

Halloween is awkwardly on a Wednesday this year, meaning if you’re not getting spooky on the actual day, you have to make a choice whether to celebrate it this weekend or next weekend. However, since there would be a clash with Bonfire Night (and no one wants to mix pretend spookiness with actual explosions), we expect many of you will be donning your costumes this weekend. Before you do so, we’ve got the low-down on this week’s booze news all here in The Nightcap.

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The Nightcap: 14 September

Friday has arrived, meaning another edition of The Nightcap is in order, complete with all the booze news from the week that was. Surf’s up, folks. Look at a calendar….

Friday has arrived, meaning another edition of The Nightcap is in order, complete with all the booze news from the week that was. Surf’s up, folks.

Look at a calendar. Whether that calendar is made of paper or pixels, it’ll tell you that today is Friday. Unless you’re reading this on a day that isn’t Friday – then the calendar will tell you that it was once Friday. That’s generally how calendars work. Sometimes they give you the definition of interesting words or a picture of a small dog hanging around in a fishing village, but mostly they exist to tell you when Friday is. It’s today. Therefore, The Nightcap is a thing.

Firstly, let’s see what happened on the blog this week. Our Annie recapped the first leg of her visit to Piedmont with Cocchi, then showed us how to drink like a particularly famous British super spy. Kristy got the low-down on the final addition to Diageo’s 2018 Special Releases (they’re now available to pre-order, too!). Henry chatted to Cabby’s Rum founder Moses Odong about making rum in London and The Knowledge, then gave us a Macallan history lesson. Phew.

On to the rest of this week’s booze news!

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The Balvenie names successor to David C. Stewart MBE

We received huge news this week from Speyside Scotch whisky creator The Balvenie: Kelsey McKechnie will become the brand’s apprentice malt master! The Balvenie had only just released a new…

We received huge news this week from Speyside Scotch whisky creator The Balvenie: Kelsey McKechnie will become the brand’s apprentice malt master!

The Balvenie had only just released a new celebratory, limited edition single malt Scotch whisky. Now the brand has named a malt master that will eventually succeed the legendary David C. Stewart MBE.

Introducing: apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie!

The Balvenie chose to mark the important milestone in the history of the Scotch whisky distillery with an event titled ‘A Moment In Time’. It included a tasting of rare Balvenie liquids at Greenwich Planetarium. So, we did the decent thing and got an interview with Stewart and McKechnie – we need to know more about The Chosen One (I don’t think that’s pushing it!).

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The Nightcap: 31 August

Happy Friday, folks! Here’s The Nightcap to help you roll on into the weekend armed with a plethora of booze news. Always handy if you’re looking to impress down the…

Happy Friday, folks! Here’s The Nightcap to help you roll on into the weekend armed with a plethora of booze news. Always handy if you’re looking to impress down the pub/on a hot date/out in a bar*…

Welcome to the weekend, team! Step away from the workload and pick up a dram. You deserve it. Friday evening is here! (Apologies as always if you’re a non-nine-to-fiver and are indeed working at the weekend… join the vibe when you can.)

It’s been a short week here at MoM Towers thanks to the summer bank holiday Monday. But that hasn’t stopped us bringing you all manner of news over on the blog this week.

On Tuesday we unveiled our latest competition of much excitement – win a VIP trip to Speyside and discover The BenRiach Distillery! Then on Wednesday we got hold of Pernod Ricard’s annual report and crunched the numbers to see how the likes of Jameson, The Glenlivet and Chivas Regal performed over the last year.

Yesterday we had a blog double whammy: Annie talked us through all things aquavit in her beginner’s guide, before we shed a little bit more light onto Diageo’s Special Releases 2018 line-up. Not long until the full reveal: check back on 12 September for details of all 10 bottlings in full.

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Introducing The Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3!

October is drawing to an end, which can only mean one thing where single malt lovers are concerned… The latest edition of The Balvenie’s five-part DCS Compendium series! Chapter 3…

October is drawing to an end, which can only mean one thing where single malt lovers are concerned… The latest edition of The Balvenie’s five-part DCS Compendium series! Chapter 3 has indeed arrived, and it contains the oldest whisky the distillery has ever released.

We knew that the 25-bottle Compendium was going to be something special when it first launched in 2015, and so far it has certainly delivered. Spanning five themes over five years, the series set out to celebrate the work of legendary malt master David Stewart MBE, who this year is celebrating his 55th year with the distillery (did he start on the 5th day of the 5th month? Let’s pretend he did).

Following on from ‘Distillery Style’ in Chapter 1 and ‘The Influence of Oak’ in Chapter 2; each bottling in ‘Secrets of the Stock Model’ demonstrates Stewart’s skill in controlling the numerous factors that influence maturing Scotch whisky – a tough gig, we can all agree. Additionally, each single cask expression that makes up Chapter 3 “represents a year relevant to the evolution of The Balvenie”. So like a history lesson, but better.

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