It’s been a minute since I went on an adventure with a whisky brand and lucky me, Balvenie had exactly the kind of trip I’d sign up for in mind. Balvenie gathered up a handful of bartenders and decided to take them on a field trip to the Baltimore Jewelry Center to create real .925 silver bar spoons… from scratch!
Balvenie swears by their five rare crafts and loves to embody the image of a brand that creates things from scratch, the old fashioned way. So they’ve got home grown barley and a traditional malting floor that make up a small percentage of their bottlings each year. Tack those two crafts in with their copper stills and on site barrel coopers to bump the number of crafts up to four. And the fifth of their rare crafts is their malt master whose title is currently rocked by the venerable David C. Stewart, MBE. So if you’re wondering why they’re even creating a trip like this, look no further than their core values.
We arrived at Baltimore Jewelry Center and got ready to do work! Our teacher walked us through the entire process from start to finish for creating the spoon and man-oh-man was there so much to learn!
The first part of the process was to cut out the bowl of the spoon which actually starts as a completely flat piece of silver. The basic shape of the bowl needs to be cut out and the edges need to be filed smooth.
Next up is straightening the handle and flattening the ends.
A quick lesson in playing with fire brought everyone on board with softening the silver and adding barspoon twists!
Annnnd cleaning up the silver a bit!
Now you’ve got your pieces ready to go!
With a little help, everything gets soldered up!
And voila! Here’s my ugly child!
Everyone made one that was unique and interesting!
So thank you to Balvenie and the Baltimore Jewelry Center!!! What a fun time!!
So the stories line from Balvenie include the new 12 year American Oak, 14 year Week of Peat, and 26 year Dark Barley, the first two being permanent editions to the Balvenie lineup. They all come with NFC/QR neck tags that will take you to a WEBSITE HERE so you can audibly hear some of the stories from the distillery from the Global Ambassador Gemma. (she’s literally a gem!)
The first in the stories lineup is one celebrating Kelsie McKechnie and the sweetness of American oak used in Balvenie’s bottlings. Kelsie is an up and coming blender at Balvenie currently absorbing all of the knowledge pouring out of David Stewart’s head (MBE, interview with him HERE). He’s been doing this for over 50 years now and is passing along his learnings to a capable young lady who, if this 12 AO is any indication, is going to be capable of great things,
All of that said, I actually purchased this bottle early from a store in Georgetown that put it on the shelf too early (lol!).
Enough talking, let’s get to tasting!
The American Oak (AO) is a light golden straw where the doublewood (DW) is actually a few brown tints darker. In the bottle the difference is even more apparent.
The AO is all sweet cereal and barley on the nose! The malty character shines through very apparently! The DW next to it smells much darker and spicier in comparison with much lighter malt notes.
The AO is a very friendly and soft mix of barley and yummy sweet fruit notes. The classic Balvenie honey character is there but it’s even lighter than usual. Side by side, the DW’s sherry sweetness shines well above the AO. It’s a very different dram. Like two kids from the same family. Yes, they’re obviously related but they’re both obviously into their own things!
The AO’s finish smells like a beach house on a lake with vanilla and coconut notes but no salinity or seagulls. The DW’s finish is much more rounded with a spicy viscosity like the last fork of a rich meal at an Indian restaurant.
They’re both delectable and really, you can’t go wrong with either. If you’ve tried them both, which did you like better?
A few weeks ago I got an opportunity to indulge in some of the most expensive whiskies available from The Macallan. It was a dram come true for many a whisky lover. The No 6. The M. The dream. Just when I thought I had woken up, like the movie Inception, I must have been subject to a dream within a dream. Even with the first kick of leaving the Macallan event, just a few short weeks later, I found myself drinking one of the most expensive whiskies to have ever existed.
[The Balvenie 50 Year Cask 191.]
I don’t know what you’re thinking but I know what I was thinking… did it taste like $40,000?
Some would argue that no whisky is worth that price of admission but for something distilled in 1952 only to be disturbed again in 2002, it’s hard to say that the cost per bottle wouldn’t be astronomically high considering the years of storage, care, and the angel’s share.
The color was a dark red. So dark red that it looked black any time you were looking at the edges of the dram in direct light. It was impossible to see through the bottle.
The nose had hints of fruit sweetness and actually made me believe that the pour would be on the lighter side of the palate. I was expecting something more typical of Balvenie’s signature profile but I am so glad I was wrong.
Uncharacteristic of Balvenie, the palate was an explosion of flavor. It’s typical of older whiskies that they can lose a lot of vibrancy and life from so many years in the cask but this 50 year old was alive and kicking! David Stewart, MBE., continued to try and assure me of the sweetness that I was tasting but my palate disagreed quite a bit. Yes, about 25% of what I was tasting was similar to raw sugar but the other 75% of the palate was definitely filled with spices. It wasn’t over whelming but it was definitely in your face. Amazing.
The finish was soft and unassuming, not too short and not too long.
I’m not sure what my brain was expecting beyond the honeyed and softer notes we’ve come to expect from Balvenie as of late but I definitely didn’t mind being surprised. This was bold. This was borderline brash. This was brilliant.
I’m so thankful that I had an opportunity to try it. It was certainly once in a life time and lately I’ve felt like I’ve been living enough to last a few.
Without further ado, my video interview of David Stewart, MBE. is below along with pictures from the event.
[The setup for the interview]
[@TheScotchFather and @theScotchWhisperer talking]
[Aaron of @whisky.arch interviewing DCS MBE]
[David C. Stewart, MBE.]
[A little group picture action! (thanks Jason for snapping this)]
[Tracie from Glenfiddich (@glenfiddichtf) with DCS MBE]
[Tim of @Whiskey_Library_DC speaking with Jack Rose owner @Mashbill_Thomas]
[Eric of @ScotchAndTime being ridiculous :P]
[Tim of @Whiskey_Library_DC with DCS MBE]
[Raising a toast to @theScotchFather]
[Tracie (@GlenfiddichTF) exchanging a glance with Jen H. of Momentum who handles the marketing for WMG&S in the DC area!]
ScotchNSniff found themselves on a last minute adventure last week to the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital just down the street from the Capitol building in DC. This Balvenie master class was a fun tasting as always but the more interesting things that happened had little to do with whisky and everything to do with people. 🙂
As we do at most whisky events in DC, we ran into Jennifer Holm and her crew from Momentum Worldwide. Momentum is the branding agency that Balvenie uses in the DC area and they do a great job hosting events like this. The last event we enjoyed with them had Monkey Shoulder spiked hot apple cider and this time we were greeted through the doors with a small Balvenie 12 cocktail. [I don’t remember the specific cocktail but it was TASTY! -Sniff]
The hors d’oeuvres were also delicious. A specific standout was the miniature BLTs! Bacon and small pieces of greens inside of a cherry tomato! What genius!
We enjoyed these cocktails and finger foods with some local friends also! Peat from Whisky + Architecture was there and so was DCWhiskey!
(Scotch, DCWhiskey, and Peat)
The giant reason this class even existed (and the whole reason we went) was the new east coast brand ambassador for Balvenie! Gemma Paterson! Her and her husband have moved to the big apple all the way from their home in Scotland! She’s as geeky about whisky as David Laird was so though we’ll certainly miss David, we know he’ll be having even more fun on the west coast.
Gemma’s never met a scotch she doesn’t like and her favorite happens to be the Balvenie 12 thanks to some awesome childhood memories. Her backstory is as fun and interesting as David’s and should you get the chance, do ask her about it.
She came to teach a class knowing that everyone had already been to whisky tasting classes before so she didn’t waste any time talking about the basics. Instead we dove into the science of whisky creation and nosing and nose blindness and water! It was really refreshing to get such detail both about whisky and the ghost at Balvanie’s malting floor (lol!).
There were a few gifts on the table besides whisky.
As always, a good time was had by all 🙂
Go sign up for a class from a distiller you love and go enjoy life!!
We’re back with our second video and it’s about bottles that are sought after purely because of the hype that follows them. Take a look and let us know what you think! (Or better yet, subscribe to our youtube channel and follow us a little more closely!)
We’ll be releasing videos every two weeks until we can magically grow time to shoot more and shoot more often. 🙂
I stayed up last night thinking a lot about this topic and how we’re kind of fooling ourselves. If you’re trying to find the worlds best whisky, sorry for the deceiving title, but you won’t find it here. What you will find, is the truth behind what will guide you, to find
the best whiskies of the world.
The three topics that kept me up last night were; Rating systems, Personal preference and Hype. I’ll soap box on each one of these separately.
Rating Systems: Rating systems are great aids for those who don’t know what they want and to potentially find the best versions of a certain whisky in a certain category. For example, using the 100 point scale that many reviews use, you could safely assume that a 95 point Islay whisky, like an Ardbeg Uigeadail, would be an exceptional example of a peated northern Islay whisky. What some may call a “Classic”. Without having tasted it, you can trust that the reviewers have or should have determined that the flavors present in the whisky should showcase that of an Islay whisky, to be at least 95% of the best of that style.
This may take into account the many factors of being a classic Islay whisky, BUT, what if you don’t like Islay whiskies?? What if peat makes you cringe? And even though this is one of the best peated Islay whiskies, you hate it. Then that 95 points means nothing to you.
One way to get a better idea of if your taste buds are on par with a reviewers, is to drink a lot of the same whisky that they have reviewed, to see if you agree with them. But the thing about drinking a lot of whisky is; 1. You could develop a serious drinking problem, 2. A serious loss of money problem or even more seriously, 3. Be able to determine your own personal preference. The industry would like it if they could continue to think for you, aka “Influence” you.
The best thing I’ve learned about tasting and reviewing a lot of whisky, is that you become better at tasting and reviewing whisky. Just like anything else, practice makes perfect. Or a better saying in this situation would be, practice makes you more educated. But it doesn’t roll of the tongue as easily. The more whisky you taste, the better ability you have to determine what you like and dislike. After gaining the knowledge of knowing what you like and dislike, e.g. Personal Preference, then you can determine for yourself what is the best, for you!
Many people have this idea that they know what’s best for you. Not just random people, but companies. “Our soap is the best for your shower”, “these crackers will cure indigestion” and “our toilet paper will wipe better for you than any other”. When companies do this, it’s called marketing. When randos do this, it’s called hype.
Both marketing and hype are used to increase the perception of the value for things, often to ridiculous heights. Case in point, the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry cask which was named Best Whiskey in the World by Jim Murray (a whisky reviewer). This rocketed the Japanese whiskey scene, calling for thousands of dollars for the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask and even raising the rest of the Yamazaki expressions to crazy inflated prices. The 12 year expression used to cost $65, now if you can find it, will run you $125. The 18 year expression used to cost around $200 and is now hovering between $399 – $450. Is the whisky good? Sure! But is it $400 good for the 18 year or $125 good for the 12 year? Maybe. It really depends upon how much you’re willing to spend for something that is hard to get and if you enjoy it. I love the Hibiki 21 year. I started purchasing bottles at $199 when I first saw it and I continue to purchase bottles when I find it for $350. When is my stopping point? My wife says, now.
Bottom line, use resources like this blog, other blogs and other reviewers to form a general idea of what it is you want to try. We try to use very easy to understand descriptions in order to appeal to the vast majority. Then, use online sites that sell samples of various bottles of whisky, or go to different bars to try different pours without committing to a full bottle. Determine whether you like sweet, peat, salty, medicinal or any other types of whisky and then continue down those lanes until you find your grail. That is the only way to determine what the best whisky in the world is, for you. And that’s why we love this whisky journey that we’re on.
It being Friday, I figure there are few things more fun than sharing some spirits with friends! What are you supposed to share with them though? Rum? Scotch? What If I told you, you could share BOTH with them at the same time? Welcome to today’s Scotch versus Scotch: the Glenfiddich 21 Rum Cask Reserve and the Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask.
Their colors are almost identical with just a slight tint of extra darkness edging into the golden Glenfiddich glass. As it turns out, a seven year difference in casks doesn’t always mean a huge difference in color. There are so many factors that go into the impartation of color (e-150a aside) beyond age. Sherry usually imparts a dark redness to the spirit but rum, it seems, is all about golden hues.
The Glenfiddich’s nose is filled with butter cookies with a touch of their signature tree fruits waiting in the wing. There are some ripe citrusy notes from what smell like orange peels (with just a small splash of chocolate) to a touch of refreshing lemony-lime notes. It’s a fruity mixed cocktail that instantly transports you to a warm spot on the sand!
The Balvenie in comparison is a glass of brown sugar and fudge warmed over honey. Some fruits begin to appear and I’m sure I can see Glenfiddich on the other side of the same rummy beach.
Going back to the glenfiddich, you can smell the difference in the richness of the nose of each pour. This is one of the best parts of doing a side by side comparison of such contrasting spirits: some of the commonalities melt away and the distinct idiosyncrasies of the whiskies rise to the surface.
Initially on the palate the Glenfiddich is light and unassuming. It’s raw sugar cane over baking spices with a slightly tannic mouthfeel. The oak from 21 years of aging in two barrels is starting to show which (most likely) explains the tannins.
Taking the Balvenie to the nose again, I’m anticipating the fudge before I’ve even sipped it! The mouthfeel is a much lighter body than the Glenfiddich. Where the Glenfiddich’s mouthfeel was a Jaguar F-Type, the Balvenie is an Ariel Atom. An Ariel atom filled with creamy, buttery, honey and vanilla cookies! Luscious for something so light and an absolute joy to savor!
The Glenfiddich finishes with a bit of spices rising to the surface alongside more citrus. The oak really draws attention to itself as the medium bodied finish dips its toes into the Caribbean sand one last time.
The finish in the Balvenie is a bit lacking (in length and intensity) compared to the Glenfiddich but I’m not sure I’d like an overbearing oak finish to end something so decadent.
Picking the winner for this rum battle is EASY. Do you love big hulking flavors and wine? The Glenfiddich is for you! The rich flavors over slightly tannic mouthfeel will bring the beach home with you. Do you love to gorge yourself on buttery fudge cookies? Then the Balvenie is for you! The decadent nose and palate will set up a rum bakery in your glass.
Do you love all of those things??
(If you do, odds are your wallet isn’t going to like you very soon! 🙂 )
So you’ve resolved to educate yourself about scotch this year and you’re not sure where to start?
Welcome! You’re in the right place!
We are [Scotch] and [Sniff] and we are here to help with your scotch education. 🙂
(In case you don’t know what scotch whisky IS (or why it’s spelled without an ‘e’), check out this earlier blog post about just that.)
This post is here to give you an idea of which whiskys you need to try to begin finding your own flavor profile which in turn, will help you to buy more scotch that you’ll enjoy and less you’ll give away to your friends.
Almost any major-brand-label tasting even you attend will include a time when you’ll smell some objects that will help you to differentiate between the four major nosing smells of whisk(e)y: fruity, floral, smokey, peaty. Here at ScotchNSniff, we’ve decided to follow suit and use those four major areas of smell and taste to help you find your own flavor profile. To actually taste these flavors that you’re smelling, don’t forget to taste scotch the proper way!
Fruity: Glenfiddich 12. The Glenfiddich line REEKS of apples, pears, oranges and plenty of other fruits! Darned tasty examples of what the Speyside region of Scotland has to offer.
(other examples of fruity: The Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Speyburn)
Floral: Hibiki 12. Yes… I know. This is a whiskey from Japan, so what gives?? The Japanese have really cornered the market on the floral notes but don’t worry, we’ll get you back to Scotland!
(other examples of floral: Tullabardine, The Balvenie)
Smokey: Oban 14. The Oban line does a fantastic job of bringing smoke to your nose and tongue. Many times there will be some sweet or salty notes accompanying them but always with smoke.
(other examples of smokey: Bunnahabhain, Glenkinchie, Bruichladdich)
Peaty: Ardbeg 10. Personally, I can’t say I enjoy the peat of Ardbeg. I’m pretty sure [Scotch] would agree to a point. I do enjoy Laphroaig (strangely enough) but peat is a real divider of scotch drinkers. You either love it or you hate it.
(other examples of peaty: Caol Ila, Laphroig, Lagavulin)
Between those four samples, you should be able to get a great idea of which direction you need to head in your adventures for good scotch. That way, when your friends ask you, “What type of scotch do you enjoy the most?” or “What’s your flavor profile when it comes to whisky?” you can confidently answer with whatever you enjoy the most!
We try to keep most of what review around here under a hundred dollars. We understand that $100 is a lot of money for almost everyone so sticking to scotches that are easy to find on local shelves is always a plus. We do indulge from time to time 😉
[Scotch] and I received our invites from Balvenie (for Warehouse 24 members) to join David Laird and the hosting crew from Momentum (lead by the lovely Jennifer Holm) for a night of tasting at the Landmark Theater in DC and we obliged!
Having never been to a Landmark Cinema, I had no idea there would be a full bar just inside the doors. They had a really great selection for a small bar attached to a movie theater and it’s probably part of the reason this venue was chosen to host the tasting. (or perhaps it was the leather seats and stadium seating? 🙂 )
The tickets for the event were actually hand made on a letter press by a boutique called Salt and Cedar (link: saltandcedar.com/). Everyone who made the RSVP for the tasting received one when their name was taken at the movie theater box office.
After checking-in and receiving your ticket, you walked down a hallway barely illuminated by Edison bulbs to a table where you were greeted with a hot cider mix. If we heard the ladies correctly, the glass you were handed came from a warmer full of apple cider and two and a half bottles of monkey shoulder. It was tasty but you had to close your nostrils to drink it. The steam from the drink would drive the alcohol into your nose to singe your nose hairs! 🙂
Right next to the hot-scotch-cider table was a table full of tasty appetizers… YUM!
50 people were essentially smooshed into a hallway outside of the theater while our hosts prepared the theater for the killer tasting.
I’m going to let a few pictures do the talking here…
Each seat in the theater had the classic Balvenie tasting tray with a bag of popcorn on it. The cup holders each held a Balvenie branded water dropper.
Candy was passed around to be paired with the samples:
And of course the samples:
David gave a great presentation hitting on a few familiar points from other Balvenie events but of course bringing up quite a number of new stories that we hadn’t heard before.
It was great to have such a small group for the tasting event. At other events, groups are typically herded from location to location so people can taste, listen, and get out. In a theater, it was much more intimate. There were a few questions asked by other guests and very awesome answers were given. I think the level of detail was much better at such a small event. We watched a few (3) of the rare craft videos with Anthony Bourdain but in between David spoke about the five rare crafts that Balvenie holds true to (Barley, floor maltings, coppersmiths, coopers, and the Malt master).
We got to hear about the trick-of-the-trade that Balvenie uses to maintain consistency in bottles like the Rum cask expressions. We learned why the 17 DoubleWood has a purple label instead of the classic white label. We even got to hear about the history of cask finishing. At one point, I raised my camera and David even posed for a picture lol:
After all of the videos, speaking, tasting, learning, and fun, I think the best part of the entire event was being able to talk to David one on one and ask him questions related to other parts of the scotch world and his job like how he got his job and what his favorite scotch is outside of the Balvenie. It’s this level of personal attention at Balvenie events that keep us coming back. It’s what Macallan and Glenlivet have both missed the mark on. I’ve got theories as to why the tastings are so different (different brand goals, distillery sizes, etc) but it’s interesting to see the difference so obviously.
Balvenie, David Laird, Jennifer Holm, thank you again for a wonderful night of stories and scotch.
A great thing to remember when diving into your whisky journey is that everyone’s palate is different and unique. I might like something and give it magnificent praise, while you might think that it’s the worst whisky you’ve ever had in a cup. We here at scotchNsniff give you notes and reviews in hopes of shedding light about the whisky you buy, rather than the marketing campaigns built to sell the stuff to you. With that having been said, this next bottle for review is brilliant!!
A lot of people assume that the older a whisky is, the better it is and of course that means that it can and must command a higher price tag. [Sniff] and I definitely don’t mind paying for the good stuff but we love finding a deal even more. I [Scotch] have found that I really enjoy the 17 year mark. Hibiki 17 year, delicious. The Macallan 17 year fine oak, superb. And now this, the Balvenie 17 yr DoubleWood.
Color: Having spent the majority of the time maturing in traditional oak casks then the last couple months to a year in European Sherry casks, the color is A golden matte bronze with just the edge showing copper.
Nose: I’m initially greeted with the classic Balvenie oak, soft vanilla and honeyed richness. That leads into bing cherries macerated in a liquer, almost like a kirschwasser. There are layers of green apple and turbinado sugar (less molasses-ey). A slight waft of toasted cereal and malted barley are in there after swirling. The nose is inviting and all of the aromas are well married and yet still distinct but showing no edges.
Palate: The first sip of the whisky swirling around my mouth reveals a mexican cinnamon spice, not as harsh as McCormicks cassia cinnamon, along with green almond. Dried apple skins, red and green, coated in rich vanilla toffee. Throughout the entire taste, a very mellow but very pronounced Sherry surfboard carries all of these flavors down a great wave of fruit and spices. Awesome.
Finish: The finish, although awfully short, just keeps you wanting more. There is a light spice and vanilla sherry sweetness that remains but it is short.
This is a fantastic whisky that really shows how deliciously, both the Sherry and the Oak casks, can work together to form a great whisky. The price range seems to fluctuate between $99 to around $130, and for any price within that range, would be a great deal. For a price comparison to an equally great whisky, the Macallan 17 year Fine Oak is $190, but definitely not $70 better.