Balvenie has always been one of my favorites. In fact, I feel somewhat responsible for the price of Balvenie 21-year-old port wood pushing the $200 mark. Several years ago, I actively promoted it as one of my “best buys” when it was hovering around the $100 mark. Demand rose as did price. Ultimately, I don’t blame myself for the increase. I blame Balvenie for making a spirit that is so solid (leading into spectacular) that people will fork out the extra dough for such a fantastic whisky.
Independence is at the heart of Balvenie, and by independence I mean they rely on no one but the in-house team to do everything from grow their own barley to malt it, distill it, cooper the casks where it ages…about the only thing Malt Master David Stewart allows others to do is drink it. And thank goodness for that.
Rare craft is what Balvenie calls their method, and in today’s spirits industry the level of control and independence and they retain is indeed rare. This rare business approach allows Stewart and his team to have fun with their expressions, as evidenced by the 17-year-old peated, a relatively recent release where Balvenie used their own increased peat phenol malt to season casks which were used to finish its more traditional spirit.
Two Balvenie Brand Ambassadors, Andrew Weir and Nicholas Pollacchi are in the midst of traveling the United States to seek out and honor artisans who share Balvenie’s devotion to handcrafted innovation, including producers of cheese, stained glass, golf bags and surfboards, to name but a few. The lads have been undertaking this “difficult” task of meeting interesting people and sharing interesting tastings by making their way from town to town in a hand-made Morgan convertible. I still have some pull in the State and Homeland Security Departments, so if one of the guys “happens” to run into visa issues, I’m more than happy and available to jump behind the wheel and help out the cause.
Their recent stop in Hollywood at Bar Marmont featured a tasting of nearly the entire Balvenie range, including the rare, amazing, succulent and exquisite 40-year-old. Retailing at just a shade under $4,000, I probably won’t be enjoying that again anytime soon. Then again, I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it than with Andrew and Nicholas telling great stories during the Balvenie-range tasting.
I’ve no idea how many tastings I’ve been to in my life, but it’s tough for the distributor/maker to balance information between novices (the majority of people there), experienced whisky people (a few) and experts (a handful). I found the Balvenie’s approach at Bar Marmont to suit my interests and inquisitiveness, as well as those of my companion, Monica, who basically doesn’t drink whiskey. That speaks well of the people behind the event in LA and of those handful of handcrafting artisans half a world away in Dufftown.
You can follow the journey of Andrew and Nicholas here and make sure to peruse the site for details about the interesting people they are meeting along the way.