A decade or so ago, I became interested in whisky as more than just something to mix with Coke or ginger ale, and started exploring the parallel worlds of single malts and quality bourbons. After buying a few bottles, I decided that getting serious about it would be too rich for my blood, and started paying more attention to beer instead. But I never lost my taste for the good stuff, and I’m always happy to get an opportunity to tip some back.
So I was pleased to be invited to the Canadian launch of The Balvenie Signature, a new limited bottling from the Balvenie Distillery marking the 45th year of service of Malt Master David Stewart. The event fittingly took place at a gallery in The Distillery District here in Toronto, and started with a talk and tutored tasting – uh, I mean “nosing” – presented by Balvenie’s David Mair, who flew in for a whirlwind visit to host the launch.
(Apologies for the strangely blurred photo – I was using an ancient digital camera in a darkened room, and this was literally the best of the bunch. Although I guess it fits nicely with the “whirlwind visit” comment above…)
The audience for the presentation was a mixed bag of food, drink and lifestyle media, so Mair gave a good overview of the whisky production process, placing particular emphasis on the fact that Belvenie is one of the few distilleries that still grows and malts their own barley (not enough to make all of their whisky, but about 10%-15% of their supply each year), and that has both a coppersmith and a cooperage team on staff.
Mair then explained that for the Signature whisky, David Stewart was asked to create whatever he wished, and he decided to bring together 12-year-old malts from three different casks – first fill bourbon barrels, refill bourbon, and sherry casks – to create a complex but easy drinking whisky.
Based on the nosing/tasting, he seems to have succeeded, as it’s a very enjoyable sipper with fruity notes from the sherry casks, spice and vanilla from the first fill bourbon, and a soft mellow woodiness from the refill. There’s also a faint but discernible smokiness in the finish of the flavour, even though the malt at Balvenie is only lightly smoked during kilning. Moderately complex and very drinkable, just as promised.
Following the media preview, there was a larger reception that I was unable to stick around for, but if I had, I would’ve been treated to an exclusive performance by The Sam Roberts Band (no great loss for me, as I’m not really a fan), and I would assume some food and more Balvenie. But alas, I had stuff to do at home, so off I toddled with a boozy belly and a loot bag containing a beautiful Balvenie glass created by glassblower Clark Guettel.
Should’ve been the end of the story, but when I got home, I found that my wife – who had also been invited to the event, but was unable to make it – had been delivered a consolation prize this afternoon: a small bottle of The Balvenie Signature, packaged with three small vials containing samples of the three cask types that were brought together for the finished product. A very nice little package, and it’s great to have some Signature on hand to break in the new glass.
I’m not sure what the distribution is like elsewhere, but here in Ontario, The Balvenie Signature is available at the LCBO for $72.95.