by Mick & Di, The Food Lovers
Dicey Reilly’s was the venue recently for a tasting of the iconic and much loved The Balvenie whisky. Continually under the ownership of William Grant & Sons since 1887, it continues to sweep the industry’s gold medals and produce stunning malts that keep its reputation growing. Led by the master blender, David Stewart MBE, the company’s whiskys are handcrafted in Speyside using centuries-old skills passed down through the generations.
To lead us through The Balvenie experience, the charismatic regional brand ambassador for Southeast Asia, Neil Strachan, expounded the joys of drinking The Balvenie whiskies from their distillery in Banffshire and how to appreciate the intricacies of the blending and maturation of these Scottish gems. Strachan was born and bred in the Northeast of Scotland, just a stone’s throw from the distillery. He now resides in Singapore spreading The Balvenie message around Southeast Asia.
He stated, “At The Balvenie, we stay true to our Five Rare Crafts, making whisky the way we always have. Our craftsmen have an intimate understanding of their materials and a desire to make the very best whisky possible. Our process is a combination of expertise, skill and ambition which gives The Balvenie its unique character.”
We were to be served three specially created food courses to pair with each whisky, but before they arrived Neil imparted some singular tips to increase our enjoyment and appreciation of the malts. Firstly, a small tulip shaped glass known as a “nosing glass” is imperative. It traps the aromas in the bulbous bottom of the glass for perfect detection and pinpointing.
After the pouring, notice the colour and clarity and gently swirl it to coat the sides of your glass taking note of the “legs”. “Nose” your whisky well by bringing the rim of your glass about an inch from your nose, and when ready, finally lift the whisky to your lips.
The first course introduced roasted New Zealand mussels baked in parchment with herbs in a white butter sauce and the chosen whisky, a “DoubleWood” 12-year-old single malt. Who knew roasted mussels and whisky would make such good friends? Not “any” whisky of course but this pedigree which has been matured in two wood types: a traditional oak cask and an European oak sherry cask, each stage affording its own special qualities to the malt. Smooth and oh, so mellow with a nutty sweetness and that underlying sherry flavour; we were fast becoming The Balvenie admirers.
Pork sous vide with butter, herbs, carrot puree and tomato relish then hit the table with another wee gram, this time my favourite of the evening, a “Caribbean Cask” 14-year-old. This particular malt had been matured in traditional oak casks for 14 years and then finished in Caribbean casks that had previously held rum. Malt master David Stewart then filled the casks with his own blend of select West Indian rums and when he decided it was enough the casks were emptied and filled with the 14-year-old spirit. The result is unbelievable, rich, sweet and creamy with a soft and lingering finish. Eaten with the buttery pork and a quite delicious tomato relish it was alike to a walk in the Highlands with a glass of The Balvenie in hand. I apologise for gushing – you really should have been there.
Lastly the Clan Leader was introduced – a “DoubleWood” 17-year-old single malt. It gains its name from having being matured in two distinct casks: a traditional whisky cask followed by a shorter period in an European sherry cask. The taste is elegant and complex with shades of vanilla and honey with just a hint of green apples. Grilled lamb tenderloin with prune sauce proved the perfect partner to this aged gentlemen of the glen. More “Slainte” followed and connoisseurs and novices, swirled, sipped and swallowed further into the night. In closing, a favourite Scottish toast for all you new and old The Balvenie drinkers out there: May the best ye’ve ever seen. Be the worst ye’ll ever see.