#5.1 Run through the stills

Balvenie all the way!
(Day 1)


For the first post of 2022 we go back a few months: a trip to Speyside for the Dramathon and a couple of distillery visits, including our 50th! 

First things first, happy new year! And we hope you had good and resting holidays, possibly filled with drams!

In spite of the ongoing situation 2021 was a decent year, and we managed to “dram around” quite a bit and do a few whisky trips! One of the highlights was an event we attended back in October. This one has been on our radar for a while, but for various reasons we haven’t been able to attend before: the Dramathon! This combines two of our major extra-work activities, running and dramming.

Gianluigi has always been running, more or less. During his rugby years (first as player, then as referee) it was part of his training, of course. Since he moved on, running was the only activity he kept doing regularly. On the other hand, Teresa has never been a sporty lassie, but she recently got into running after realising she couldn’t run up the stairs without getting heavy breath. We already participated to a couple of races back in 2019, before the pandemic. For this one, we prepared for approximately a month and a half, and after recovering from Covid, so the aim was just to finish our respective races (Gian the half-marathon and Teresa the 10k) and have fun.

Of course, could we plan a trip to Speyside without visiting at least one distillery? Never! A couple of months before the race Gianluigi got in contact with Balvenie to ask if there were tours available and the answer was yes for the morning before the race, what a luck! That required our friend Justine handing over Cliff’s keys (don’t know who is Cliff? Read here!) the night before, and us leaving Leith early in the morning. The trip was smooth, except we had to refill gas at a gas station at Dalwhinnie, just a few hundred meters before the distillery. Getting off the car we realised that, when you read that Dalwhinnie is coldest place in Scotland, it might be right…the temperature drop from Leith was significant! From the gas station we quickly drove to Aviermore, Granton on Spey and finally entered mighty Speyside.

Celebrating the 50th distillery visit! (Credits to James for the pic)

Balvenie is a distillery we have been wanting to visit for a couple of years. However, during our first trip to Speyside in 2019 it was fully booked, while earlier this summer it was closed to visitors. The other important reason to celebrate is that we were reaching an important milestone, with this being the 50th (working) distillery visit! Nine of these distilleries were in Kentucky, US (including the Evan Williams micro-distillery in downtown Louisville), two in Ireland (excluding the former Jameson Bow St distillery) and 39 in Scotland (for the nerds: 3 in Campbeltown, 10 in Speyside, 6 in the Lowlands and 20 in the Highlands….still no Islay, thanks to Covid).

After checking in at Glenfiddich, the distillery ambassador and guide James met us at the visitor centre. While walking towards the maltings, he started introducing us to the history of the brand and the site.

We entered the malting building – we were really looking forward to this, and not just because it was freezing outside! The facility looked bigger than Springbank, and James told us that around 30% of the barley used to produce Balvenie gets malted here. We were really impressed by the golden “dunes” of barley, we could definitely see why this is one of the highlights of the tour! Next, the kiln itself (yes, we were inside the pagoda), where we got an understanding of the process, which very veeeeery roughly is a combination of heating and hoovering. James patiently let us take more pictures of the barley dunes on the way out.

Red Riding Hood and the Balvenie’s peat.

Then, we moved to the other stages of production. To our surprise, we discovered that the mashtuns and washbacks of Balvenie are just next to the mashtuns and washbacks of Kininvie, a sister distillery whose malt mainly goes into the Grant’s blends. So basically we visited one distillery and a half, yay! We could also see an extremely lively wort, double yay!

The still house was less of a surprise, but only because we had had the chance to briefly see it two years ago when we visited Glenfiddich. In the warehouse, James showed us a wooden tun used for the vatting.

A not-so-little gem in the warehouse: a wooden tun.

Now the tour (and what a tour!) was complete, so we moved to the tasting room, small and cosy.

An excellent tailored tasting.

When James heard that we had done a vertical Balvenie tasting very recently, he made sure the lineup for the tasting was completely new to us, so kind of him! First, we had the Balvenie Single Barrel. We both fell in love with this dram, and indeed this is the bottle we bought. Then the Distillery Exclusive Sherry Butt (61.3%), the 19y “Edge of burnhead wood” (48.7%, interesting experiment with heather, but not really our cup of tea), a yummy 21y Port wood (40%) and the Tun 1509 (Nas, 50.4%, batch 6). Chats around our whisky journey and the history of UK train lines (another James passion) accompanied the tasting.

Warm-up run along the river Spey.

This was probably one of the best, most complete tours we had so far, we couldn’t have celebrated the 50th distillery in a better way! We happily drove to Rothes, where we had our hotel booked. After a quick warm-up run (well, for Gianluigi, Teresa ehm….) we had a light dinner, resisting the drams temptation. We needed a good rest before the big day!

Balvenie Tour Tasting

Price: £50.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: 5 drams selected for us by the distillery ambassador – Balvenie Single Barrel (12y, 47.8%, ex-bourbon), Distillery Esxlusive Sherry Butt (16y, first fill oloroso, 61.3%), The edge of burnhead wood (19y, American oak barrels, 48.7%), Port wood (21y, 40%), and Tun 1509 (Nas but at least 21y, 50.4%).

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: good

Highlights: the kiln and the intimate tour

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://uk.thebalvenie.com/

Author: Dramming Around

A pretend-to-be-young Italian couple on a quest to discover whisk(e)y distilleries and their golden nectar

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