The first tutored tasting of the new year for Glasgow’s Whisky Club, and it was a belter. A complete deconstruction of some of the malts that go into the making of The Balvenie Signature, led by the good Dr Andrew Forrester, brought us not only to the heart and soul of a great dram, but also to its very DNA.
On the way we had a trip round the solar system as Andrew’s unique style of presentation brought us a flavour map based on the planets. Sweet, if not Suite. We had Planet Sweet, Planet Spice, Planet Peat and Planet Fruit, and Andrew pointed out the characteristics of each Balvenie on that planetarium.
Of course, it’s not the first time Andrew has used that analogy. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Dr Forrester was one of the leading lights in the Easy Drinking Whisky Company, which spawned the Jon, Mark and Robbo series of whiskies. Andrew was the ‘and’, he told club members at a Sunday tasting in the Pot Still in June 2006.
Our first dip into the Balvenie came with the finished product, the Balvenie Signature 12. The full gamut of the planets were in evidence; citrus, orange, raisins – in fact, a real honeyed sweetness that is the … err … signature of the dram! I’ve often pondered the term ‘single malt’ which is a bit of a misnomer, as the end result - and certainly in the case of The Balvenie – is a marriage of many hundreds or thousands of casks.
We nosed and tasted the new make spirit first, the very essence of the whisky. It had green apples, pears (as you would expect) and a malty, almost Shreddies finish. The perfect breakfast Balvenie.
The next component was a first fill American oak cask. It had the distinct vanilla, toffee and caramel you’d expect from a bourbon cask, along with coconut, marzipan, liquorice, cloves and aniseed. A sumptious dram.
A refill cask was out next taste and brought a freshness and citrus to the palate. Andrew considers this to be much more drinkable, as opposed to the heavy first fill. Not everyone agreed, but it was an interesting experience.
A big beautiful sherry monster was the third component; a real Christmas pudding of a dram. Again a brilliant drink, but perhaps too heavy to drink all evening.
Put them all together, and there it is – the Balvenie Signature.
A couple of us had been to a previous Balvenie night, for the unveiling of the new Balvenie Peated, and that was our last (official) dram of the night. A bold experiment and it certainly provokes conversation. It offers the traditional Balvenie honeyed sweetness, with the addition of dry ashes on the palate. It’s not my favourite Balvenie, though I doubt I’d turn one down if you’re buying!
The whole evening was exactly the kind of tasting the club should do more of. Rather than simply drinking various expressions from the one distillery, it was a fascinating insight into how great whiskies are created and our deep thanks go to the forensic brand ambassador that is Dr Andrew Forrester.
As a wee thanks to ‘and’ Mark and I tracked down what most be one of the last few bottles of the Jon Mark and Robbo era. It was the first time Andrew had been given a bottle of whisky at a tasting.
Many thanks to Andrew, too, for his generosity at the end of the tasting, the results of which will be featured in an upcoming Round the Barrel night.
bill mackintosh 2011