The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask
Firstly, we mature the Caribbean Cask in traditional oak whisky casks for 14 years. And then finished in casks that previously held Caribbean rum. Malt Master David Stewart filled American oak casks with his own blend of select West Indian rums. Then he will judge when the casks will be ready. Then, he will replace the rum with the 14 year old spirit and the wood was put to work adding the final touches. The result is an exceptional single malt whisky with the traditional smooth, honeyed character of The Balvenie, married with notes of toffee and a hint of fruit, with a warm, lingering finish.
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. Allow us to demonstrate.
Home Grown Barley
At The Balvenie, we still grow our own barley for malting. Each year we sow barley on our thousand-acre farm, Balvenie Mains, overlooking the distillery. The only modern technology we use is a combine harvester when the crop is ripe for harvesting. Apart from this, the barley is grown the same way it has always been, one of the things that makes The Balvenie single malt whisky unique.
The Balvenie operates a working floor maltings, one of only a handful left in Scotland. After steeping the barley in spring water sourced from hills above the distillery, we spread the grain across our traditional malting floor. Here our malt men turn it by hand until the malted barley is ready for the kiln, where it’s dried using anthracite and a carefully judged amount of peat, adding further complexity to our whisky.
The shape and size of the copper stills are two of the most important factors affecting the taste of The Balvenie. Our stills have varied very little from when the distillery first opened. They maintain the same ‘Balvenie Ball’ shape, with a bulge or boil ball at the base of the swan’s neck – a feature replicated in the neck of The Balvenie bottle. This allows the vapours more time to mix before they carry on up to the head.
Some casks need to be ‘toasted’ to caramelise the wood sugar, just enough to open the pores but not enough to burn too deep. It’s quite a skill, but then our coopers repair, rebuild, fill and seal whisky casks all day, all year. An apprenticeship takes four of those years, but the learning doesn’t stop there: it takes more years of experience to keep everything ‘wind and watertight’ every time.
As the longest serving Malt Master in the Scotch whisky industry, no one knows whisky like David does. Nosing samples for a balance of notes and consistent character, David decides which casks can be bottled after 12 years, those that will be perfectly finished in oak, or the rare ones that will mature on to become 21, 30 and beyond. Born in Ayr on the west coast of Scotland in 1945, David C. Stewart MBE started work at The Balvenie distillery in 1962 at the age of just 17. During a 12-year apprenticeship, he mastered the complex skills required to create the very finest single malt whisky.