The Balvenie Stories documents the tales of unique characters, events, and experiences that form the long history of this special distillery. Passed down through generations of craftspeople and makers, each of The Balvenie Stories is one strand of the grand history of people that make Balvenie.
The Balvenie 19 Year Old Revelation of Cask and Character Single Malt Scotch Whisky is a story of expertise, intuition, and the craft of Coopering – as old as whisky itself. This particular sherry Oak maturation is the result of years of curiosity and learning, but the story begins with an unexpected discovery even longer ago…
The use of casks in whisky was supposedly an accidental revelation. If you believe the folklore, hundreds of years ago, Oak casks were used to transport whisky across the British Isles. By the time it reached its destination, the whisky would have taken on some of the depth and richness of whatever liquid these casks once held. And so, storage in certain casks became a conscious rather than circumstantial choice.
Over time, the use of Oak casks became instrumental in the quality and final flavour of the whisky. The Balvenie Head Cooper Ian McDonald knows this all too well, having worked with his team and his tools for over 50 years. “I’d always dreamed of working in wood and metal.” he says. “I began my apprenticeship at 16, qualified in 1974, and I’ve been working at The Balvenie ever since.”
The techniques Ian has practised over the years are the product of generations’ worth of knowledge which he, in turn, has passed to his apprentices. Over half a century building and toasting casks means Ian understands wood like no-one else. “I now know,” he smiles, “to the touch, which type of wood is which.” A useful skill to have when each has its own unique influence on whisky.
Working on the casks at The Balvenie is a big responsibility, and one that Jack Lomas and Liam Henderson have enjoyed since 2018. Having completed their 4-year apprenticeship in 2022, they were duly ‘tarred and feathered’ – a rite of passage for all members of the Coopers’ Guild. “It’s a strange tradition really, but a proud moment for every Cooper. It’s always a special day for the team at The Balvenie,” explains Liam.
As Jack and Liam have found, working with whisky takes a lot of dedication and skill, but also a healthy dose of curiosity. These three qualities combined have led The Balvenie to its understanding of casks, and how to make the most of each unique maturation vessel. They’ve also led Ian and his team around the world, inspiring one particularly memorable trip to a bodega in Jerez in 2009.
Looking to learn more about the making of casks, the trip resulted in an exciting exchange of skills and expertise – but surprisingly, not tools. They tried of course, but the exchange was less successful, as Ian explains: “It was just totally different. I couldn’t work with their tools, and they couldn’t work with mine. I can’t explain it, it’s like…” he pauses for a moment, “like our tools were too much an extension of ourselves to work for anyone else.”
Malt Master Kelsey McKechnie describes this unique 19-year-old Balvenie as “the perfect way to showcase the journey of our Coopers, representing Ian’s work with Spanish bodegas. It’s a really rich expression, with familiar honey smoothness revealing layers of spice, and intense ripe fruits like a freshly baked Christmas cake, currants and raisins then giving way to chewy fig, and a long creamy, nutty finish. It has deep layers of flavour, all created by maturation solely in European oak ex-sherry casks and showcasing our Coopers’ craft perfectly.”