Deviating from our normal Malt of the Month post, our Master of Malt, George, tells us about his trip up north to his homeland to visit two distilleries and see first hand how the amber liquid is produced.
I was recently a guest of William Grant & Sons and invited on a tour of both Balvenie & Glenfiddich distilleries.
We started at Balvenie, just a short walk through the grounds of the Glenfiddich distillery. The first stop was the floor maltings where the process of malting the barley was explained, to this day turned by hand during the drying process.
The Mash room is where the malted barley is mashed three times with water of different temperatures. It is then drained and the liquid, now called ‘wash’, is pumped in to the washbacks and liquid yeast added. The liquid is now called ‘wort’. The wort ferments for approximately 60 hours before being sent to the wash still and spirit still for collection in the spirit safe.
The spirit, not yet whisky, is sent to the filling room where it is put into oak casks. These casks will have previously held Sherry, Bourbon, Rum, Wine or Port. The casks are placed in one of the Bonded Warehouses where it will “Sleep” for a minimum of 3 years before it can be called whisky. Generally Balvenie is not available until the whisky is at least 12 years old with some being bottled after is has been sleeping for 50 years.
The on-site cooperage is a fascinating place. The highly skilled team of coopers rebuild the casks that have been shipped to Dufftown from the USA and Europe. I watched as the casks were assembled and tested. Some of the team have been here for over 40 years, passing their knowledge on to the next generation who work alongside them.
Our private tasting in the Malt Barn included 4 expressions of Balvenie Whisky 12 year old Double Wood, 17 year old Double Wood, 14 year old Caribbean Cask and 21 year old Port Wood - all enjoyable but the 14 year old Caribbean my own personal favourite.
The tasting continued after dinner at the Quaich Bar where we tried various Glenfiddich whiskies in preparation for our Glenfiddich tour the following day.
Waking early, I decided to go for a walk along the River Spey. I couldn’t help but notice the number of distilleries and bonded warehouses that are in the area. It is clear you are in whisky country just by the aroma of malted barley. Full Scottish breakfast included Haggis, Black Pudding and Fried ‘Tattie’ Scones.
The tour started with a short film about how Glenfiddich’s founder William Grant who, along with seven sons and 2 daughters, built the distillery by hand with the first spirit running from the stills on Christmas day 1887.
The Washbacks hold the liquid from the mash and the yeast is added to allow fermentation which takes approximately 72 hours. As we walked through here the air was filled with the smell of bananas, apples and malted barley.
More Whisky Expressions
We now went into Duty Free Warehouse No.1 and had a nose of three different whiskies in the cask, each being older than the previous. After this we had a tasting of 4 expressions of Glenfiddich whisky, 12 year old, 14 year old Rich Oak, 18 year old and 21 year old.
Duty Free Warehouse 8 holds the Solera Vat for the 15 year old Glenfiddich. The Vat was first used in 1998 and is never empty, which means some of the whisky in a bottle of 15 year old bought today will have contain some of the original whisky from the first filling.
Rounding off our trip was a special tasting session with the deconstruction of the 15 year old Solera whisky. Four 15 year old whiskies were placed in front of us, from Bourbon, Sherry, New Oak and Solera Vat caskets. Our test was to try to replicate the 15 year old Solera whisky. We were given measuring beakers for this and tasked to make 50ml of our own 'brew' - a little souvenir of an amazing trip to take back home.
The Balvenie with cheese paring at The Wild Boar Lake District Hotel.
Whisky Tasting at The Wild Boar
Whisky Tasting Evening at The Wild Boar. Image by: Naik Media
Our next Whisky Tasting event is on 9th August when we will welcome Ervin Trykowski from Diageo and be tasting a selection of whisky from their portfolio.
Make an evening of it and dine in The Wild Boar restaurant on the same evening and join the tasting for free after dinner, or book your place at the event for £10 per person.