The Balvenie Stories

The Balvenie Stories: Taking a closer look

31 May, 2019

The Balvenie recently launched its new range of single malts called Stories, Ian Buxton explores the latest expressions.

“And now,” said Heather from Balvenie mischievously, “I’m going to toast your spoon”.

Not as I had briefly hoped, a Scottish euphemism for something rather more exciting, but actual live spoon toasting.  Our guide lit the flame on a small chef’s blow torch and applied it to the bowl of a small wooden spoon which, as you might expect, smouldered briefly. A faint aroma of charred wood was immediately apparent, mingling with the notes of vanilla and apricot as Heather introduced the story of The Balvenie Sweet Toast of American Oak.

It’s the first in a collection of three whiskies which the Speyside distillery released this week to global markets.  The romantically-named range comprises The Sweet Toast of American Oak, aged 12 years, 43% abv with a £45 rrp; the 14 years old The Week of Peat, 48.3% abv and £65 and the trio’s grand-daddy, A Day of Dark Barley, aged 26 years, bottled at 47.8% abv with a £600 rrp.

According to The Balvenie, the Stories range “celebrates human tales of endeavour, craft and unexpected twists, as told by its craftsmen at the distillery in Dufftown, Scotland”.   These three new expressions of The Balvenie celebrate this – whether it be apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie using Kentucky virgin oak to make a fruitier Balvenie, former distillery manager Ian Millar introducing smoke from Speyside peat, or malt master David Stewart MBE using an unusually brittle barley – each expression tells its own tale in liquid form. 

The striking new packaging – featuring designs with bespoke illustrations from British artist and printmaker Andy Lovell – incorporates an NFC-enabled neck tag.  Using this and their smartphones consumers can listen to these stories in full, as told by the characters themselves, via audio conversations recorded between them and Balvenie’s global ambassador, Gemma Paterson. These special conversations were recorded at locations featured in each tale, including The Balvenie distillery and as far afield as Kelvin Cooperage, Kentucky, where Kelsey McKechnie sourced virgin oak barrels for The Sweet Toast of American Oak.  The stories will also be available in podcast format, and hosted on the most popular podcast platforms, allowing for playback on home devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. 

Continuing the story theme, The Balvenie have worked with the internationally renowned independent Scottish publisher Canongate to create a book Pursuit – The Balvenie Stories Collection, available later this year. Edited by award-winning author and journalist Alex Preston the collection will contain a series of fiction and non-fiction short stories, by renowned writers from around the world.

While the 12 Years Old Sweet Toast of American Oak represents an innovation by the brand, fans of The Balvenie will recognize an evolution in the brand. The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Years, which launched globally in 2017 has developed into The Week of Peat and the third whisky, A Day of Dark Barley, takes spirit from 2006’s 14-Year-Old Balvenie Roasted Malt which had been retained for extra maturation, to become a classic aged Balvenie, but with extra depth and oak notes gleaned from the darker malt. 

At the launch, there was smoke, but no fire. Doubtless, The Balvenie will anticipate a steady burn as sales catch light across world markets.

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