Is there a better way to start a week than with a whisky tasting? I didn’t wake up on Monday morning with the usual sense of despair that the work week was just getting started. My Monday salvation came in the form of the Balvenie Road Show that was held at the Epic Roasthouse on the Embarcadero. The Balvenie, if you are not familiar with it, is located in Dufftown and is fiercely proud of the fact that it is one of the few remaining family owned distilleries. The Balvenie also takes pride and promotes that its whiskies are meticulously handcrafted and not the product of a large corporate machine. And this leads us to their current campaign the Balvenie Road Show.
The Road Show is a celebration of those that stay true to traditional crafts and apply their passion, skill and attention to detail in what they create. The Balvenie Ambassadors Andrew Weir and Nicholas Pollacchi are traveling the country with a handcrafted Morgan to visit these craftsman.
The weather cooperated on Monday to make the Epic Roasthouse a picturesque location for the San Francisco stop of the Road Show. An initial tasting was held on the outside patio with a fabulous view of the bay and the towering Bay Bridge in the background. Upon arriving we were graciously offered a blood and sand cocktail – a concoction that I found a little to sweet for my tastes. I was left wondering why it has become somewhat customary to open whisky tastings up with cocktails. To show the diversity of their whisky? To appeal to a greater audience? Or am I just being an elitist in thinking that single malt whisky should only be enjoyed neat or with a couple of drops of water?
After some mingling, Nicholas started his introduction to the Balvenie and its whiskies. Staying in line with theme of the Road Show and celebrating handcrafted products Nicholas explained that the Balvenie is unique in that they have their own barley, floor maltings, coppersmith as well as their own cooperage all on site. The Balvenie also has one the most experienced malt masters, David Stewart tending to their casks and creating the whisky.
After some additional background information on the Balvenie the tasting portion of the evening started with the Balvenie 15 year – a single barrel expression. Single barrel means that the whisky in these bottles only comes from one specific barrel and is not a vatting (mixing) of different barrels that most distillery bottlings normally are. As a result the flavor can vary some from bottle to bottle when they are from different barrels. The 15 year has the distinctive honey profile that is associated with the Balvenie plus a little extra kick from a slightly elevated ABV.
Next we were poured a taste of the 14 year Caribbean Cask which, as the name suggests was finished in Caribbean rum casks. The rum casks add another layer of sweetness to the mix but without being cloying. We then moved on to the 21 year Port Cask expression with its dichotomy of soft yet ever present port sweetness that delights the palate. Last we were poured the 17 year Peated Cask. This is an interesting expression that was partially aged in casks that once held peated Balvenie – as far as I know the peated Balvenie has never been bottled and was only used to season the casks. The peat is not overpowering and integrates well here. Many Speyside/Highland malts that attempt to do a peated expression, are not successful in my opinion. The peat often tastes like an after thought, thrown on the top of an already finished product and there is no harmony. I am happy to say that the Peated Cask is a rare success. And that ended the initial outdoor tasting and the second level indoor tasting was just starting.
The past Balvenie tastings that I attended were fairly intimate with about 15 people. Monday’s upstairs tasting was far from intimate. I was surprised to see the number of people that were there enjoying all of the same Balvenie expressions that were poured earlier. Food was being served, but it was a little sparse. As each server entered the room with any type of food they were immediately swarmed and soon only crumbs or left over sauce was left on the serving tray. The vibe was a good one though and everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. It was good to see such a large and diverse group of people interested in the Balvenie and their whiskies. – Chris