So, after spending the morning at the Glenfiddich distillery, the group had to get back into the car to drive the half mile or so to the Balvenie distillery. We took the car, because we were out of time (big lunch) and crossing the terrain without high-visibility vests and a tour-guide, is simply not allowed. At the visitor’s reception – a livingroom like place where our guide Katya had made us coffee and tea (with Walker’s of course) while she told us in short the history and the hows and whys of the distillery. She told us that – sadly – the malting floors were empty at this time, because there had been a company party in the barn. No harm done; Katya had some good stories, “laboratory” samples and pictures to explain the process.
After finishing our drinks, we went to the – empty but still impressive – malting floors and got a look around inside the kiln. Last time we were in this kiln it was smoking ferociously, and it was a nice alternative to see the insides without the choking hot air. About 15% of the used malt at the Balvenie is malted on these maltfloors and in this kiln, the remainder of the malt is bought from commercial maltsters. The old, mainly wooden equipment on the malting area looks and feels like you are inside a working museum, but this ends when you enter the mashing area.
Inside the mash-house are similar sized pair of mashtuns as we had seen at the Glenfiddich distillery, but made from stainless steel. Two mashtuns, although only one of them is solely used to make the mash for the Balvenie, the other mashtun is used for Kininvie – the little sister just down the road, who shares the buildings for mashing and fermenting with the Balvenie. Every machine is clearly labelled for either the one or the other distillery.
In the fermenting rooms, there were again – just as with Glenfiddich 24 washbacks. Fourteen have been reserved for the Balvenie wash, and ten are reserved for the Kininvie wash. The wash for Kininvie is pumped to the (separated and tucked away in the woods) stillhouse of the Kininvie distillery, where the wash for the Balvenie is kept in-house and is distilled in the rather large wash (five) and spirit (six) stills. The wash stills are not accessible during the tour, because they are in another room entirely as they keep the spirit stills.
As far as most tours go, it would have ended here. Not so for the tour at the Balvenie. Katya led us back to the visitor’s reception area, where an old Landrover was waiting for us to bring us to the Glenfiddich / the Balvenie / Kininvie cooperage at the end of the terrain, beyond the 42 (!) warehouses. With sparkles in her eyes, she treated us to a genuine off-road experience, where eight grown man and woman had the need to clench their buttocks tight on the small sized benches. The cooperage is a properly-sized cooperage, where about ten people re-create, repair and re-char casks continuously.
Most Speyside distilleries – including some of the large distilleries of Diageo and Pernod Ricard, buy their casks from the Speyside cooperage or have their own off-site cooperage elsewhere in Scotland. It is great to see the Grant family is willing to spend time and money to keep also the craft alive, keeping in mind they have complete control of their complete wood-management in this way. After we had deflected an attack of the Daleks, we went back into the Landrover and went to the illustrious Warehouse 24, where we got a sniff of the share intended for the Angels, and a look at the replacement for the acclaimed Tun 1401; Tun 1509 – a large tun, that seemed quilted together from smaller pieces of different types of casks.
Request for swimming or bathing were sadly denied, and we continued to the filling of our own 20cl bottles. Many bottles were needed to be filled to fulfill everyone’s demand, and when we were all done, Katya asked how many of us were a Warehouse 24 member, gave us another 20cl bottle and sent us on a quest for cask number 17703, where we could dip the dog and fill the 20cl bottle. One 20cl bottle. And we had to drink it on-site, at the visitors reception area. No complaints though, especially when it turned out to be a Balvenie distilled in 1974…
When locking up the distillery after us, Katya trusted the keys of the shop (and Warehouse 24) to some big idiot, so the whole group could take a seat at the already prepared table, where we got to taste a whole range of Balvenie niceties, including said the 40yo cask sample. After we all had signed the big book for customs and excise, it was time to hit the little shop, and after that, the tour sadly had come to an end. As we mentioned before on day 1, someone had left an e-book at the airport. An unfortunate other person had made a habit of it to leave a small rucksack (his wife had lent him) behind at almost every opportunity he got. This time, no exception, and lucky for him, Katya was still closing the shop when he arrived back at the visitor’s reception.
The tour at the Balvenie was a bit longer then we all expected, so we decided to go find some dinner first. After some discussion and telephone calls (some wanted to go to the Highlander Inn again, but they did not have place for eight), we decided to drive over to Dowans Hotel‘s ’57 restaurant in Aberlour. Dinner at the Dowans was great and during a coffee and a cigarette break, we saw we had two missed calls from the Highlander Inn (apparently we could have dined there, but the Dowans was a very good alternative). Two seconds later we had all decided we would do dessert and a dram at the Highlander Inn, “for old times’ sake”. Always a great way to end a great day.
The Balvenie was our first choice when it came to organizing this trip one and a half years ago. You could well say, the whole programme was built around it, and once again, we were not disappointed…