Balvenie is a large, famous and highly awarded single malt whisky distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. The distillery follows traditional whisky making techniques. It is one of the few distilleries in Scotland to have its own operational floor malting facility and cooperage on site. This traditional approach is reflected in the brand's marketing and packaging. Balvenie is widely considered by whisky drinkers to be one of the finest examples of Scotch single malt from Speyside.
Balvenie is known for its medium bodied, fruity and very traditional Speyside style of spirit. This comes with honeyed and green fruit notes to the fore, with hints of tropical fruit in the background. The distillery was one of the pioneers of the cask finishing process. This is where whisky is transferred from one type of barrel to another for a short period). This was developed in the 1980s by the legendary David C. Stewart, the Balvenie Malt Master, amongst others.
The large core range has ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels used heavily in the flagship Doublewood 12 years old and 17 years old expressions. However, the finishing process is seen elsewhere within the range with ex-rum casks from the Caribbean and ex-Port wine barrels featuring. Balvenie is mostly unpeated but for one week each year they produce peated spirit. This is a light, sweet, gentle style of Speyside peat at around the 25ppm mark.
Balvenie is one of the few Scottish distilleries to use a traditional floor malting. This is where barley grain is turned in to malt. This produces 30 tonnes per year - that is 10% of all that the distillery needs for production. There is a large 11.8 tonne mash tun, which produces 30 mashes per week. The distillery uses water from Robbie Dhub spring that rises nearby. There are 14 washbacks for fermentation (nine wooden and five stainless steel) and the fermentation time is 68 hours. There are 11 stills (five wash stills and six spirit stills) and these produce seven million litres per year. Balvenie also has its own cooperage that repairs and re-chars casks when they arrive for filling.
The Balvenie distillery was founded in 1892 by William Grant. It was built as the sister distillery to hos other distillery, Glenfiddich. Both are located in Dufftown, the unofficial capital of Speyside region., and both remain owned by the William Grant & Sons company to this day. Production began in May 1893. The distillery is named after nearby Balvenie Castle, which dates back to 13th century.
As William Grant's business grew the distillery was expanded to cope with demand. This happened first in the 1950s, then the 1960s and again in early 1970s. At this time Balvenie was predominantly being used in Grant's own blends. The first official bottling of Balvenie single malt appeared in 1973. Since then, it has grown to become one of the best selling Scotch single malt brands.
As single malt sales grew, William Grant built other distilleries to take some of the pressure off Balvenie. This strategy allowed the whisky produced there to be bottled solely as single malt. The first was Kininvie in 1990, which is on the same Dufftown site as Balvenie and Glenfiddich. Then came Ailsa Bay in 2007. This is located in the Ayrshire town of Girvan. Ailsa Bay's stills are based on those of Balvenie, so the style can be replicated if needed. The single malt produced at both of the newer distilleries is predominantly used for the Grant's range of blended Scotch, the blended malt Monkey Shoulder and Aerstone single malts.
Peated malt and spirit was first produced in early 2000s by David C. Stewart as an experiment. He has over 50 years experience in the whisky industry and has been instrumental in growing Balvenie as a single malt brand. Now this 'Peat Week' takes place for one week each year and appears as limited edition or small batch releases. He is also responsible for innovative releases such as the Tun series, plus the DCS Compendium - a series of luxury rare single malts. More recently, The Balvenie Stores range has been introduced to highlight the traditions of the distillery. There is also the Triple Cask series that is available in global travel retail.