Speyside-based Balvenie is the only Scotch whisky distillery to grow its own barley, use traditional floor maltings and keep coppersmiths and coopers on site. Its single malts – made by the longest-serving Malt Master David Stewart MBE – are some of the most recognised worldwide.
Located in Dufftown, Speyside, where the rivers Fiddich and Dullan meet, The Balvenie is only separated from the Glenfiddich Distillery – which is also owned by William Grant & Sons – by a railway. The distillery is named after the neighbouring castle of the same name, which dates at least to the 1200s.
Built in 1892 by the Grant family who established Glenfiddich in 1886, the first Balvenie stills were bought second-hand from Lagavulin and Glen Albyn. Today, there are nine stills and the “Balvenie ball” still with a bulge or boil ball at the base of the swan’s neck (replicated in the bottle design) is unique. The Balvenie grows barley on its 1,000-acre Balvenie Mains farm which overlooks the distillery. It still malts a small percentage of its barley on site.
David Stewart MBE started working at the distillery aged 17. After a 12-year apprenticeship he was named Malt Master and has retained this title longer than any other person in the world of whisky. In 2018, Stewart named Kelsey McKechnie Apprentice Malt Master. At 26 years of age, McKechnie became the youngest female to take up this position.
Stewart was one of the pioneers of cask finishing. When The Balvenie Classic launched in 1983, it was one of the first to undergo a secondary maturation. It is still bottled today under The DoubleWood label.
In 2015, the first in a five-part, five-year series was launched to commemorate Stewart’s career. The entire Balvenie DCS Compendium of 25 single cask whiskies – Distillery Style, The Influence of Oak, Secrets of the Stock Model, Expecting the Unexpected and Malt Master’s Indulgence – went on the market for more than £125,000.
The Balvenie Tun bottlings are legendary and incredibly collectable. After launching the first distillery exclusive Tun 1501 in 2010, the Balvenie has produced a further nine releases.
Stewart describes the DNA of Balvenie as honey, citrus and vanilla.