It’s always exciting to discover a new dram. But to be at the premiere of one is even more enjoyable.
A few days ago I was lucky enough to do just that. In the cozy, tartan-covered Jacobite room at the Boisdale restaurant in Belgravia, a group of whisky bloggers, reviewers and retailers gathered to watch the live streaming of a webcast put on by The Balvenie. The occasion? To debut its new whisky made in honour of the coopers that still work at one of the most traditional distilleries in Scotland and the people signed up to its members club – Warehouse 24 – who will be the only ones able to get their hands on one of these bottlings.
Unfortunately, as luck would have it, technology failed us so it was up to the formidable Dr Andrew Forrester – the UK Brand Ambassador – to lead us through the proceedings.
The Craftsman’s Reserve No1, The Cooper will be limited to only 515 bottles – 315 to be sold in the UK and 200 overseas. It is the first in a series that Master Distiller, David Stewart, has made to celebrate the craftspeople at the distillery (and give him some free reign as he celebrates his 50th year with the company).
The new whisky is unusual not just in the number of bottles being released but in the fact it is a full-on sherry wood whisky – a step away from the norm for The Balvenie which usually focuses on oak.
“It’s a chance for David, after 50 years, to have a great deal of fun, selecting almost any casks he wants to,” Andrew told us. “There’s not a huge amount of stock sitting in sherry casks so it’s the chance to do something different with less availability.”
Andrew added that David was tipped off to one cask being a particularly good because it had far less in it, meaning some of the distillery workers may have been sneaking a wee bit out of it from time to time over the years.
So, after all the chat about the whisky, what did I think of it as a dram?
Aged stamped as a 15-year old, it was a sweeter smelling whisky than a normal Balvenie, but to me, still heralded the distinct distillery characteristics. It had maple syrup, honey and sherry notes, along with a hint of what reminded me of this cinnamon and sugar spread I used to have on my toast as a child (but which I’ve never seen since…). On the first taste, there was a sweetness up front with notes of malt, coffee and leather, and was slightly astringent in the middle of my tongue. Adding water to the 59.4% dram made it really blossom, giving me hints of chocolate and lemongrass.
All in all, I was very satisfied with the whisky – it felt like a one for grown-ups though, not necessarily one for beginners. If DoubleWood were an entry level, this would be a graduate. Which, given it’s been made in honour the coopers, and especially Ian McDonald – the head cooper who has been with The Balvenie since he was 15 years old (!) – it makes sense that the first specialty release in this series would a bit more mature and distinct.
It will be made available in February only to members of Warehouse 24 – its free, online community – for an extremely reasonable price of £65.