Distillery Visit: Balvenie in Speyside, Scotland

April 6, 2012 § 14 Comments

Between the rain and the recent snow, there were a few beautiful, dry, warm & sunny days in Scotland … and I was lucky enough to have been a visitor during just those days!

After an incredible tour of Forsyths, the Scottish still makers (see my post on that visit HERE), next on the itinerary was a visit to another place in Speyside which has a deep place in my whisky-heart; Balvenie.

Not only was I lucky enough just being there – but my travel buddy (head distiller of Balcones, Chip Tate) and I were given a private tour by Balvenie’s Malt Master (aka, head distiller), David Stewart and their distillery ambassador, David Mair.  And if that wasn’t enough – David Stewart was also in the midst of celebrating his 50th year at Balvenie!  Congratulations, David!!!

We truly had a lovely afternoon walking the grounds, geeking out about all things “whisky” and of course – drinking some seriously special drams – a few of which David poured straight from the barrels into our open palms.  Luckily, slurping was acceptable because I wasn’t letting a single drop hit the floor!

Below is a collection of photos that I took during the visit.  Hope you enjoy!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The Balvenie Castle … not exactly where we were trying to go (it’s not that close to the distillery) but it is quite cool to see.  Thanks to Google Maps for accidentally taking us here first!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Oh the Scottish weather!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The sign says, “Welcome To Dufftown” …. phew! Back on the right road and almost there!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

We made it!!!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

This is the view with our backs to the distillery.  Isn’t Scotland just so pretty?

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

The Malting Floor.  One of only about 3-5 distilleries left in Speyside who still have an active malting floor.  It’s a lot of hard work, manual labor and expense for these distilleries to maintain so it’s a real treat when you get to see one with your own eyes.  Highland Park is another one who malts some of their own barley.  I don’t know if there is a single distillery left who currently malts 100% of their own barley… if you know of one – please share in the comments below!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Love their old, red grist grinder!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Inside a giant mash ton

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

This is what they’re talking about when they say, “wooden wash backs.”  Not many places ferment their grains in wood anymore.  Stainless steel is far more common.

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Check out their shiny gold (ok, brass) spirit safes! This is where the distillate cuts are made.  Meaning that during the distillation process, the distiller uses the switches and the hydrometer (the device that reads the % of alcohol content) to move the new make through the stills, the low wines receiver and the spirits receiver. Fancy, huh?

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Sorry – no photos allowed of the aging rooms (though they were really cool!) – we need to let that liquid gold get it’s beauty sleep!  Off to the tasting room we go!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

This was the “planned” tasting round … but as luck would have it, the cabinet doors were opened up and we were treated to a few bonus rounds!  David & David gave us to some really special pours which I’ll certainly share my tasting notes to later … so stay tuned!

Photo (c) The Whisky Woman, 2012

Needless to say, it was a really special afternoon.  Thank you David, David and Chip for the laughs, whisky and lasting memories.  This day will stay with me for a very long time.



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§ 14 Responses to Distillery Visit: Balvenie in Speyside, Scotland

  • G-LO says:

    Yo WW!

    I am so jealous! That looks and sounds like such a wonderful little trip. It also goes to show how generous and open the whisk(e)y community can be. I mean… can you imagine the people at Apple allowing the people of Dell or HP to tour their facilities/skunkworks and see their secrets? That’s essentially what The Balvenie did by letting you and Chip tour the facilities. Awesome! Thanks for sharing.


    • I totally agree, G-LO.
      This is why I keep saying it’s the BEST industry! And it’s not just the guys at Balvenie – it’s everywhere! I sometimes wonder if because of all of the strict government regulations – no one in the alcohol business can have secrets so the whisky community in particular just figured, better to be nice than nasty! And nice they are.

      I also think, with whisky in particular, it takes so much time, money, and talent to make it the competition is a bit controlled by these factors – more so than most other spirits given the extensive aging times. There are certainly a lot of brands out there – but there are also plenty of consumers to go around. Unlike an unaged spirit (like vodka, a silver tequila or gin who can triple their production in 2 weeks or less if need be) and at the end of they day – everyone has to wait years to drink the whisky that’s being made today. So it really effects the growth timeline for a whisky brand and the culture. A bit humbling if you think about it.

      Thanks for being so supportive of this blog, G-LO!

  • Josh Feldman says:

    Oh good Lord! After the Forsyths visit post I thought I couldn’t get any more jealous of you. This incredible tour is tax deductible for you, right? Unbelievable! I’m literally GREEN, girl. I so long to go – but if I do they will not be pulling out the Tun 1401. WOW.

    …I’m kinda speechless right now. What a great post and what awesome fun.

  • […] Now you know you’re a #WhiskyBadAss when you show up to an event with your own malting floor!  David Stewart and team, you guys are my heroes. (If you missed it, check out my earlier post of my visit to this distillery HERE) […]

  • […] and memorable visit with David Steward at the Balvenie distillery (see my post on that visit HERE). Photo (c) The Whisky Woman […]

  • Fred M? says:

    Hi WW,

    Thanks for your optimistic stories about whisky.

    I visited Balvenie in the early eighties, your story (& pictures) brought back some memories!
    About the generosity and openness of the industry, this is I think, also based on the nature of the Scottish people in general: down to earth, very communicative, hospitable and humerous, especially if a dram is within reach!

    Springbank is a distellery where they do also everything in house.

    If you ever have a chance and like to do that is visiting the Edradour distillery, I am told the oldest/smaller one, very artisan although now owned by a big name with their own ideas about production and marketing.


    Fred M.

  • You know, I never thought about whiskey makers not malting their own barley. I thought one of the unique characters of Scotch was that the malt was dried with peat fires/smoke, giving it the smokey quality. If its not the case that they each have their unique malt drying process, how is that smokey flavour imparted, and how do they make it different from other distilleries if they’re all using the same malt source? Thanks!

  • Jack Smith, CSS - President, Atlanta Scotch Club says:

    David Mair is a good man… my October 2011 tour was most enjoyable… your photos are brilliant.

  • Hi there,
    Enjoyed your Balvenie blog! Just started my own whisky appreciation blog and WordPress encouraged me to search fo other like-minded souls – you were the first I found. So I shall be following yours with interest.
    Will your whisky be available in the UK? Just come back from Scotland – didn’t get to Balvenie but did manage Edradour, Blair Athol, Dalwhinnie and Tullibardine. A distillery visit is always a pleasure.
    All the best to you!

    • Hi Tully!
      Thanks so much for the comment and HUGE CONGRATS to you for starting your blog! That’s exciting! I’ll be sure to follow back! Some other great one’s are the It’s Just The Booze Dancing blog, The Coopered Tot blog (<Josh is also super connected with tons of amazing whisky bloggers around the world), and also the What Taste’s Good blog!

      Brenne is currently not available in the UK but it’s something we’re working on and looking at for the future! I’ll be sure to make announcements here on this blog should that day occur!

      Thanks for your support and keep blogging – it’s really fun and the whisky blogging community is truly the best!

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