Balvenie Triple Cask
Balvenie's ‘Whisky Master', David Stewart, might be described as ‘The Grand Old Man' of the Scotch whisky industry. He joined William Grant & Sons, the owner of Balvenie Distillery, in 1962, aged seventeen. At the dinner held to mark his 50th year with the company, Peter Gordon, Wm. Grant's managing director, read the report to management after his interview was read out. It concluded simply: "He'll do..." !
David is universally respected throughout the industry as an innovator. He was a pioneer of wood ‘finishing' - re-racking mature whisky from one cask to another for its final months or years of maturation, to add an extra dimension to it.
Balvenie Classic (introduced in 1982/83) was finished in sherry butts, although this was not revealed on the label. He followed it up with the hugely successful Balvenie DoubleWood 12YO (1993) and PortWood (1995), and went on to explore a variety of other finishing casks.
|Now he has gone a step further. The three expressions in The Balvenie Triple Cask series have been matured in three kinds of wood - ‘traditional refill casks' to mature and mellow the spirit, but not dominate its flavour; ‘first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels', which add vanilla and coconut to the flavour; and ‘first-fill Oloroso sherry butts', which typically impart rich dried fruits and spice to the spirit. They are bottled at 12, 16 and 25 years, and are exclusively available in travel retail.|
The spirit matured in these three kinds of cask is then married in a large vat, called a ‘marrying tun' for around six months, ‘so the whiskies can get to know one another'. This used to be common practice, but is less so today.
Examples of the three casks used for Triple Cask are available for sampling by ‘dipping dog' (and purchase) at Balvenie Distillery.
"And what's a dipping dog?", you might well ask. It is simply a short section of copper pipe, sealed at one end (traditionally with a copper penny), and stoppered with a cork. In days gone by, distillery workers would slip their dogs through the bunghole of a cask, ‘liberate' some whisky, stopper it and hang it on a piece of string inside their trousers.
But why is it called a ‘dog'? I learned this many years ago from an old boy at Balvenie Distillery. "Obvious", he said: "Because it's man's best friend... Also it's on a ‘lead' and stays close beside you".
Ian MacDonald, a cooper at the distillery, told me: "Once you've filled it and capped it off, it was down the trousers and off you go... I never did it, mind!" And Dennis McBain, Balvenie's resident coppersmith, added: "The string was tied to your belt, so it would not slip down and reveal itself - which would mean immediate dismissal. It's been a while since I made one ... Honestly!"