I love the romance of Scotch. On a recent trip to Glasgow, it was explained to me that it starts off similar to vodka as it is poured crystal clear into the wooden barrels that it ages it. The color and much of the flavor come from hand turning the barrels and applying a lot of patience. It is an art as much as it is a science.
The entire process is very hands on and is a very special craft practiced by few. The entire line of The Balenvie, as an example, is produced by a team of 17 craftsmen (their website breaks down the 17 as follows though the math appears slightly off):
- 4 malt men who turn the malt as it germinates and later dry it in the kiln
- 4 mash men who change malted barley into wash
- 4 still men who create the spirit
- 7 coopers who create and restore the casks (barrels)
- A dedicated distillery coppersmith (the last one in Scotland)
- One malt master (David Stewart).
The aging process is a particularly funny one – wood adds an unpredictable element that adds the the charm and intrigue. This was highlighted in Canada with the arrival of two bottles from legendary Cask 191 of The Balvenie. This special cask managed to keep adding flavor to it`s liquid for 50 years which is extremely odd. Most Scotch aged that long would transform into a dank syrup that would be rendered almost undrinkable. Cask 191 continued to produce flavor and the rarity (83 bottles total) drove the price to legendary heights. The LCBO had to pay for additional programming so their systems could handle a number with 5 digits as the bottle is currently available for $30,000 (if you are seriously interested, there were bottles in the UK for around 6,000 pound which seems like a deal!).
There is also the Angels Share. Each cask loses 0.5-2% of it`s volume to evaporation every year. That means a 15 year old bottle can lose up to 25% of it`s original contents – the 50 year bottle could lose north of 60% (which explains the very low amount of bottles released to the world). The age of the Scotch is measured by the yongest (not oldest) liquid in the bottle if it is a mixed blend of Scotches.
I recently was gifted a wonderful and charming bottle of The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year Single Malt. Examine it closely – it is hand numbered, dated and identified (the signature is not done by hand). Take a good look at the pen in red and see if you notice anything interesting:
The first thing I noticed was that it is bottle 1 from Cask 2774. I wonder where the rest of the bottles from this cask are (there are no more than 350 of them in the world). Each cask will produce slightly different tastes and this attention to detail increases my love for it. I feel connected to the spirit and the people whom made it.
Take another look – what year was this bottle?
I am told that the year is indeed 2007 though I thought it was 2004 when I first got it. An `07 would be 15 years and an `04 would be 12. The distillery looked into this for me (there is a separate identification process to determine the age) and it appears as though the writing (and not the liquid) is suspect. I actually think the riddle makes the bottle all the more intriguing – I`d love to know from other people who have Cask 2774 if there`s is any easier to read (though they may not have been bottled at the same time). I am very comfortable that this is indeed 15 years now, I just thought it was an interesting story and a unique bottle.
What`s it taste like? I’ll have to get back to you – I know I won’t be disappointed!