Ahhh, the Speyside ! When you're a whisky lover, it's a bit like a Disney fan who finds himself on a Disneyland trip to Orlando. A taste of paradise.
We are going to make some tastings, by starting with a "craft" distillery THE BALVENIE and its SECOND RED ROSE.
To taste it, we will go with BRADPEAT to Dufftown at Balvenie Castle right in the center of the region. Why, not at the distillery, you may ask? Well, just because Damien (Anglada brand Ambassador French), advised me to go to this place to understand the approach RED ROSE.
Because yes, not only the castle (in ruins nowadays) is in the center of the property which hosts THE BALVENIE (and GLENFIDDICH -NDLR-) distillery but he told me that it contained the secrets of a mysterious widow!!?
To pierce the secrets, he advised me to go to the castle enclosure just beside the well.
At nightfall, the castle ruins were empty, and as in any good Scottish castle, ideas of ghosts tended to make their appearance. Once I arrived at the well, I found roses laid out and a bottle of The Balvenie whiskey.
Next to it was a note. It told the story of Countess Margaret Douglas, widow of the 8th Earl of the same name. Here it is.
She and her husband had lived here in the 15th century in the castle. They took over from Robert I of Scotland (also called The Bruce) in the 14th century and preceded a certain Mary Queen of Scots (better known as Mary Stuart) in the 16th century. So much for the beautiful world. But let's get back to Margaret because she is the one we are going to focus on today.
The Douglas's did not own the castle as it belonged to the crown and to King James II. Maggi and her husband lived peacefully in their castle. Well, peacefully in the 15th century with its share of wars and family coups. So much so that Count Douglas was murdered and poor Margaret (also known as The Fair Maid of Galloway) found herself alone in her castle and above all, penniless. Later on she found herself more comfortable by marrying no more and no less than the brother of the Earl of Douglas (the 9th Earl of the name). But this is another story! As she had to keep paying her rent (and keep her standing), she had a serious problem! But luck smiled on her because King James II was in love with her and offered to pay the rent with a simple red rose (you see where I'm going with this!).
We must now find the link between this story and The Balvenie distillery. We will see that it is very simple.
At the end of the 19th century, William Grant (owner of the young whisky company of the same name at the time) acquired the property to build a first distillery (Glenfiddich, not to be named, which we will taste very soon) in 1887. But as it was not enough, he built a second distillery 5 years later (in 1892) and named it first Glen Gordon (for 1 year) then The BALVENIE.
Do you see where we are going? By the way, the two distilleries of the Grant estate are still part of the family empire that became WILLIAM GRANT & SONS.
It seemed very logical that this distillery, which is more than a hundred years old and which has managed to remain artisanal, should pay tribute to the lady.
Because in spite of its 7 million liters of alcohol produced per year (it is a notion of the purely Scottish artisanal -NDLR-) the distillery THE BALVENIE is indeed artisanal. Indeed, for more than 50 years before passing under the more than expert nose of David Stewart (or his team), all the production is integrated. From the cultivation of the barley on the 400 hectares of land right next to the distillery, to its malting and drying in the kiln, to the maintenance of the stills by the boilermakers, to the design of the barrels that will be used for aging, everything is managed in-house.
David Stewart was asked to create a distillate to honor Countess Margaret Douglas. The tribute of the distillery was first made between 2007 and 2009 with the ROSE distilled in 1991 and bottled 16 years later. To do this, he had proposed two versions of whiskey with finishes in port pipe to the strength of the cask (at 53.1%vol for the first and 50.3%vol for the second).
So much for the appetizer.
At the end, as the night is a little more fallen, I find myself in front of my well with my bouquet of red roses (the rent what!) and especially my bottle of THE BALVENIE which also shows a rose on its label: THE SECOND RED ROSE!
The end of the day allows me to see that the liquid contained is of a marked copper color with beautiful pink reflections. Damien explained to me a little while ago that this beautiful color was due to the 21 years spent in old bourbon barrels, but above all to the rather particular finish achieved by Sir Stewart's teams: an Australian shiraz! A first! You will say to me but "what is shiraz". Well, simply, it is the Syrah grape variety (well known to lovers of tannic red wine from the south of France) but grown under the sun of the southern hemisphere.
It is thus a noble 21 years old distillate that I hold in my hand!
What about it?
The overall trend is going to be warm and fruity.
When the nose dips into the glass, it will curl up in a warm and very fruity atmosphere. It almost feels like you're on an Australian beach eating fruit. Red fruits (like strawberries) and even black fruits (like blackberries) are omnipresent. There is a discreet hint of spice in the background and a smell of liquorice. It has mellow and dense notes.
If you keep your nose away from the glass you can smell a strawberry bombon.
The second passage increases in intensity with an increase in the presence of alcohol and a rise in power of the spices which wake up and tickle the eyelashes.
It is the third passage that will reveal the vinous notes, will be more tannic and woody, but keeping a sweet and soft point in the background. One can even detect a soft chocolate smell.
In the palm of the hand, the Balvenie's signature agricultural barley notes are pronounced.
Worthy of its finish, its tasting will be punctuated by the tannic notes.
Indeed, it will enter the mouth gently. Nevertheless, the tannic notes of the short time spent in the wine cask come first. They open the door to the spices that will be marked on the tongue. Nevertheless, these notes do not stay too long because the tannic and bitter notes come back. Once again they open a second door which contains the red fruits which become increasingly sweet. On the finish, the distillate becomes increasingly mellow and soft even if some rebellious spices remain in the corners of the mouth. It gets softer and softer.
After the 21 seconds of tasting (to let it reveal the extent of the aromas stored during its 21 years of ageing), the distillate wakes up as it descends, coming back up with force like a baroud d'honneur.
Once swallowed, the finish is quite long, with woody and vinous notes. The strawberry flavour remains in the mouth and the woody notes in the throat.
The empty glass will have a mixture of hay and powerful spices at first and then red fruits in the second.
I put my bottle and my bouquet of roses back down, to go for new adventures a barrel hop away, but that will be for the next time.