The Balvenie is a unique combination of natural elements and centuries-old craftsmanship that is classic yet unique. For over a century The Balvenie has remained true to their Five Rare Crafts – the handcrafted way. They specialize in the tradition of growing their own barley and still malt in their own malting floor; of which is the last of its kind in the Scottish Highlands. All of this my friends, is still done by hand.
The Balvenie 2015 Rare Craft Collection, curated by Anthony Bourdain came to Houston earlier this fall and I had the pleasure of attending. Although I didn’t get to see Mr. Bourdain himself, I did enjoy a couple servings of this delicious single malt rare craft as well as an exclusive opportunity to meet the makers who are at the forefront of the craft movement and explore their workshops first hand.
As the bulk of my night was dedicated to learning about the various “ranges” of The Balvenie, I was excited to see that the first part of the event offered guests a chance to Meet The Makers, up close and personal. Below are few highlights from the evening.
MEET THE MAKERS
Megan O’Connell of Salt and Cedar demonstrated how to craft a triptych encompassing a barley stalk engraving, which pays homage to The Balvenie’s home-malted barley.
Elizabeth Brim, a Blacksmith from North Carolina A native of Columbus, Georgia, graduated with a MFA in printmaking before studying and working with a variety of materials at the Penland School of Crafts. But fate is a fickle mistress. One day, between cooking in Penland’s kitchen and studying metal, Brim found herself hammering railroad bolts into tools at the forge. It was challenging to say the least. Yet quite unexpectedly, she fell in love with this new medium. Brim masterfully transforms the frilly dresses, fairy tales and gender expectations of her childhood into remarkable works of social commentary. Her acclaimed oeuvre comprises an apron and dress, handbags, and—most notably—her spiked steel high heels that are featured at the Collection.
Roland Murphy, is an amazing watch maker from Pennsylvania. It was so cool to see what truly makes you “tick”. Murphy’s approach to watchmaking involves a unique combination of a master’s hand and a centuries-old technique known as engine-turning, or Guilloche, that today involves the use of antique machines to engrave delicate patterns on metal watch components. The fruits of this craft, nearly lost to history, are found adorning all manner of RGM’s timeless pieces, such as those here today.
Sebastian Martorana, a sculptor from Maryland, approaches his stonework as interplay between the persons, environs, and material objects shaping our lives. The series Sebastian brings to the Collection centers on a number of his own work gloves, and revolves around a recurring discussion regarding the relationship between art and craft, namely, the degree to which the “Hand of the Artist” is or is not present in the finished piece of work.
Ian McDonald, A native of the small highland village of Dufftown, Scotland, home of The Balvenie Distillery, Ian McDonald’s interest in the ancient craft of coopering flowered at the young age of 15 when his love of wood and metalwork at school led him to pursue an apprenticeship at the local cooperage. Forty-six years later, he’s still at it. The Balvenie’s Head Cooper meticulously oversees the daunting task of building, maintaining and charring the distillery’s barrels. Shunning efficiency for traditional tools and centuries-old practices, Ian and his team of experienced coopers allow only the finest oak casks to enter The Balvenie warehouses—casks which profoundly influence the flavors of our whisky.
Following the Meet the Makers portion of the evening we were herded into a private space for our very own private tasting and Balvenie history lesson.
The Balvenie Single Caribbean Cask (14 yo): Aged in traditional American Oak and finished in Caribbean rum casks.
The Balvenie Doublewood (17 yo): Launched in 2012, to mark the 50th anniversary of Malt Master David Stewart’s tenure at The Balvenie and is a celebration of his signature cask finishing technique.
The Balvenie Portwood (21 yo): A marriage of rare Balvenie that is finished in vintage port pipes. Named “Supreme Champion Spirit” at the 2011 International Spirits Challenge.
The Portwood was hands down my favorite sip of the night!
Our host for the evening was Jonathan Wingo. Not only was he super knowledgeable about the collections but he was also very sweet!
Following the tasting we enjoyed sips from three of The Balvenie’s five rare crafts. This Scotch Whisky has aged between 12 and 25 years. I enjoyed every last drippity-drop of caramel brown goodness from each timelessly aged barrel.