Whisky and Words Number 16: The Balvenie Doublewood 12

A tale of two Grants
Balvenie's DoubleWood 12-year-old is tastefully presented.
Balvenie’s DoubleWood 12-year-old is tastefully presented.

The distance from J&G Grant’s Glenfarclas distillery to William Grant & Sons’ Balvenie location is but 13 miles by road; it’s a much shorter distance by helicopter. Both are Speyside distillers, and both offer whiskies finished in sherry casks. Like J&G Grant, William Grant & Sons is an independent company. Both started in the 19th century: William laid down his distillery in 1889 (finished in 1892); John Grant of J&G Grant bought Glenfarclas distillery (built in 1836) in 1865.

However, the William Grant company has since grown into the largest independent distiller in Scotland. In fact, with over 10% market share, William Grant and Sons represents the third largest producer of Scotch, behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not bad for a family company.

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Whisky and Words Number 15: Auchentoshan 12

Auchentoshan 12 – triple distilled, sherry finish. Nice color.

Well, here we are with yet another sherry-cask-finished whisky. But this is the last sherried whisky I review for a while, then we get into the smoky Island whiskies. (The Island whiskies are like crusty steamships entering the quiet mouth of the of Spey river with their stacks burning seaweed — threatening the genteel palates of the lowlands). But let’s address the 12-year-old expression of this distillery first.

Auchentoshan was founded in the early 1800s, but has been a holding of Beam Suntory since about 1994. The Suntory folks have let the distiller express their whiskies in their traditional way, and they’ve done well. Auchentoshan is most notable for the fact that alone among Scotch distilleries, they triple-distill the whisky, which is more the Irish approach. Rumor has it, it was Irishmen who founded the distillery, hence the style. Also, they have an informative web site with some nice details about how they make their whisky.

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Whisky and Words Number 14: Glenfarclas 17

As I wrote in the Glenfarclas 12 review, the J&G Grant company is singular in their transparency and focus on product, producing whisky and marketing materials which go light on glitz and heavy on information. I think their entry in scotchwhisky.com says it best:

The Grants’ philosophy is to present their single malts with minimum fuss in terms of packaging and at sensible prices. The aim is to get consumers drinking the whisky, even the really old bottlings, and then come back for more. Essentially, Glenfarclas is a whisky for drinkers rather than collectors.

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Whisky and Words Number 13: Glenfarclas 12

Glenfarclas 12. Unassuming packaging, excellent whisky.
Glenfarclas 12. Unassuming packaging, excellent whisky.

I’m an engineer of sorts…I don’t hold an engineering degree but my entire post-military working life has been designing, writing, testing and explaining software and computer systems. There is a natural dynamic between the messaging folks (marketing) and the engineers. We techies like to know what’s what and make our own decisions. Marketing’s job is, as we see it, to spiff up, deflect, and entice. That might be fine for the hoi polloi, but we engineers like to think we’re immune to such blandishments.

Well, of course we aren’t, marketing is a powerful force and here to stay, but it sets my heart all aflutter to encounter a company like Glenfarclas. To say they are transparent about how they create their product would be an understatement. This starts at their website, which is professional but not the most visually stunning. It’s probably considered a couple years behind the times as far as design, yet I appreciate it for the amount of information they place at your fingertips. It is amazing. Furthermore, their brand ambassador manning the email trenches is similarly forthcoming (thank you, Myriam). This is a huge benefit to those of us who want to know just what it is we are drinking, how it is made, why it tastes as it does.

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Holiday buying guide for those with a Scotch lover on the list

So, you have someone you know is ‘into’ Scotch and you want to buy a nice present. You don’t want to set a foot wrong, and certainly don’t want to see her writing about your present as “the Scotch I save for folks who don’t know Scotch, or drown it in Coke.” Yes, I’ve read that on many a Scotch blog. Rude, I think…but it happens — because A) The styles of Scotch vary wildly in their aroma and taste (why it’s a fascinating obsession, yo!) and B) Scotch drinkers are often quite partisan about their preferred style.

Prep: Single malt vs. blend, and U.S. availability

We’re going to focus mostly on single malt scotches — this refers to a whisky that is made totally from one distillery’s production. They can (and do) mix casks and even years of production for a single malt. But as soon as they mix casks from another distillery and add grain alcohol (mass-produced, typically), then it is a blend. Common blends are well-known, like Johnnie Walker, Chivas, Dewars, Whyte and MacKay. These are the province of the casual drinker, not the Scotch enthusiast. Single malts will have more character, as the peculiarities of water and still are not blended out — hence they appeal to folks looking for adventure. Note: my focus is on brands available in the U.S., as that’s where I live.

There is a bit more to learn, so let’s do this in steps. We’ll gather some intelligence, align that to some facts, and send you shopping with a budget and some suggestions.

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