Denis visits the picturesque distillery of Edradour in his quest to bring you the next great whisky cask....
The search for the next great cask for Vine & Table can seem terribly romantic and it is to a degree. Flying to Scotland, eating haggis, and drinking whisky are all great fun. However there is a serious side to this business: the actual cask selection and the negotiations that take place between our national importers, our Indiana distributors, and ourselves with regard to pricing, packaging, and labeling. And while all of that is taking place, we are constantly focused on getting you, our customer, something truly special and unique at the very best possible price. It's not a feat we take lightly.
I rely on my team back in Indy to shoulder some of the work, which of course they are only too happy to do! All prospective samples tasted in a warehouse abroad are bottled direct from the cask, labeled, and brought back personally by me to Indy (here's another blow against the romantic imagery that may accompany my trips- I have to wrap up all of those small sample bottles in my socks to get them home without breaking. No special little sample suitcase for me!).
Once I'm back to work the staff and I taste each sample in a controlled environment and evaluate them individually. When tasting in a warehouse with the spirit angels floating about your head it is easy to get caught up in the moment and potentially miss off flavors and possible flaws within the spirit. So each member of Vine & Table's tasting team is tasked with evaluating the candidate spirits and compiling notes, which after much consultation leads to eventual cask selection. We think that this attention to detail gives us the best possible outcome.
And what was the result from all of this work?
One of the rarest single casks in all of Scotland. Our 2005 Ballechin Burgundy Single Cask Single Malt Scotch is simply stunning. I knew from the moment that I stuck my nose in the glass that this needed to come home, for this is a malt quite unlike anything you have ever tasted, and for good reason, as not many people have ever heard of Ballechin. Back in 2003, Edradour owner Andrew Symington began production of a heavily peated malt at the Edradour Distillery. He called it Ballechin in honor of the original Ballechin Distillery that was in operation from 1810 to 1927. The Ballechin Distillery was one of the original seven farm distillery's of Perthshire, of which Edradour is the only surviving example. It closed, not because of poor performance, but because of a dispute over water rights, and you need lots of water for whisky!
In 2005, when our cask was filled, Edradour was producing less than 90,000 liters of pure spirit annually, a drop in the ocean of what some big distillers produce. Of that 90,000 liters, just 10% was devoted to the production of Ballechin, meaning that somewhere between 30 and 40 casks were produced every year; it's a minuscule number. While production has increased marginally over the years the fact is that there really is not much of any Ballechin to go around, because the tiny output for the Ballechin 10 Year Old and a few special releases is divvied up amongst many countries of the world, the U.S. included.
We still have a few bottles left of our 2015 offering. Click here to buy! View or Buy Ballechin 10 Year Old Online
When I visited Edradour back in 2016 a cask of Ballechin was firmly on my list, but unfortunately there was none to be had. This time round a few casks were on offer and while all were good it was this French red beauty that stole the show. Ballechin is heavily peated (fifty parts per million of peat to be exact), however this whisky is quite unlike the more common Islay malts. A key difference is the source of the peat. The composition of Highland peat is more vegetal with much more plant matter than Islay peat, which has more crustaceans and brine as a result of its coastal location.
The result is an earthier style of smoke that permeates the malt. While it is high on the peat level it is much more savory and rounded in character, with the distillery's short, fat copper stills helping greatly with texture. The combination of malted barley, peat smoke and fruit from the wine cask really work hand in hand. This is a whisky that oozes complexity in layers; think peanut brittle, s'mores cooked over a wood fire, smoked Highland toffee, stewed plums, and white chocolate with a rich dense palate and you will soon catch my drift. It's a superb whisky that draws you in for much sniffing and many sampling pleasures. Whisky of this nature and style are not easily obtainable, which is why I think it will be of interest to many people.
We have opted to bottle our Ballechin in its traditional round and stubby bottle and at full cask strength, meaning no water will be added. We think that allowing you to taste the whisky straight from the cask will allow you to appreciate it all the more and dilute to your taste where necessary. In addition we will not chill-filter the whisky, a process used by larger whisky companies that strips the whisky of much of its texture and flavor. And lastly we choose not to add E150 (caramel color) to our cask selection, instead allowing you to fully appreciate its natural color. Why ruin a good thing?
While our whisky is still in Scotland awaiting label approval, etc., we expect it to set sail within a month or so. Once the whisky arrives we will email you an offer before it goes out to the general public, click above to join the list, because as with all of our single cask selections there are only so many bottles to go around and once it's gone that's it!