The act of drinking began for many of us as a means to an end: a way to escape, a little liquid courage, or a social lubricant. As we grew into our drinking habits, the fast and loose attitudes of ‘any drink will do’ were replaced with ‘I’m not drinking Merlot,’ or some other distinction that developed over the course of testing our palates. Over time, as with boyfriends, we figured out what we liked by test driving a few things that we didn’t.
Now that I am little older, I appreciate things that I didn’t when I was younger. Among the many under-appreciated tastes of my youth are tomatoes, eggplant, and finally, whisky. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a recent event hosted by Balvenie, a distillery in Scotland that produces Scotch whisky, (or just Scotch, if you prefer). As a nod to the craftsmanship that goes into making a bottle of Balvenie, the evening was a celebration of American craftsmanship to kick off their mini documentary, Rare Crafts in America, in which two Scotsman visit craftsmen across America who share with them their hand crafted arts and the skills passed down to them through generations.
In the same way that a fine wine can be appreciated for the layers of flavor that are packed into a bottle, the same is true for a beautiful Scotch. In a wine, you may taste the terroir or earthiness of where the grapes were grown, the berry flavors that come through from the fruit, or sometimes the pepper or leathery quality of the tannins. In Scotch, you can taste the region where it was made, the oak barrels where it was aged, and sometimes the salt from the air. With Balvenie, you can also taste the tradition. The copper stills where the whisky is distilled have been cared for by the same coppersmith, Dennis McBain, for more than 50 years.
The Balvenie is the only distillery in Scotland to still grow some of its own barley and malt using a traditional malting floor. Balvenie has the last active floor maltings in the Scottish Highlands. Their malt master, David Stewart, is the longest serving in that position, having taken scotches to maturation for the past 50 years. Even the casks in which the Scotch is aged are made by hand in the time-honored tradition, by their own stable of coopers.
So, with this thought I would like to challenge you to reacquaint yourself with complicated tastes, that you may not have enjoyed in the past, armed with a newfound knowledge of how many craftsmen’s hands were involved to make what you drink. Tradition, craftsmanship, and many years of maturation went into your glass. See if you can taste it.
And as always, drink wisely.
Visit The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow, if you would like to nominate any American craftsman for Balvenie to meet on their next roadtrip.