Avon event explores nuances of Scotch whiskey
VAIL CO, Colorado
Scotch is about maturity, not age.
So said Nicholas Pollacchi, brand ambassador for The Balvenie Scotch whiskey.
And maturity comes from the process; the care that is put into each step, each expertly crafted variety, the quality of wood in each handmade cask. The combination of exclusively sourced ingredients, a dedicated malt master and attention to detail from farm to bottle make for a family of whiskeys that set The Balvenie a notch above its competition.
Four varieties of this Scottish distiller’s whiskeys were explored at a dinner Thursday at vin48 that celebrated the marriage of high-quality Scotches and food.
To be called single-malt Scotch whiskey, a spirit has to meet a few expectations. The “single” part of the equation indicates that it was created at a single distillery. “Malt” refers to the whiskey being made of 100 percent malted barley. And Scotch? If it isn’t made in Scotland, it isn’t Scotch.
Scotch whiskey is a major export for Scotland, second only to oil, Pollacchi said. The reason why they got so good at making it, he said jokingly, is that there isn’t much to do up there during some of the gloomy seasons.
“We make whiskey and rut like rabbits,” he said to a chorus of laughter.
Jokes aside, making Scotch whiskey is a serious endeavor, and The Balvenie prides itself on being the “most hand-crafted single malt” in Scotland, Pollacchi said. It’s one of the few distilleries that still make whiskey the way it was made 100 years ago.
Scotch whiskey is a combination of three ingredients: water, malted barley and yeast.
“Water is not as important as you might think,” Pollacchi said.
The water contributes very little to the overall flavor profile of the whiskey, only about 5 percent to 6 percent, Pollacchi said. That doesn’t mean that it’s overlooked: Water for The Balvenie whiskeys comes from 26 natural springs on the distillery grounds.
The barley is the big dog in the equation, and The Balvenie’s comes from the 1,200-acre farm attached to the distillery. The barley is harvested, soaked in water and then spread over the floor to be malted.
Fires under the malting floor roast the malt, which is turned by hand every eight hours for a week. If a smoky flavor is preferred, as was the case when making The Balvenie Peated Cask 17 Year, then peat is added to the roasting fire.
Next comes mashing, fermenting and distilling in specially shaped copper stills, which are maintained by a coppersmith who has been with the distillery for 53 years. The whiskey is now ready to be casked and matured.
“Casks are like sponges,” Pollacchi said. “They soak up the whiskey when it’s warmer, and when it gets cooler, the color and flavor are pushed from the wood into the spirit.”
The Scotch matures, taking on characteristics of the oak casks that are individually formed and maintained in the distillery’s cooperage, and then often finished in a variety of other types of wood casks to add additional depth of flavor to the whiskey.
The result is a complex, aromatic liquor whose many derivatives pair well with everything from scallops and foie gras to marinated quail and smoked and braised pork cheeks, as proven Thursday night by Chef Charles Hayes’ delectable pairing menu.