Balvenie Distillery to show craft at whisky fete

Head cooper Ian McDonald demonstrates his craft at an earlier event. Picture: contributed
Head cooper Ian McDonald demonstrates his craft at an earlier event. Picture: contributed
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WHISKY lovers are set to ­tantalise their tastebuds by climbing into casks used to blend the “water of life”.

Three bespoke structures have been constructed by hand and are amongst the attractions at a festival in St Andrew Square Gardens this weekend.

Balvenie Distillery’s head cooper, Ian McDonald, will demonstrate his craft, while tempting tipples will be lined up for tasting inside the unique handcrafted casks – known as stave domes.

Tongues will be tickled with rare blends such as Tun 1401 – produced in casks aged between 22 and 44-years-old and normally selling for £180 a bottle.

Balvenie brand ambassador Dr Andrew Forrester will be hosting various workshops in the prime city centre location from Friday until Sunday.

He said: “It should be a great event. The domes are made from broken down old whisky casks.

“We wanted something unique to reflect the ­handcrafted nature of the whisky and these are perfect.

“We have already used them at a similar event in London, but that was during fine weather so we’ll have some tarpaulin to keep the elements out.”

He revealed the cask was a vital ingredient when it came to whipping up world-class whisky, helping to stir up more than 70 per cent of its flavour.

He said: “We use either white oak barrels from the United States or old sherry barrels from Europe.

“Both give off different flavours, the old US bourbon barrels give the whisky vanilla and spice flavourings while the sherry casks give it a spicy, sweet raisin quality.”

However, whisky lovers hoping for a sip of the distillery’s star brew will be disappointed as there will be no tastings of its famous Balvenie Fifty – a malt created to celebrate the 50th year of whisky maker David Stewart’s employment at the firm.

Drawn from casks first filled in 1962, bottles now sell for more than £20,000. Whisky won’t be the only item on the menu, as Nadia Ellingham, founder of London Road-based chocolate shop Thinking ­Chocolate, will also be on site with some sweet treats.

She will be pairing her famous haggis truffles and other handmade goodies with a range of whiskies.

The artisan chocolate maker, 46, originally created the ­haggis special for a Burns supper, but it proved so ­popular, she now stocks it on her shelves.

However, instead of real haggis, she mixes spices including nutmeg, mace and black pepper, as well as oatmeal, to recreate the distinctive flavour.

A long history

BACK in the 18th century about one third of all goods for exports were contained in barrels. Wet coopers made barrels for containing liquids such as beers, wines, cider, tar and molasses.

Dry coopers made those for flour, grains, fish, fruit and vegetables.

It was soon realised that storing whisky in oak for a period of time did much to improve the flavour of the end product. Distillers then came to realise that those that had previously been used for the storage of bourbon, port and sherry added a new smoothness and sweetness to the whisky.

Most recently American bourbon casks have been widely used. To be called “bourbon” their whisky must be aged in virgin oak casks which have been charred or fired on the inside.