Renewed commitment to craftsmanship continues to course through the world of cocktails, beer, and fine spirits. (Lucky us.) The American Craft Council Show at the Baltimore Convention Center this weekend brings a heightened recognition of this phenomenon. Among more traditional displays of ceramics, woodwork, and jewelry, show-goers will find a tasting room spotlighting the artisanship of distilling. Lorne Cousin, brand ambassador for The Balvenie, will host afternoon tastings and discussions about the craft of Scotch whisky-making.
The Balvenie calls itself "the world's most handcrafted single malt Scotch whisky," a claim that finds some support in whisk(e)y references. (Irish and American labels generally insert the "e"; Scots deem that a rude solecism.) "We utilize many of the techniques we used a hundred-odd years ago," says Cousin. Few if any distillers continue to grow their own barley, as The Balvenie does, and operate a hands-on "malting floor" for barley germination. The distillery employs a team of coopers for barrel work and a coppersmith to maintain the stills.
Coppersmithing and barrel-making may have direct links to objects displayed at the show, but the ACC and The Balvenie have a broader "kinship," says Cousin. "We make whisky by hand, with passion, using old crafts that were in some cases dying. Like the Council, we celebrate craftsmanship, and we're interested in supporting American crafts."
Together with roughly half of Scotland's distilleries, The Balvenie makes its home in the Highlands' Speyside region-"whisky capital of the world," says Cousin. Speyside single malts are often considered the most balanced and complex Scotches. They typically share a "very rich, light, sweet, honeyed character," Cousin notes, in contrast to grassier Lowlands whiskies and smokier Islay and Campbelltown versions.
Cousin intends to offer a "master class" centered on four samples from The Balvenie's "core range": the DoubleWood, aged 12 years in American oak barrels and finished in a European sherry cask; the Caribbean Cask, aged 14 years and finished in a rum cask; a 17-year-old version of the DoubleWood; and the highly awarded PortWood, aged 21 years and finished in port "pipes." (Malt master David Stewart, who has been with The Balvenie for 51 years, was a pioneer in the use of different wood finishes.)
Along with the tasting, Cousin will lead a discussion of Scotch whisky history and production methods. The class is complimentary, and likely worth the $16 admission to the show, but capacity is limited. Hopeful attendees should register in advance.