Aspire Magazine Issue 1 - Page 90

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Established in 1892, the Balvenie Distillery, located in Dufftown, Scotland; five annual releases comprise the DCS Compendium; Stewart tasted every individual barrel before culling them to just 25 single cask malts. The DCS Compendium is the official name for a series of five annual releases intended by the Balvenie bosses to be a tribute to David C. Stewart’s mastery. DUFFTOWN IS ONE OF THOSE POSTCARD-PRETTY SCOTLAND SETTLEMENTS THAT SEEMS PLUCKED FROM A 1950S EALING COMEDY. Its winding, country lanes are lined with pebble-dashed, whitewashed cottages; an occasional tweed-clad cyclist wobbles into view en route to the general store. On a damp fall morning, there’s a dewy chill in the air, though flocks of ducks disregard as they playfully bob on the local pond. Perhaps it’s no surprise given the columns of steam spiraling up from those bathtub-warm pools. Yet they’re not filled with river or rainwater. Rather, with run-off used to condense the precious liquid produced at Dufftown’s most beloved landmark, the Balvenie Distillery. Standing inside a small hut not far from the coddled ducks is the man in charge of every drop bottled under the Balvenie name: malt master David C. Stewart. A small, softly spoken giant among whisky-makers, Stewart is soon to retire after a career that has spanned more than five decades. He’s slowly talking through his final, crowning achievement, the DCS Compendium. “I got quite a surprise nosing and tasting this one,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to exist.” He picks up one of the dozen or so glasses arranged on a table in front of him. Each holds a smidgen of the final 25 whiskies he will ever create. Stewart 88 ISSUE ONE | ASPIRE glances down at a fistful of crumpled notes in his hand as he describes every one and nervously handles a jug of water, sprinkling a few drops into his glass (he firmly believes that a little water helps open up the flavors of most fine whiskies). He takes a sip and smiles shyly. “Delving through the warehouses here, you’re keeping your fingers crossed you might find one worth bottling for this project.” The DCS Compendium is the official name for a series of five annual releases intended by the Balvenie bosses to be both a tribute to, and the ultimate example of, Stewart’s mastery. Each release will consist of five bottles, christened Chapters, which will explore unique sides of the distillery’s sweet, honeyed Speyside whisky. Stewart produced those collections via a painstaking process, tasting every individual barrel before he culled them down to just 25 single-cask malts. “To pull together five casks?” he says, wondering out loud, “We probably sampled hundreds.” Stewart dubbed the five-strong DCS Compendium releases Distillery Style, and assembled them as a primer on the house. Limited to just 50 sets worldwide, Chapter One cost $50,000 at release last year and quickly sold out. The second set, slated for an early 2017 release and named The Influence of Oak, will go for $30,000 and feature a range of vintages from 1972 to 2001 (only six of those 50 sets will be offered stateside). But as he scans a table decorated with whisky snifters, Stewart’s attention is especially drawn to the fourth chapter. It’s been clumsily christened Expect the Unexpected. “Och, it was the most difficult,” he says in a soft, Highland burr. That’s because it comprises the quirkiest expressions of Balvenie he could find. He delved into the archives, including an offbeat batch he unearthed from 1982 that had been casked in very rare sherry hogsheads, or small barrels. Such equal emphasis on experimentation and artistry is typical of the Balvenie, but what’s unusual among Scottish whisky-makers is that its production process remains largely unchanged since the first batch was made in 1893. There’s a fulltime coppersmith on site to soothe any ills among the stills, and a thriving cooperage where a team of men, their hands grubby with charcoal, noisily hammer together the next batch of barrels. As for the Balvenie’s ingredients, those remain unchanged, too. The barley is grown by the distillery rather than bought. It’s also floor-malted—a traditional, labor-intensive approach to prepping barley for fermentation that all but a handful of producers have abandoned (this techASPIRE | ISSUE ONE 89