Stories sell whisky, now more than ever. Curious consumers, with cell phones in hand, want to know the full background of brown spirits before they purchase. Brands have positioned new releases accordingly.
It helps when brands already have authentic stories to back up this new marketing focus. Such as The Balvenie. Founded in 1892 by William Grant himself, this classic Scotch brand is best known for its innovative, trendsetting wood finishes. Tapping into its history, plus distillery staff behind the products, The Balvenie recently released its new ‘Stories’ line. These three very different whiskies represent “tales of character, endeavor and craft.”
If based only on flavor, this line is a success. I had chance to sample all three whiskies in the Stories line last night at a New York City launch event (at the marvelous Lotte New York Palace). While overall flavors varied greatly, all three Scotches showcased that dry/sweet base known to The Balvenie.
The lowest price point of the group is called The Sweet Toast of American Oak (43% ABV). This 12-year-old (The Balvenie put age statements on all three) finished in twice-charred white American oak barrels from Kentucky. The result is an Americanized Scotch bursting with dried, sweet, stone-fruit flavors. Add in an SRP of $59.99, and this is an excellent entry into the U.S. market, a bottle well worth tracking down for Scotch drinkers of all experience levels.
The Week of Peat, 48.3% and $99, is a 14-year-old with a name that references how long each year The Balvenie distillery makes peated whisky. Just one week. Coming from a Speyside producer not known for its smoky whisky, this unsurprisingly is not a campfire bomb. Rather, it’s a restrained smokiness that rounds off wonderfully in the brand’s trademark dry finish. Balancing the peat are sweet notes of citrus and honey: this is a whisky for anyone who wants an approachable smoky dram.
A Day of Dark Barley, 47.8% and $800, is a 26-year-old that originally released in 2006. As The Balvenie does with most special releases, it held back barrels of this heavily roasted dark barley expression, with a future release in mind. Brand Ambassador Naomi Leslie said that the brand can afford to retain old barrels in this manner because The Balvenie has meticulously maintained its aging stock. Hence why the distillery can put out more age statements despite this era of high consumer demand, rather than launching new blends without age statements, like so many producers caught off guard by the brown spirits boom.
Back to A Day of Dark Barley: With lengthy age this has grown rich and nutty. Dry tannic oak is balanced by toffee and brown sugar flavors from the extra-roasted dark barley. Obviously this an opulent whisky, both smooth and complex — a real treat.
Each of these new Scotches comes in a canister and label that both explain in length the unique stories and distillery personnel behind the different productions. For those who like to learn about what they drink, there’s no need for Google here. Simply pick up the packaging and read.
Which is all to say that these fit perfectly with modern-day trends of diverse flavors, unique production and interesting backgrounds. The Balvenie has always had been in touch with the evolving whisky market — if not a step or two ahead — and its new Stories line continues this tradition.
Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece, 7 Trends Behind the Irish Whiskey Boom.