Tomorrow's malt (Balvnie)

Tomorrow's malt (Balvnie)

Tucked under the roof of Balvnie is a brand new and entirely separate distillery. Jim Murray charts the progress of Kininvie, currently 8 years old and maturing nicely

Distillery Focus | 12 Jan 1999 | Issue 1 | By Jim Murray

  • Share to:
This would be called the forgotten distillery, had anyone heard of it in the first place. Kininvie is that rarest of beasts, a new working distillery that goes about its daily routine almost entirely unnoticed. Every year more than 100,000 tourists pour into the Glenfiddich distillery, just a few hundred yards away from Kininvie in the heart of Speyside. A few ask to see, and are shown, Balvenie, which is closer still. But only a handful of the world’s more enlightened whisky connoisseurs know about Kininvie. So far.Just as Gordon and Macphail’s Benromach distillery finally comes back on stream further up the Elgin road, Kininvie is here showing what can be achieved. The oldest casks here are eight years old now, the distillery having been in operation since American Independence Day, 4th July 1990; rather fitting considering that it was built by and remains in the hands of the independent family firm of William Grant and Son.More significantly, it was only by last summer that the first fruits of the six modest stills had ripened sufficiently to see it metamorphose from Blend Filler to Serious Single Malt. Even as recently as the winter of 1997 Kininvie was, as a 7 year old, tasting green enough to be considered a blending whisky only. An extra nine months has seen the birth of a malt that stands unfalteringly on its own feet, though it will take a few more years before it starts running and jumping. Great news then for malt master David Stewart. ‘Funnily enough, we had hoped that this was going to be a fast maturing malt, though you can really only keep your fingers crossed and pray that everything goes to plan. What we had aimed for was a malt that was somewhere between a Glenfiddich, which is essentially light and slow maturing, and the heavier Balvenie. So far that is what we are getting.’Stewart will be the first to admit that this is as much down to luck as to judgement. The building of a distillery is always a risky enterprise: no matter how much effort goes into the design of the still, the choice of the water and barley, the amount of peat used, the excellence of the wood for maturation and the calibre of the men running the plant, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will produce good whisky. Get those points right, though, and you stand a better than average chance.Kininvie is quite a tiny distillery, consisting of little more than a stillhouse. The new wooden washbacks share the same roof as Balvenie’s. In 1990 there were six of them. Such has been the demand for this little known malt already that the washbacks have increased to nine. The stills likewise have increased to nine, with a pair of spirit stills for each wash still. The water source is shared with Balvenie, though none of Balvenie’s own-make malt is spared for its younger sibling. It is all bought in at a very light two parts per million phenols.This expansion has gone on largely unnoticed outside the industry. A handful of whisky drinkers have already been thrown off the scent by the erroneous suggestion by one writer that there has never been any intention to bottle Kininvie as a single malt. In fact it was always known that Kininvie would, on reaching an age of consent, go it alone.But in the manner perfected by William Grant, independent bottlers have been ingeniously, and irritatingly, thwarted in their attempts to get hold of this malt. Every single cask that has been sent out of the warehouse to be part of a rival blend has had its identity changed. Instead of being called Kininvie it has become Aldunie, the name (like Kininvie) of a local farmstead. The change of name is because the malt that is sent out is 99 per cent Kininvie and one per cent Balvenie: not a single malt at all, in other words, but a vatted one.Kininvie, in its purest form, has been finding its way into Grant blends for five years now. Significantly, in the five years it has been included in the Clan MacGregor recipe this brand has without question improved. And for the last three years Kininvie has constituted 15 per cent of the malt used in that thunderously classic blend Grant’s: again, the blend appears to have benefited. So just what is it that Kininvie possesses? It is not just a fine blending whisky but almost certainly a very decent malt. The best clues are found in its ex-bourbon casks, which make up the majority of the barrels filled. The nose has a lucidly floral quality which means that it will automatically soften whatever it is added to, while at the same time giving the kind of sweet maltiness that gently enriches. On the palate the sweetness runs through to the very last embers of the finish. Clinging to that waxy, almost honeyed sweetness are rich, fruity barley-sugar tones, softly suffused spices and already an oakiness which offers complexity and weight, and even a hint of custard. It is from the rarer oloroso casks that Kininvie seems to reach a flavour crescendo, boasting an immediate extra spice and clean, chewy succulence which lingers. This is fabulous malt, and when the blenders get round to launching it as a single, expect a marriage of both styles, though hopefully with the ex-bourbon casks dominating.When will that be? There is no doubt in my mind that Kininvie could be bottled tomorrow as a brilliant 8 year old. But there is a nervousness about the public perception of such a tender age. And as a 10 year old in the year 2000? ‘To be honest, we think that there will be so many new whiskies launched for the millennium that this might get lost among them,’ a Grants executive told me. Even so, my money is on a 2000 launch. A new whisky for the new millennium. Sounds good; though not so good as this remarkable malt is already tasting.
Magazine Archive

From the archive

Select an issue

Subscribe Now

Subscriptions for
Whisky Magazine are available
in print, digital or as a
complete package

The Benefits

8 print editions a year

Enjoy the convenience of home delivery

Full access to every digital edition via desktop, iOS or Android device

Latest Issue Subscribe Now

The Whisky Encyclopedia - Coming Soon 2024

Discover the world of whisky with our comprehensive encyclopedia
Featuring companies, distilleries, brands, glossaries, and cocktails

Join The Community

Sign up to the Whisky Magazine
newsletter letter and get access to the latest
in all things whisky

paragraph publishing ltd.   Copyright © 2024 all rights reserved.   Website by Acora One