Sam Simmons travelled to the ultramodern city of Dubai and hosted a masterclass for bartenders eager to learn about The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky range. In light of this event, Drinks World reflects on how Sam became a Global Ambassador, what happened at the masterclass and how The Balvenie is made.
With the moniker Dr. Whisky, Samuel J. Simmons PhD. is a highly respected whisky expert who has hosted tasting events and whisky tours, written and taught Scotch whisky history and sat on the most prestigious judging panels in the industry.
Joining William Grant & Sons in 2008 as The Balvenie Ambassador USA, Sam was a natural successor to the role of Global Ambassador for The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky – a position that he was offered and accepted in 2010.
Sam’s voyage of discovery into the wonderful world of whisky has seen him featured in many publications – from Whisky Magazine to The Wall Street Journal – and has also granted him a life of travel, where he has been able to share his knowledge and passion with those willing and interested.
Most recently, Sam’s position at William Grant & Sons saw him travel to the ultramodern city of Dubai. Among sight seeing and developing a taste for the finer things in life, Sam also hosted The Balvenie Masterclass at the Rang Mahal, a luxurious Indian restaurant inside the JW Marriot Marquis Hotel.
With over 150 bartenders attending, the masterclass made for the perfect opportunity for Sam to teach his peers about The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky range.
Among those tasted was The Balvenie Double Wood Aged 12 Years, which during maturation is transferred from a traditional oak whisky cask to a first fill European oak sherry cask. With each stage lending different qualities to the resulting single malt, the traditional casks soften and add character, whilst the sherry wood brings depth and fullness of flavour.
To follow was The Balvenie Single Barrel Aged 15 Years. These barrels are carefully selected from some of the finest stocks in The Balvenie’s warehouse, containing whiskies of wonderfully expressive character. For this release only 350 bottles were drawn from a European Sherry oak cask, producing whisky with a rich, fruity complexity. A real once-in-a-lifetime experience!
After this, everyone was handed a glass of The Balvenie Portwood Aged 21 Years, which is sampled regularly by The Balvenie Malt Master to ensure that just the right amount of character is imparted by the port casks, enhancing and developing the single malt whilst preserving its original characteristics.
Finally, from the Rare & Precious collection, the bartenders got to sample The Balvenie Aged 30 Years. By marrying The Balvenie slowly aged in traditional oak whisky casks with that aged in European oak sherry casks, this mellow Scotch whisky has unusual depth and complexity. Bottled at 47.3 per cent ABV, it captures all the signature characteristics of The Balvenie.
Following the tasting Sam opened the floor to questions and comments. According to Tilak Shrestha – Head Bartender at Qbara – “the whisky guru was phenomenal and entertaining.”
“Overall it was great whisky and I am looking forward to more events like this in the future,” he concluded.
The Operations Manager at JW Marriott Marquis Hotel – Harsh Joshi – also added that: “the masterclass was a great way to get to know the whisky better and since then we have managed to make lots of fans of The Balvenie.”
With much positive feedback, it seems as though everyone in attendance learnt something from Sam that they could take home and apply at to their own venue and/or business. This includes Adam Carr – Managing Director of Aura Beverage Consultancy – who said that Sam taught him to “work smarter not harder.”
According to Adam, “Simmon’s approach to the seminar was very laid back, he assessed the room, the individuals and adapted his session to the environment. He saw that the room was brimming with eager bartenders so he asked questions, got the room talking and brought out the knowledge of the crowd.
“His precision was impressive and hit all the key points without talking too much or losing the attention of the crowd. Sometimes less is more,” Adam concluded.
Whilst every distillery will proudly trumpet what makes its whiskies superior to others, The Balvenie has the advantage of being able to identify a number of factors that, in combination, only they offer. They describe it as the ‘Five Rare Crafts’ of malt whisky. Others may offer some of these ‘crafts’ but no other distillery can claim to offer all five.
First, the barley for their whiskies comes from their own adjoining farm and apart from using a combine harvester when the crop is ripe for harvesting, the barley is grown in the same way it was in the beginning.
The Balvenie also operates a working floor maltings, one of the only ones still active in Scotland today. After steeping the grain in spring water, it’s spread across the malting floor where the malt men turn it by hand four times a day until it’s ready for the kiln. It is then dried using anthracite and peat, which adds further complexity to the final taste.
From here it is time to cask the whisky and given that casks are so important to the taste of The Balvenie their preparation and maintenance is managed by an on-site team of coopers. Some casks need to be ‘toasted’ just enough to open the pores but not enough to burn too deep… a skill that takes almost four years of training.
Finally, The Balvenie looks to the expertise of its Malt Master David Stewart. As the longest serving Malt Master in the industry, David originally turned down job offers from banks and insurance firms to go into whisky. With more than 50 years of experience under his belt, David describes his nose as ‘his most treasured asset.’ To gain a position as Malt Master is no easy thing and so David trained for twelve years under his predecessor, learning every aspect of the trade.
Every year, David selects one or two special casks that have matured for thirty years or more to be released as ‘The Balvenie Vintage Cask Single Malt Whisky,’ hand-bottled from single casks. They also have The Balvenie Thirty – as previously mentioned – but it’s The Balvenie Portwood Single Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 21 Years of which he is most proud.
So there you have it, with a Dr. of Whisky and a Master of Malt, it seems The Balvenie has all the necessary qualifications to produce a great, handcrafted whisky.