He’s the international man of whisky now, but Ross Blainey never expected that an interest in whisky in one of his first gigs in Glasgow would result in him travelling the world to spread the good news about The Balvenie.
M2 got a chance to have a catch up with Ross during his recent visit to NZ to talk about his experiences, his favourite whiskies and what exactly makes The Balvenie so special.
First of all, I’m obligated as a Kiwi to ask how you found the country. did you have a good trip?
I had a great trip! I love coming to New Zealand. It’s such a beautiful country and not just for its landscapes, but the people are always so friendly and hospitable that I don’t want to leave. Apart from working, I got to Milford Sound this time and it blew my mind. New Zealand has a lot of similarities to Scotland I think, so it reminds me of home a little, which is nice.
What was your first experience with The Balvenie? How did you come in contact with the brand?
Back when I was working in my local pub in Houston, outside Glasgow, the owner gave my friend and I the opportunity to help expand the whisky collection. At 19, I had no idea what I was doing, but we learned on the job (tasting them all, of course). We were allowed to order a few single malts every week and the collection went from about 15 to 190 in a year! The first lot we ordered in included The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood and it became our staple. After a long shift, it was always “a pint of Tennents and a DoubleWood” for us!
Nine years later, I found myself being introduced to a marketing manager by a good friend who worked for The Balvenie. We hit it off and here I am now!
What’s it like being the ambassador for The Balvenie? Do they send you abroad a lot?
It’s great and I’m very lucky to have this job. I get to meet so many great people, learn about them and where they are from and experience a lot of different things. Not everyone can get to our distillery to experience The Balvenie first hand, so it’s my job to bring a wee bit of that to them.
I spend my time travelling around, telling people about the people at our distillery, their stories and a bit about our unique crafts that makes our whisky. Some days I might be chatting with some of the best bartenders in the world about all things whisky and drinks. The next day, I might be hosting an event in some cool and unusual location, or sitting down beginning a new project to involve people in what we do at The Balvenie. Travel is a big part, but I love that too.
Tell us a little of their story, what’s their history?
The Balvenie was built in 1892 by our founder William Grant and his family. Five years after, they built Glenfiddich just down the road, so there is lots of history behind it.
We’re very unique at The Balvenie as the only distillery in Scotland that still practises the five rare crafts of making whisky – growing barley, malting barley, coppersmithing (looking after our copper pot stills), coopering (making barrels) and we have the longest serving malt master, David Stewart, who just celebrated 57 years with us.
The people that make our whisky are the most important part. But they don’t just make our whisky, it takes passion to craft it with such precision and care. Because of this passion and time, we have so many stories which is what we really like to share. I know New Zealand got a fair few stories from me on this trip!
What would you say the broad flavour profile of The Balvenie is, for someone who has yet to imbibe?
We say that our distillery style is a rich, honeyed sweetness, so you’ll usually get that note of honey coming through in every Balvenie. David Stewart guides our whisky through the years, selecting casks to show that style.
What I like about our Balvenie range is that every one of them is different, whether it’s finished in European Oak sherry barrels, rum barrels or another style, but you can still tell you are drinking The Balvenie. We stay true to that overall style. It’s not easy to do, but luckily our team have been honing their craft a long time.
What makes The Balvenie so special and unique?
Every time I am at the distillery, I find something else that interests and excites me. It’s a bit of a magical place, but the thing that really sets us apart is our five rare crafts. Growing our barley on site, our farmers really care about that barley.
Malting our barley on our own traditional malting floors gives us the control over the barley and the ability to keep the craft of hand malting barley alive, which is so rare now. Our first coppersmith started with us in 1958 and Dennis is technically retired now, but he’s always at the distillery hanging about telling stories.
Our coopers make the barrels we age our whisky in and select only the best to give us the right flavour. The last craft, the craft of the Malt Master, David Stewart MBE, watches our whisky until it is ready and creates The Balvenie we pour in our glass at home or in a bar.
Do you have a personal favourite you could recommend?
My favorite Balvenie of all time is the 12 DoubleWood. It just always hits the spot. We put a lot of work into that whisky and it shows in the depth of character, that rich maltiness, delicate fruits and honey finish.
But apart from all the tasting notes, it just goes down a treat, every time. You can sit and analyse the flavours if you want. Or you can just drink it and enjoy it. Easy!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Find the things you love and care about and do those things more,” that’s the shortened version. It was meant as career advice, but I think it kind of spans to everything.
We get caught up trying to do everything. Sometimes it’s good to simplify and just enjoy things. Whether it’s a turning off your phone to enjoy a whisky and a movie, or going swimming or moulding your career. Just do the things you like more. Slàinte!
Sweet fruit and Oloroso sherry notes, layered with honey and vanilla.
Smooth and mellow with beautifully combined flavours ~ nutty sweetness, cinnamon spiciness and a delicately proportioned layer of sherry.
Long and Warming
Rich, sweet and creamy toffee on the nose combines with fresh fruit notes
Rounded with vanilla and sweet oak notes, with a fruity character that develops with time
Soft and lingering
Elegant and complex oak, vanilla, honeyed sweetness and a hint of green apple.
Sweet with dried fruits, sherbet spice, toasted almonds and cinnamon, layered with a richness of creamy toffee notes and traces of oak and deep vanilla.
Vanilla oak, honey and spicy sweetness.
A perfume of fruity and ripe raisin notes, backed by a nutty dryness.
Refined with remarkable character, it is creamy and silky with fruit, honey and spice notes.
Long, gentle, nutty.