The exceptionally rare whisky debuted at an exclusive London tasting celebrating Malt Master David C. Stewart, MBE.
There’s a reverent hush that whispers through the fall foliage on the historic grounds of The Balvenie’s famed Speyside distillery.
It’s a sense of history and gravitas that speaks to you, one that’s nevertheless tough to distill into one dram — unless, of course, you happen upon an exceedingly rare bottle of The Balvenie Sixty.
The remarkable expression, debuted last month at a luxe London dinner and now available in exceptionally small quantities for the princely sum of $145,000 per bottle, speaks to heritage and craftsmanship in the finest way possible.
The otherworldly 60-year-old Scotch also drives home the point that actions speak louder than words, in the best way possible.
The liquid came to life, so to speak, under the watchful eye of The Balvenie Malt Master David C. Stewart, MBE.
The whisky icon toasted a six-decade career at the celebratory London dinner, surrounded by admiring friends, family, colleagues and Scotch whisky titans.
Humble and soft-spoken Stewart was in a reflective mood speaking to Maxim in London the morning after whisky luminaries carefully sipped on The Balvenie Sixty (and a host of other rarities from Stewart’s famed career).
The cask from which the final product hails was filled in June 1962, shortly before Stewart joined the company as a whisky stocks clerk.
Little did Stewart know he would eventually helm its development, as he stepped into the Malt Master role in 1974.
“I knew when I was getting this training day in and day out … that if I just stuck at this and mastered it, I could get a good job in the Scotch whisky industry,” Stewart said, reflecting on his early days at The Balvenie. His premonition certainly came to fruition.
Along the way, Stewart helped pioneer countless seismic innovations in the Scotch world, from new cask-finishing processes to his work on the famed Glencairn whisky glass.
Six decades, of course, is a milestone to be savored (an understatement of the highest order), and The Balvenie Sixty manages to hit on all the right notes: Precise, exquisitely crafted, somehow fittingly understated thanks to Stewart, and yet impossibly memorable.
Lofty praise though it might be, “masterpiece” comes to mind.
To watch a Scotch develop over the years is one that requires the ability to look forward and backward while staying grounded in the present.
Yet in the day-to-day, Stewart (pictured below in 1979) has found himself astonished more than once.
“If you go back all these years, we never realized there’d be a demand for aged whisky,” Stewart said. “We didn’t realize people would want to buy a 50-year single malt.”
But indeed, whisky enthusiasts seemingly can’t get enough of The Balvenie’s high-age expressions, from The Balvenie Thirty to its recent Rare Marriages releases.
Over the years, Stewart and his team (which now includes newly named Malt Master Kelsey McKechnie) have managed to perfect that art of forward thinking while respecting history, never over-extending themselves too far in either direction.
The lovely balance of The Balvenie Sixty speaks to that prowess, with notes of lavender, coffee and deep caramel on the nose, and lush layers of charred oak, candied orange and even subtle honey delivering a beautifully sweet taste.
Although it’s incredibly rare and certainly hard to find, the fact that The Balvenie Sixty drinks the way it does is all part of Stewart’s long-standing focus at the distillery.
“I make whisky for people to drink,” Stewart said. Whether the supremely lucky few will want to enjoy The Balvenie Sixty rather than display it proudly remains to be seen, but the sentiment is admirable.
The idea of making Scotch one can actually enjoy, rather than store away, is an adage Stewart has taken to heart over the years, molded by a keen understanding of heritage dating back to The Balvenie’s late 1800s origins.
After all, The Balvenie still has its own cooperage on site to craft its casks, and the distillery uses select amounts of barley from its own Balvenie Farms (another rarity in the Scotch world).
Stewart has worked in the whisky industry longer than anyone else in its history, a mantle he holds with pride and care.
Indeed, The Balvenie Sixty (and countless other bottles) bear his signature and seal of approval.
There’s room to be made on future bottles of The Balvenie for the next generation though, as McKechnie (Stewart’s apprentice of more than four years) steps into her role as The Balvenie’s newest Malt Master.
Naturally, McKechnie has much to think about as she takes up the post, she told Maxim on a sunny London day last month as she reflected on The Balvenie Sixty.
“I feel really calm about it,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just looking forward to releasing more Balvenie variants in the years to come. I’ve got a lot to do, but I’m really excited.”
McKechnie has undoubtedly learned from the best, and aims to steer the ship in the right direction with a simple-sounding, if highly nuanced, goal: “We need to make sure the quality is first and foremost perfect.”
If perfection is the goal, they very well might have achieved it with The Balvenie Sixty.
Fittingly, the expression is presented accordingly: It’s housed in an appealing glass tube design featuring gold and brass, made of five layers outlining anecdotes from Stewart’s illustrious career.
The crystal bottle is the sixth layer, emblazoned with a quote from McKechnie to look once more to a bright new future while honoring Stewart’s sixty years with the distillery.
“Patience is one of the key things – nothing happens quickly in Scotch,” Stewart said. “Patience is a key attribute.”
The Balvenie team, under the guidance of Stewart and very much including McKechnie, sees a clear path forward, a common goal, one that’s immediately clear after spending time at the idyllic, yet bustling, Scottish distillery.
“We need to be thinking really far ahead to make sure that we have enough patience for the cask and the whisky to come together, and to get the best out of one another,” McKechnie said. “For us, it makes perfect sense.”
Where the famed distiller goes from here is a story yet to be written: It might take some time to unfold, since patience, after all, makes perfect in the world of Scotch.