William Grant & Sons are doing a fair impersonation of the London bus syndrome; you know, nothing for ages, then five come along at once. Following the recent new Glenfiddich Soleras, Balvenie’s latest Tun 1401, and Girvan Patent Still comes potentially the firm’s most exciting release yet, the first official bottling of Kininvie, called Batch Number One. At 23 years of age it is made up of whiskies distilled when the distillery was established in 1990.
Kininvie can lay claim to be one of the most obscure in Scotland. Built in order to ease pressure on Glenfiddich and supply whisky for Grants’ blends (and in more recent times, for Monkey Shoulder), it has never been bottled under its own name.
These important responsibilities could justify why this has happened, but 20 years is a long time for malt lovers to wait. Was it always the intention to hold fire for so long? “I’ve been here for 17 years,” says Brian Kinsman, Grant’s master blender, who has masterminded the release. “Every year we’ve had a discussion about Kininvie, so I don’t think you can say that there was any pre-determined plan.
“One thing in our favor is that we do tend to keep stuff, and the mentality for as long as I’ve been here is to keep hold of it and wait until the right moment. It’s here.”
The Kininvie stillhouse sits between Glenfiddich and Balvenie, and stylistically the whisky is a midpoint between its two sisters. It has its own dedicated 10,000 liter mashtun in the Balvenie mash house (though it doesn’t use any of that distillery’s floor-malted barley) and its own tun room as well, with three new washbacks (out of six in total) being installed at the time of writing.
The stillhouse, often rather cruelly dismissed as no more than a shed, contains nine stills in three sets; one wash to two spirit, the spirit stills being roughly similar to Glenfiddich in shape and size, the wash stills being tall and onion shaped. The cut point is high, thereby avoiding getting heaviness from such small stills.
Aging takes place in a variety of woods: first fill bourbon (predominantly for Monkey Shoulder), refill, and some sherry.
When you compare its new make to Balvenie, Kininvie is on the floral side of the spectrum (think geraniums), lighter and sweeter with less thickness on the tongue, lower vanillin and cereal, but a more lifted, estery fruitiness, and a long silkiness on the palate.
It is this mix of flowers and fruits which predominate in Batch Number One. Bright gold, the nose immediately offers up fruit blossom, wild flower meadow, sugared plums, and an old-fashioned sweet shop. Water brings out grass and pineapple. The oak is very restrained, allowing the palate to build in sweetness with supple weight, star fruit, white peach, and light citrus on the finish. It’s very Grants, in that there are hidden depths if you take the time to look, yet is substantially different from its siblings.
The downside for malt whisky completists is that Batch Number One will only be on sale in Taiwan, itself a clear indication of how the malt category has evolved since the day that Janet Sheed Roberts opened the distillery. Then, the category was in its infancy, only just breaking out of being the preserve of a few connoisseurs. Taiwan was chosen because it is now a mature — and very modern — malt market.
The name — and Kinsman’s revealing of the depth in stock — suggests that this might be the start of a regular series of Kininvie bottlings. “We could do that,” he says, “but if we do, it will be more of a slow drip.”
Kininvie Batch Number One 23 years old, 42.6%, retails at TW$4,500 (US$153) for a 350 ml bottle, or two for TW$8,000 (US$272).