Stewart: Balvenie ‘will not go down’ NAS route

4th December, 2015 by Becky Paskin

The Balvenie’s unassuming malt master, David Stewart, is anything but unrestrained when it comes to making his mark on the Scotch industry. Here, he discusses his legacy and future plans.

David-Stewart

The Balvenie’s malt master David Stewart has worked at the renowned distillery for 52 years

Unlike the theatrical Richard Paterson or entertaining Jim McEwan, Balvenie malt master David Stewart is often described as a quiet, thoughtful man, but equally one of the greatest blenders and distillers of a generation.

Despite possessing the ability to boast a string of innovations to his name – which have now become standards within the industry – Stewart is modest in acknowledging his achievements, the most recent of which is reaching the milestone of longest-serving malt master.

In 2012 Stewart commemorated 50 years working with William Grant & Sons, a company he joined as an apprentice at the tender age of 17. Throughout the year-long celebrations – which were capped with the release of two Balvenie 50 Year Old single casks – he found himself at the centre of a media frenzy, which for a man who feels more at home in a sample room than centre stage was understandably overwhelming.

Even speaking to Stewart over the phone from the comfort of his home in Glasgow, he admits right at the outset of our conversation that he doesn’t like giving interviews. “It’s not my favourite part of the job, but I must admit I’ve got more used to it over the past few years,” he confesses honestly, adding that he’s only recently returned from a promotional trip to Shanghai to launch the Balvenie Single Barrel range where, like most distillers and blenders these days, he was required to give umpteen interviews to Chinese journalists keen to learn about the Speyside malt.

Groundbreaking methods

Stewart may not be first in line to vaunt his accomplishments – particularly to the media – but his groundbreaking work on brands like Glenfiddich and The Balvenie have nevertheless had a profound impact on Scotch whisky production methods today.

Stewart was one of the first blenders to experiment with single malt cask finishes in the creation of the Balvenie Classic range in the 1980s. “I was asked to create a 12- and 18-year-old called Classic,” Stewart recalls. “And I wondered how to make the 12 different from the existing Balvenie 10-year-old. Those days we just used American oak and Sherry casks, so I thought, ‘what would happen if we just recasked some of this American oak-matured whisky in Sherry casks?’ Gradually over the months we could see changes happening, where spices and richness and dried fruits you get from European oak were coming into the whisky.”

In 1986 the Auchroisk distillery had also begun to produce a whisky matured for a second time in Sherry casks for its first single malt release under The Singleton brand, but unfortunately failed to market the fact. Come 1993 William Grant & Sons rebranded the Classic as Balvenie Doublewood, and became the first Scotch company to actively promote wood finishing to consumers.

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