Kininvie tasting with Kevin Abrook
On March 9 this year I was in Glasgow, Scotland, attending a very special Kininvie tasting hosted by Kevin Abrook. Kevin works as a Global Whisky Specialist - Innovation at William Grant & Sons, and has more than 20 years experience in the drinks industry.
William Grant & Sons is an independent family-owned distiller and was founded by William Grant in 1887. Today the company owns many big brands, like Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, Grant’s blended scotch, Girvan grain whisky, Hendrick’s gin, Sailor Jerry rum, Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey and Drambuie Scotch Liqueur.
The Kininvie distillery is owned by William Grant & Sons, and was officially opened in 1990 by Janet Sheed Roberts, the last remaining granddaughter of William Grant. The distillery has an annual production capacity of 4.8 million lpa (litres pure alcohol), and from what I understand their production is not far from capacity today. Interestingly the distillery was closed from October 2010 through to 2012 (source), much due to the opening of the other new distillery owned by William Grant & Sons, Ailsa Bay (more on that very shortly).
There are comments on Kininvie being 'just a still house' and not a full distillery. That is not true. Yes, it is located right next to Balvenie Distillery, and it does have its mashtun and washbacks under the same roof as Balvenie, but the equipment is separate. The wash is piped the 200 meters to the Kininvie still house.
Kevin and the press releases tell us that the Kininvie distillery character is richly fruity and floral. Kininvie is also one of the three components of the blended malt Monkey Shoulder, alongside Balvenie and Glenfiddich.
For some strange reason there is no website for Kininvie Distillery, and very little official information available online.
Please note that all the Kininvie releases are sold in 350 ml bottles.
The Hazelwood releases
Not to be confused with the Hazelburn (unpeated Springbank), the Hazelwood expressions were the first single malt to be released from the Kininvie Distillery.
First off there was the Hazelwood Centennial Reserve, a blend that contained Kininvie malt. It was released in 2001 to commemorate the 100th birthday of Janet Sheed Roberts, who actually lived on to the impressive age of 110 years old!
Then there were three releases to celebrate the 105th, 107th and 110th birthdays of Janet Shed Roberts. The first release was Hazelwood 105 15 YO in 2006, given away to staff at the company and not for public sale. The second was the Hazelwood Reserve 17 YO (also called Hazelwood 107) which was a single cask release made available for sale at Heathrow Terminal 5 when that was officially opened in 2008. Finally there was the Hazelwood 110, limited to 1600 bottles, that were all presented to Grants' employees.
Kininvie 23 YO
On June 25 1990 at 8.45 am the very first liquid was taken off the still at Kininvie Distillery and then laid to mature on July 4 1990. In 2013, the Kininvie 23 YO Batch No. 1 was launched exclusively in Taiwan. This was followed by Batch No. 2 in the UK, USA and mainland Europe in 2014 (see my review), and then the release of Batch No. 3 in mainland Europe, the UK, Taiwan and China in 2015. Late 2015 saw the release of Kininvie 23 YO Signature (no batch info) - the distillery’s first signature expression.
Brian Kinsman, Malt Master at William Grant & Sons, commented on the new 'core range' 23 YO:
“As Malt Master, it has always been my long-term goal to create a signature expression for Kininvie. We are lucky that, being family owned, we have been able to take the time to wait until the whisky is at its best. Now the time is right to release Kininvie 23 Year Old to the world. It’s a proud and exciting moment for me and the team.”
Kininvie 17 YO
July 2013 saw the release of the Kininvie 17 YO Batch 001, a global Travel Retail exclusive. Batch 002 is close to being released now.
Kininvie Special Release #1 'The First Drops'
The Kininvie Special Release #1 ‘The First Drops’ is made up of 1,850 bottles worldwide, divided between three single cask releases. There are 550 bottles for the UK market (cask #21), 519 bottles for mainland Europe (cask #20) and 565 bottles for Taiwan (cask #8). Kininvie Special Release #1 ‘The First Drops’ was launched in November 2015 in the UK and January 2016 in mainland Europe and Taiwan. It sells at £400 RRP.
A total of 40 bottles of the cask #20 release came on sale in Sweden on January 28, 2016. It sells for SEK 4950 (4046602), and there are bottles left. Cask #21 is still available to buy in the UK at around GBP 330.
Tasting the whisky itself - finally
Kevin took us through the history of the distillery and of the company (William Grant & Sons). Then he presented the line-up, and oh boy was that a big and positive surprise. Before this tasting I had only had the Kininvie 23 YO Batch 2. here we had four cask samples and two official releases that I had not tried before.
1: Kininvie 2007 8 YO Bourbon cask - cask sample, 61,7 %
This was a cask sample from a 1st fill bourbon cask (cask #8879).
Nose (21/25): Fruity and grassy. Green apples, organic cider, vanilla, mandarins, mild oranges, and hints of butterscotch. Mildly floral.
Taste (21/25): Very spicy upfront. Fruity and rich. Apples and floral notes.
Finish (20/25): Medium to short finish. Sweet and rich. Apples again, and hints of (fruit) wax.
Balance (21/25): Youthful and vibrant.
2: Kininvie 1996 19 YO Bourbon cask - cask sample, 51,1 %
The second dram was also a cask sample, and again from a 1st fill bourbon cask (cask #11486).
Nose (23/25): Sweeter than the first sample. Strawberries and lots of vanilla. Vanilla pods and mild oaky spices. Smells like a candy store. Ripe banana, toffee, and vanilla ice-cream.
Taste (21/25): The floral notes are present on the palate, but they weher more or less absent on the nose. Candied fruit and mint chocolate.
Finish (22/25): Long finish. Marzipan, unsalted peanuts, hints of oak, After Eight chocolate, and 'green' notes.
Balance (22/25): Exciting stuff, although a bit hard to really come to grips with.
3: Kininvie 17 YO Batch 001
4: Kininvie 23 YO Signature
5: Kininvie 25 YO 1990 Bourbon cask - cask sample, 52,3 %
The fifth dram was a special treat. We did not get to taste the new Kininvie Special Release #1 ‘The First Drops, but we got something very close. This cask sample was drawn from a cask filled in July 1990 (so same age as the official release). Yet again from a 1st fill bourbon cask (cask #1367).
Nose (22/25): A lot more floral now, this is actually slightly perfumy on the nose. Green apples, vanilla, honey, nutmeg and nuts (unsalted peanuts and almonds).
Taste (23/25): A near pefect balance of floral, spicy and fruity notes. Grass and hay, white pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, green apples and something slightly tropical. A touch of toasted oak.
Finish (22/25): Long finish! Still holds the very nice balance. Dry and dark chocolate, and a dry-ish touch in the end. More green and herbal on the finish.
Balance (23/25): This is becoming really impressive.
6: Kininvie 25 YO 1990 Sherry cask - cask sample, 57,6 %
The last cask sample was from a sherry Oloroso cask filled in 1990 (cask #1715). Kevin had kept this for last on purpose. All the previous whiskies we had tasted gave evidence on their clear philosophy of showing distillery character in their products. The 'problem' with this particular cask was that the distillery character was completely gone (or masked out). This is the reason why they have not released any 100 % sherry matured whiskies, and in fact have settled on more or less doing 80 % 1st fill bourbon, and 20 % sherry cask.
Nose (23/25): Massive orange zest and peel. Christmas cake! Oloroso sherry, dates, figs, raisins and hazelnuts. This is a delightful sherry bomb!
Taste (22/25): A rich sherry bomb on the palate as well. Slightly oaky, and very very sweet. We are talking thick and heavy sweetness. You can almost chew this whisky.
Finish (23/25): Long, dry, oaky and very sherried.
Balance (23/25): A fantastic sherry bomb, but I do see Kevin's point as this could be a very nice sherried whisky from many different distilleries. Too bad though. I would have loved to have a bottle of this nectar!
Sláinte! - Thomas
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Please note that this tasting was part of a press trip sponsored by William Grant & Sons. All the text and the opinions are my own, but you deserve to know.