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Distilling organic matter into alcohol is, at its best, just as much storytelling as it is science. Once in a while, a new spirit forcefully reaffirms this truth. The Balvenie Sixty, announced on October 25, is one such release.
As the name suggests, The Balvenie Sixty has been in the making for 60 years, resting in Scotland since The Beatles released their first single. Limited to 71 bottles worldwide, it’s the oldest and rarest Balvenie ever. Of course, the whisky’s age communicates technical prowess, but those 60 years also tell the story of one of the whisky world’s legends: Balvenie Malt Master, David Stewart MBE.
Stewart joined The Balvenie in 1962, just weeks after The Sixty’s original liquid was put into casks, and went on to become one of the most esteemed Malt Masters in the industry. Now, after six decades at The Balvenie, Stewart is the longest-serving whisky Malt Master in industry history. Stewart’s most notable contribution to the whisky industry, among many, is the process of cask finishing — now an industry-wide practice — which sees matured liquid transferred to a new type of cask for a short period before bottling. He also helped develop the Glencairn glass — arguably the best vessel for Scotch sipping. Back in 2016, Stewart’s work garnered him an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where she made him a Member of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (MBE).
Some of Stewart’s iconic Balvenie releases that utilize the cask finishing technique are the DoubleWood 12 and the 21-Year-Old PortWood (both of which have been in production since the Nineties). Pick up a bottle of the PortWood here, and the DoubleWood here.
Buy Balvenie DoubleWood $74.99
But Stewart isn’t the only character in The Sixty’s story: The bottle also features the signature of Kelsey McKechnie, who was recently named Malt Master at the Balvenie alongside Stewart. McKechnie previously served as apprentice Malt Master since 2018, developing the brand’s much-acclaimed Stories range.
Buy Balvenie Stories Range Drizly
True to the significance of Stewart’s accomplishments and McKechnie’s new role, The Sixty boasts as much distinction as a spirit can. “It’s a lovely example,” says Stewart. “It’s a European oak Hogshead [cask], so it’s a 250-litre cask. It’s probably a Spanish rather than an American oak barrel. We don’t quite know the history of the cask. We don’t know how many times the cask has been filled before 1962, but we think it might have been filled once or so before because the wood has not dominated the whiskey,” he explains. “It’s still got all that lovely kind of vanilla toffee notes, citrus notes that we expect from Balvenie.”
McKechnie describes The Sixty as such: “On the nose, the whisky has a mesmerizing array of autumnal aromas; lavender, heather, and bracken. Whilst rich toffee, roasted coffee, and beautifully layered oak dominate the palate. The flavor evolves with time revealing bursts of cloves, nutmeg, charred oak, and candied orange in an exceptional long-lasting finish.”
Balvenie Global Ambassador Charlie Metcalfe also underscores the rarity of a single cask making it to 60 years of age without being dominated by flavors of wood. “To have a cask shine as a single cast whiskey at this age is what the malt masters are really looking for. To have all these flavors in balance at great age is quite rare,” he says.
Producing something like this requires continued attention, which is exactly what Stewart has done over the last 60 years, monitoring the parcel of casks that were filled back in 1962. “I’ve been watching the development over 30, 40 years, but more recently, when [the parcel] was 50, and then when it was 55, because it’s all the same character and style in these four or five casks that we’ve got filled in the same day,” he says. Though Stewart oversaw the aging of this parcel, he says it was McKechnie who chose the cask that would be bottled as The Sixty — a fitting first move as Malt Master.
In short, The Balvenie Sixty tells a story of mastery, patience, and generational movement in the whisky world. For the vast majority of whisky fans, though, drinking this liquid is impossible at $145,000 a bottle. “Pricing this as a normal bottle of whiskey is almost impossible because it’s not a normal bottle of whiskey,” says Greg Levine, US VP of Marketing, Single Malts at William Grant & Sons. “The Sixty is almost akin to fine art, or rare cars, or anything else that’s super collectible and sought after. It’s more than just the liquid, it’s the people behind it, it’s the story behind it, it’s everything that has come to be before it.”
Stewart, McKechnie, Metcalfe, and Levine all acknowledge that a large portion of The Sixty’s 72 bottles will likely spend their lives unopened on collectors’ shelves. But that’s just fine: “If someone wants to hold it to share for future generations, or to hold on to as a prized possession, God bless,” says Levine. “And for someone that wants to crack it open and enjoy it today, I think you’ll find enjoyment in that as well.”
Luckily, The Balvenie’s core range also delivers a masterclass in spirits as a storytelling medium (and it doesn’t require $145,000 for entry). For those who can’t get their hands on the super limited release, we recommend checking out the DoubleWood 12-year ($74.99) and the 14-year-old Caribbean Cask ($89.99) to see what the brand is all about.
Buy Balvenie Caribbean Cask $89.99