INTERVIEW : Charlie Metcalfe The Balvenie Whisky House World Ambassador Presents The French Oak 16 Year Old

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INTERVIEW : Charlie Metcalfe The Balvenie Whisky House World Ambassador Presents The French Oak 16 Year Old

At the beggining of June, The Balvenie house launched its new standard, The French Oak 16 Year Old.

Its distinctive characteristic, : a unique process – finishing in French oak barrels that have previously contained wine from the French vineyards of the Charentes.

In order to raise its profile internationally, the House has chosen Charlie Metcalfe as its world ambassador.

Passionate about the art of luxury living, Icon-Icon met with him to talk about his career and the genesis of the French Oak – the future icon of the Whisky House.

In order to begin and recontextualize for our readers, could you sum up briefly your career and your Brand Ambassador function in the Balvenie ?

I have worked with William Grant & Sons for just over 10 years as the World Brand Ambassador for TheBalvenie. I started my career working in the bar of the distillery where I prepared our whiskies and talked about them. Amongst others, I remember references such as Monkey Shoulder or The Balvenie – all the best.

For the last seven years I have been working at the distillery as an ambassador, which has involved showing the distillery to different types of audiences. For the past six months I have been working as a brand ambassador on a global level.

Throughout the world, there are an infinite number of brands. In France, many of them have their ambassadors. In concrete terms, my role is to represent the brand on a daily basis and around the world. I visit countries that don’t yet have brand ambassadors – like Nigeria, for example, where I’ll be going very soon.

Today we are launching a new product that is very important for the distillery and even more important for France, the French Oak range. Coming here gives me the opportunity to talk to some of our French friends.

Compared to your competitors, what would be your main strengths?

I think we are very well known for our cask finishes which, before containing whisky, contained wine from the French vineyards of the Charentes.

In the early 1980s, cask finishing was obviously a pioneering activity for the distillery. It was David Stewart, the dean of the whisky industry’s Cellar Masters, who started it. Today, this technique is widely used in the Single Malt world, but David Stewart appears as one of the precursors.

David Stewart, ICON of THE balvenie house

It is because of this method that we are particularly well known and our range is a good way of looking at our whiskies.

It is true that there are many different cask finishes on the whisky market. However, The Balvenie distinguishes itself from its competitors by offering a specific style of welcome during the visit of the distillery in Dufftown. It is a unique experience that allows you to discover the only traditional malting floors still in use in the Highlands of Scotland. The intimate nature of the tour means that everyone will have unforgettable taste memories.

Today you are unveiling a new expression of The Balvenie, The French Oak 16 Year Old, to complement the Cask Finishes range. Could you tell us about the history of this expression?

The brand ambassador team made a trip to Cognac in 2013. Lorne Cousin, was on that trip. He often spent holidays with his family in the Charentes region of France. He loved the Pinot and brought a bottle back to give to David and said, “David, why not experience Balvenie alcohol in a Charente Pinot cask?”

So for many years David has been trying to find the perfect balance with this method. We had to buy a number of barrels before we found one that suited our style perfectly.

So it’s been a long project but it’s been very organic, within our team of brand ambassadors.

How to define this French Oak The Balvenie?

This particular whisky, people like it and recognise it.

On the nose it has an interesting sweetness and floral complexity. Light notes of lotus flowers and geranium combine with notes of fresh prairie grass and peeled apple skin. These notes are not usually found in other The Balvenie of the same age.

On the palate, there is ginger, the zest of lemon and grapefruit peel and the sweetness of candied fruit.

Finally, there is the classic honey character that people have come to expect from The Balvenie. The use of a particular cask brings a new palette of flavours. Sometimes, in the finishes, you’ll get more woody notes – oak for example – but the sweetness remains.

The French Oak 16 Year Old, a floral whisky

In your opinion, what would be the perfect occasion to taste this new french oak ? a place, a moment or whatever.

Personnally, I’ve often enjoyed this particular whisky after dinner: it’s a very good complement either at dessert time or later in the evening. If you’ve had a heavy meal, if you’ve eaten red meat, the sweetness that this whisky brings at the end of the evening is perfect for me.

What is your relationship with Whisky, and in particular Scotch Whisky? Is it difficult for you to escape whisky ?

that’s a very good question. The answer is probably yes. It is difficult for me to escape whisky but I don’t know if I want to escape whisky.

I’m … I dare use the word “obsess” . I’m very interested in Whisky it is my hobby as well as my job. I do enjoy whisky other than Balvenie of course, I’m a big whisky enthusiast in general. And yet I constantly get told off by my fiancé for telling her about new whiskeys and things I’ve bought and making her taste thing. It is a part of my life, almost every minute of the day.

Do you find that there is a link between spirits and personal inspiration?

The moment we share a whisky can sometimes indeed create an idea. We sit around a table, we drink a whisky, we talk, and often the conversation can lead to interesting ideas or the creation of projects.

What do you think is the most iconic whisky, perhaps The Balvenie signature?

I have a soft spot for Balvenie 30. It is a rather old whisky and 30 years old is a rather rare spirit.

. On the nose, Balvenie 30 is honeyed with mellow oak notes and a hint of orange peel. It leaves a dark chocolate flavour with hints of plum, almond and caramelised pear.

It’s around 1,600 pounds, 2000 euros for a bottle. It is a bit more expensive obviously but for me this is a lovely balance of the spirit and the cask together. The older whiskeys are fantastic as well. For some of them, with time, the cask can take over a bit but this one has a nice balance. It’s probably one of my favourites.

Initially we didn’t have many older age ranges at the time – the oldest bottle being the 21 year old port. So David wanted to introduce a range of older whiskies and that was really the idea behind the 30.

Maybe last question, getting out of the universe for few minutes can you think of any iconic object in your life that you would like to share the history with us?

As well as a whisky enthusiast, I’m a big sport fanatic – that can be a little boring – but golf is also part of Scottish culture.

When I’m not drinking whisky I do enjoy go for a walk around a golf with my friends that’s one of the way I relax away from work.

I use Taylormade golf club. On a day off that’s the thing I get off the bed for.

Interview made by Sébastien Girard, Président of Icon-Icon

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