By Christian Rose-Day.
A den is synonymous with iniquity. Iniquity is the absence of morality. Morality is (usually) governed by a code. The most popular code is the phonetic alphabet. In the phonetic alphabet, the letter W is interpreted as ‘Whisky’. Ergo, a ‘Whisky Den’ is the discourse between right and wrong.
It’s right that the new Balvenie Whisky Den has been installed in Covent Garden, smack in the middle of London’s thriving West End. It’s wrong that it’s only a pop-up bar and will be packing up again all too soon. Still, at least I had the opportunity to take part in this dialogue. A couple of hours well spent. You’d be wise to enter into the parley yourself, especially as the bar is ever-evolving. Each day it takes on a different shape, being manipulated continuously for its lifespan, transformed with the traditional tools and materials used in the making of Balvenie Whisky itself. This 28-day pop-up bar is in a constant state of flux and will keep developing until Day 27.
As we entered and then chatted briefly about the £5000 bottle of Cask 151 50-year whisky on display, the smell of fresh creosote punctuated our nostrils, usurped only by the half ton of the pungent malt used to replicate the traditional malt floor at the Balvenie Distillery. We then descended, both physically and metaphysically, into a basement to unleash The Knowledge; The Knowledge that the majority of flavour in a whisky comes from its cask thanks to the former occupant (wine, sherry, port) and the wood type; The Knowledge that the politics of countries far away from Scotland influenced the flavour of Scottish whisky indefinitely (post-war American timber export legislation combining with the cask shortage in Europe); The Knowledge that Balvenie’s ‘sister’ distillery is Glenfiddich, just up the road (half way between Aberdeen and Inverness), with which there are many shared common practices.
Perched on handcrafted stools, made from old charred cask wood, we were walked from evil to good via fairly-flippin-decent and lovely by the Balvenie Brand Ambassador, Dr Andrew Forrester. The butterscotch, vanilla, dried fruit sweetness of the 12-year Signature Balvenie Whisky was wholly approachable, easily quaffable, and is the whisky that would make a non-whisky drinker question their decision-making processes.
The second dram, the spicy 15-year Balvenie Whisky, was likened, as were all the sampled stock, to a famous star. She was Kylie, because she was lively, showy and had a nice bum.
My personal favourite, the 12-year DoubleWood Balvenie Whisky, was Nigella Lawson; more voluptuous, figgy, syrupy, and fragrant with Christmas pudding.
The final act was a 21-year PortWood (clue in the name there) Balvenie Whisky, a graceful ballroom dancer of a tipple that oozed silky honey and nutty cream.
The Balvenie Whisky Den can be experienced for a brief time at 34 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7PB. It is open daily from 1pm until, well, whenever you like really. WARNING: it will be dismantled on 3rd of June so, right or wrong, you’ll need to be quick.
For further whisky-induced inspiration, follow this link for the Best Whisky Bars in London.