Friday 26 June 2015

The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic

The (now annual) Balvenie Craft Fair has come early this year. For this year's Craft Fair, The Balvenie has partnered with one of the most elegant and majestic Victorian city arcades in Sydney, The Strand Arcade. The partnering has revealed an interesting parallel between the two great icons. Both The Balvenie (distillery) and The Strand Arcade were founded in 1891 and were both completed in 1892. Coincidence, I certainly believe so.

Titled "The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic", this year's craft fair will not only showcase the classic Balvenie whisky core expressions with different artisan craft products (similar to last year's craft fair) but also artisan food products from the resident stores at the Strand Arcade. The food products that are being showcased over the next few days include olive oil (by Pendolino), mulled wine (by Gewürzhaus) to the freshly roasted cashews (by The Nut Shop).


With The Balvenie (William Grant & Sons - WG&S) being the sponsor, the brand will open up a Balvenie 'pop-up' bar in front of the Strand Hatters, near the George Street entrance of the arcade and also host a series of The Balvenie masterclasses throughout the next three days (Friday 26 June through to Sunday 28 June) every hour, by the hour.

The bar and the masterclasses will be hosted by the awesome duo whisky specialists from WG&S, Laura Hay and Richard Blanchard. Richard, being the bar/cocktail specialist, will most likely man The Balvenie pop-up bar, serving up sample of the Balvenie 12 YO DoubleWood to those passing through The Strand Arcade whilst Laura, with the masterclasses, will be educating individuals on the history of The Balvenie and the artisan pairing with The Balvenie classic core expressions, including:
  • The Balvenie 12 YO DoubleWood;
  • The Balvenie 14 YO Caribbean Cask; and
  • The Balvenie 17 YO DoubleWood

I have had the opportunity to preview The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic as well as The Balvenie Masterclass tonight and I have to say that both, the craft fair and the masterclass, showcased what the Strand Arcade has to offer from an artisan craft and food perspective and also The Balvenie core expressions, which we all love here at Time for Whisky. 

I for one, have been visiting Gumption, a resident artisan coffee store at the Strand Arcade over the years. Gumption have consistently delivered excellent coffee using beans from Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville and at the fair, Gumption will host a bean bar to provide people with the opportunity to sample their different coffee expressions.

The Balvenie Masterclass being previewed tonight was hosted by the lovely Laura Hay, WG&S Whisky Specialist. Laura was given the opportunity to pair up the Balvenie 12YO, 14YO (Caribbean Cask) and the 17YO with the different artisan food products from a number of stores at The Strand, food products that complemented the three Balvenie expressions nicely.

To symbolise and celebrate the craft fair, Laura also spoke about the little ant figurine she is holding in the photo above. Named after the Master Coppersmith at the Balvenie Distillery, Denis McBain, the ant figurine represented the crafty nature of ants and Denis had been chosen given his creative, refined and talented skill in maintaining the giant copper pot stills for over fifty years at The Balvenie distillery.

The Balvenie 12YO DoubleWood had been paired with a couple of candied macadamia nuts from The Nut Shop. The candied macadamia nuts added a layer of caramelisation and vanilla to the palate of the 12YO and transformed the pairing into a beautiful creme brûlée on the finish -- it was an interesting pairing to the 12YO. Laura had also elaborated on the history of the Nut Shop, having been open for more than 75 years, the Nut Shop is one of the oldest store at the Strand Arcade and had previously prepared and roasted various nuts on-site, though the preparation and roasting have now been moved to Waterloo in the East. Below is a photo of Daniel, the grandson of the founder of the Nut Shop with his son and daughter at the pop-up version of the Nut Shop.

Laura then described how she had paired the Balvenie 14YO Caribbean Cask with a slice of creme brûlée from the Sweet Infinity patisserie at The Strand and having experienced the creme brûlée note from the last tasting, it made the transition from the 12YO to the 14YO quite nice. The pairing of the creme brûlée with the 14YO Caribbean Cask had managed to bring out the rum notes and also a hint of cinnamon. The 14YO on its own, is quite remarkable and the creme brûlée simply elevated the notes on the palate.

The last pairing in the masterclass was the pairing of the excellent Balvenie 17YO DoubleWood with the equally excellent Haigh's chocolate (52% cocoa) frog. Why the frog you ask? Haigh’s Chocolates have supported a number of research projects to protect Australia’s endangered frog species and their fragile environment and as such, represented Haigh's value. The 52% cocoa was chosen by Laura as Laura felt that the chocolate balanced well with the 17YO which, on its own, is quite an elegant Balvenie expression with lots of toffee and vanilla notes to complement the chocolate.  


The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic festival is definitely worth checking out over the next three days (see the festival hours here) and The Balvenie Masterclass will also be running throughout the festival hours, and can be booked via Eventbrite (tickets are $15 per person and proceeds will be donated to the charity Soldier On).

- Hendy.

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