From a distance this was the closest an enthusiast could be to Kininvie distillery and its whisky. However times change and many visitors have been able to tour this wee whisky hub whilst visiting the nearby Balvenie distillery. As for the whisky itself, it wasn’t until 2013 when an exclusive Taiwan edition finally heralded the debut of the official Kininvie bottling.
Yes, there was of course that Hazelwood 15 year old bottled in 2006 that could lay claim to being the first from this tiny distillery that commenced production in 1990. You could also argue that Kininvie isn’t a distillery either; tapping into Balvenie for use of its mashtun and washbacks. It is a debate that goes back to many distillery-within-a-distillery such as Inverleven at the massive Dumbarton complex. Mmm, yes or taking it even further a separate style of whisky produced on the same site such as Port Charlotte, Glencraig etc.
William Grant & Sons when establishing project Kininvie no doubt sought to resolve a problem that has faced many other producers i.e. a reliable source of a different style of whisky for blending. Given the limited room at Balvenie and the massive demand for Glenfiddich, the logical approach was to create a new distillery (or still house in this case) that could latch onto nearby facilities.
Kininvie was the classic workhorse producing almost exclusively for the William Grant blends. Trying to purchase a cask of Kininvie was frankly impossible and those that did appear on the market had already become a teaspoon malt thereby protecting the single malt name. Then in 2010, the owners decided to shut down Kininvie when their new state of art plant (Ailsa Bay) opened in 2007, which could produce whatever style of whisky was necessary.
The silence only lasted a couple of years as the current whisky boom showed no signs of slowing down. Kininvie sparked back into life in 2012 and shortly afterwards was granted its own single malt whisky. This takes us back to that Taiwan release that sparked a riot on auction sites as enthusiasts tried to snap up a bottle. Realising that they had somewhat underestimated the appeal of a small still house sat behind Balvenie distillery, the owners set about exploiting the spotlight.
Since then Kininvie has received several further editions all placed in these terrible small 35cl bottle sizes. The price unsurprisingly has increased greatly with each new release. The packaging is nice and I’m sure I heard some marketing garbage that the 35cl enabled William Grant & Sons to keep the price under £100 initially. Utter nonsense; class A marketing bull. The mark-up is sizeable and if anything Kininvie was being used as a guinea pig to see how the market would receive such a bottle size long term. By the time batch 3 was released the price had risen 20% and therefore beyond that £100 excuse which was shown for what it truly was; a lie.
It’s great to see that Batch 3 is still easily available at its excessive price with most online retailers. After that initial run, Kininvie has lost a little of its appeal and mystery. Such a high price does not encourage repeat custom and the feedback I’ve had neither does the whisky itself. An interesting footnote to all of this is the debut of William Grant’s Ailsa Bay as a single malt. Bottled in the traditional 70cl size and a more affordable £55, enthusiasts have greeted it with positivity despite the lack of an age statement as the whisky is tasty. I thought it was ok, slightly engineered to a great degree, but that’s another review folks.
Bottled at 42.6% strength, this sample was kindly provided by Tom who named his whisky site after himself. Retailing at Travel Retail for around £125 for 35cl, this is therefore a £250 bottle of whisky. Made up from 80% American oak and 20% sherry casks, its time for a Kininvie.
Kininvie 17 year old Batch 1 – review
Colour: germinated cereal grain
Nose: its a fruity arrival with apples backed up with a faint orange peel and a fleeting floral note. Golden syrup, crushed walnuts, lemons, tinned pears and some ginger; its all inoffensive stuff.
Taste: a good arrival with chocolate, oranges, a little marzipan and nutmeg. Vanilla custard, grapefruit and a spicy finish.
Nothing to write home about in reality. An experience but not one that makes for a great whisky. Just a pitstop to tick off the list of distilleries tasted before moving elsewhere.