Glenburgie 18: Taking a closer look

When you get an invitation to be part of the “first ever whisky tasting in a decommissioned nuclear reactor, under the city of Stockholm”, it does make you sit up and take notice.

And so, instead of resting up after attending TFWA Asia Pacific and then having a holiday travelling around Malaysia, I headed off to Stockholm.

In a nutshell, the Ballantine’s Prestige team at Pernod Ricard’s whisky division, Chivas Bros, had arranged to launch Ballantine’s Glenburgie 18 Year Old in a cellar approximately 25 metres down under the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

Why Sweden and Stockholm, one might justifiably ask, as one always thinks that Taiwan is the blended scotch whisky brand’s biggest market?

Well, back in November the Ballantine’s team unveiled the major three single malt that make up the major malt whisky elements in the Ballantine’s blend.

At the time, Ballantine’s international brand ambassador, Ken Lindsay, said: “Launching this range was a very bold decision. For 200 years, Ballantine’s has been famous for its blended Scotch whiskies but the brand wanted to showcase its own products without blending them,” said Lindsay.

And where did the likes of Glenburgie, Glentauchers and Miltonduff, go down astonishingly well? Sweden, with its Systembolaget monopoly supplying the hundreds of whisky clubs in Sweden.

So when it came down to launching the Glenburgie 18 Year Old, the prestige team, led by senior brand manager, Racheal Vaughan Jones and colleague, Hugo Brister, decided that Sweden was the place to unveil it.

With a theme of ‘Too Good to Hide’, they decided to unveil it at Sweden’s first nuclear reactor, Reaktor 1, or R1, buried 25 meters underneath the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and said to be within a 1 km of about 40,000 people.

The reactor was built in 1942, during World War II with a view to developing nuclear power and possibly a nuclear bomb. Sweden has uranium deposits and was concerned about developments in Nazi Germany, Russia and the Allied powers. The Swedish scientists were involved with the ‘Manhatten Project’, which led to the development of the nuclear bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

R1 went ‘critical’ in 1954, was shut down in 1968 and the reactor was decommissioned and dismantled in 1982.

A tasting of Miltonduff, Glentauchers and Glenburgie, was led by local brand ambassador, Olof Noréus, culminating in the new Ballantine’s Glenburgie 18 Year Old which, in recognition of the interest and in the Ballantine’s single malts among Swedish scotch aficiondos, is only available is Sweden for a limited period.

It is expected to retail for circa €72 (US$82, £64)

When asked about future Ballantine’s expressions, Vaughan Jones indicated that there is likely to be future age-related expressions but not other single malts. There is a 19-year-old but that is only widely available in Taiwan.  She added that the Ballantine’s team, led by master blender Sandy Hyslop, had recently tasted a 22-year-old expression…