Getting Craft Right: The Balvenie Rare Craft Collection

By Regina Connell.

Rare craft.

What does that conjure up? Refinement and exclusivity for sure. But also magic and definitely the aroma of something deep like leather, wood, maybe some smoke, too. And maybe a hint of something else there: darkness? Sensuality? Mystery?

It’s probably all those things, but rare craft is also something that famed Scottish whisky maker The Balvenie is looking to celebrate, re-energize, and bring to life.

Graham Thompson of Optimo Hats, Chicago

In partnership with menswear designer Todd Snyder, The Balvenie is celebrating some of the best examples of American craftsmanship with the Rare Craft Collection, a series of gallery-style events in six cities that honor the practice and preservation of traditional crafts. First up on The Balvenie Rare Craft Collection: Carmel, California running from August 13-17, 2013.

The Collection is the culmination of  a two year search across the United States for craftspeople whose collected works form the foundation of what The Balvenie considers rare craft in America.

Whisky from The Balvenie

The Balvenie, which has a range of Single Malt whiskies handcrafted in the Speyside region of Scotland, comes by this curation of rare craft honestly. “As the only single malt Scotch whisky to retain complete control over the five rare crafts that go into the production of its acclaimed single malt, The Balvenie has a kinship with artisans who still ply their craft the way it has been done for decades,” stated Andrew Weir, US Senior Brand Manager for The Balvenie.

(What are the five rare crafts of whisky, you ask. Well, The Balvenie: grows its own barley; uses traditional malting skills by employing a malting floor; has a Malt Master with over 50 years experience who presides over the maturation process; keeps on staff a coppersmith who maintains stills; and has a team of coopers who keep the barrels in tip-top condition.)

Some of the rare crafts they’re featuring in the Collection include these highlights:

  • Graham Thompson of Optimo Hats in Chicago, Illinois along with his team of expert hat makers, create top of the line fedoras, porkpies, homburgs as well as many other styles for hat lovers around the world.
  • Rick Kelly of Kelly Guitars based in Greenwich Village, New York, crafts guitars by hand, using reclaimed lumber, specifically white pine that he rescues from trash heaps and decomposition.
  • Schirley Zisman of Golden Bear Sportswear in San Francisco, California is the lead designer for the authentic leather and wool outerwear manufacturer that has produced Varsity, Bomber and Motorcycle jackets since the 1950’s.
The Balvenie Morgan Plus 8

One of the additional benefits of attending the Collection in person (other than seeing the crafts and a rather magnificent restored 2002 Morgan that will accompany the show) is of course the whisky.  And to guide neophytes and experts alike is The Balvenie Brand Ambassador, Lorne Cousin. This former lawyer originally from Campbeltown, Scotland, has clearly put his skills to higher use: representing Scotland’s most beloved cultural products (bagpipes, and now whisky) around the world, sharing a platform with characters as diverse as royals, distillers, international pop stars (hello Madonna) and athletes.

What’s most exciting to Lorne about this showcase is connecting to an audience that’s sophisticated and passionate about things well made. “There’s a real connection between whisky lovers and those who respond to craft. They share a love of things that are handcrafted with care and dedication. They appreciate quality and talent in a world where so many things are mass-produced.  And they love a story, they love a family connection. It takes real skill and commitment to be great at a craft, whether you’re making whisky or guitars or the perfect hat. We’re proud to honor that.”

The Rare Craft Collection will also be in Dallas, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia.

The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow Course

Many other companies continue to cynically take advantage of the brand of “craft”, smearing a little artisanal frosting on a ready-mix cupcake. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, for all sorts of reasons. So it’s great to see a company like The Balvenie, which takes its own craft so seriously, do it right by elevating and creating demand for rare craft in the world at large. This is the way to do it.


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