Many consider blending whisky an art form. It comes down to experience and experimentation. And of course, flavor.
Sandy Hyslop, master blender for Chivas Regal, explained the craft as “taking many different flavors and making something greater than the sum of its parts.”
In a way, he explained, blending whisky is like cooking, “the ingredients are all unique, but when those ingredients come together, you can create something extraordinary and complex.”
Recently, Sandy visited with The Whiskey Wash about the art of blending whisky, his road traveled in the whisky industry, and where he sees it going in the future.
The Whiskey Wash: What is the most important skill a master blender can have?
Sandy Hyslop: “You need good ability, you need to have a good sense of smell, but what you need to do is to have a good memory for smells. More importantly, you need to be passionate about Scotch whisky.
TWW: What are some of the differences between blending Scotch whisky as opposed to American whiskey?
Sandy: “One of the key differences has to be the barrels, whereas bourbon must always be in new American oak barrels, Scotch barrels have more variety. For example, Scotch uses Spanish, French, American, etc. This creates more nuance in the liquid that needs to be accounted for in blending. Additionally, the flavor notes will depend on how many times barrels are used. Whisky from a barrel that was filled once will pull more pronounced flavors from the wood versus one filled a second or third time. Each has a role to play when blending the final whisky as we aim to layer various flavors together.”
TWW: What about Chivas Regal drew you to the master blender post?
Sandy: “It was more serendipitous, back in 1983, with a small whisky company in Dundee called Stewarts Cream of the Barley, where I started as a sample room assistant. I had a place to go and study chemistry at university but my dad was dead against it – he said it would be a waste of time and it would cost him a fortune! He spotted this job in the paper, working in the sample room, and one day a week you went to Aberdeen to study chemistry on day release, so he said, that’s the job for you, you’ll be earning money and getting an education. So it worked out perfectly.”
TWW: How has the taste of Chivas changed or evolved since its iconic mid-Century boom?
Sandy: “I love the control we now have over the production process. The manual intervention is much less so you can control the flavor much better, leading to a more consistent blend.”
TWW: How would you describe the tastes and aromas of Chivas 12, and what are you looking for in a perfect blend?
Sandy: “Our signature 12-year-old whisky is a blend of iconic Speyside flavors. Over the years, our master blenders have maintained the classic taste created in the 19th century by the pioneers of blended Scotch whisky, founders John and James Chivas, which to the Chivas family, is the perfect blend.”
TWW: What can whisky enthusiasts expect out of the new redesign of Chivas?
Sandy: “The redesign project started with sustainability in mind. The parent company, Chivas Brothers, targeted 2025 to get the company to use 100 percent recyclable, reusable, compostable or bio-based packaging. This new bottle is lighter and saves more than a thousand tons of glass annually. The outer packaging is now made from fully recyclable materials.”
“The new packaging is also meant to welcome a fresh generation of whisky drinkers to try Chivas, while bringing established enthusiasts and connoisseurs along for the journey. We think both parties will be thrilled with the new packaging and can look out for additional redesigns throughout 2022 and beyond.”
TWW: Tell us about the new Chivas Ultis.
Sandy: “Chivas Ultis is the first blended malt whisky from the house of Chivas Regal that captures the true essence of Chivas! This prestigious whiskey blends five of our most precious single malt Scotch whiskies from Speyside and was created by me in honor of my five predecessors who played iconic roles within our history.”
“Alongside the five single malts used to pay tribute to the five master blenders, the bottle itself was created in their honor. It features the five signatures of the men who held the crucial role in our whiskies, alongside five bold rings on the bottle neck. The V used across the bottle also pays tribute in Roman numerals. Less than 1 percent of the millions of casks within the Chivas inventory were used to create Chivas Ultis. Each cask was individually hand-selected and nosed to ensure the highest quality within this blend.”
TWW: One simple question … Chivas on the rocks or neat?
Sandy: “The beauty of Chivas? It’s incredible on the rocks, neat, or as the base of a delicious whisky cocktail. We love a Chivas highball, just to name one. So, it’s truly hard to pick a lane. I’d recommend drinkers try them all!”