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Mastering whisky: It’s all about finding the right blend

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Up until now, I’d only really had the pleasure of tasting and appreciating Scotch; whether at a smart Edinburgh whisky bar, a dram at the end of a distillery tour or winding down on a winter’s evening with the fire on.

So, when I was asked if I’d like to turn my hand to making my own blended whisky, I couldn’t believe my luck.

Fittingly, the venue for this evening crash course was the Scotch Whisky Experience at the top of the Royal Mile. Joining my fellow amateur blenders, I discover I’ve been allocated to the Andrew Usher table, named in honour of the godfather of whisky blending.

He pioneered the technique in the early 1860s, making what was then a fiery spirit into a rounded, more palatable drink. For visitors to Edinburgh, perhaps his biggest legacy can be seen at the Usher Hall on Lothian Road whose construction he funded.

Blending whisky is a complex and skilful process. Master blenders hone their skills and senses over a number of years in order to create a perfectly balanced blended Scotch from up to 50 different single malts from a variety of distilleries.

It sounds very complicated but luckily, we have a team of whisky experts on-hand to impart all their knowledge. So, to begin our lesson in basic blending, our host Susan Morrison leads us in a blind nosing test.

Passing around 10 sealed jars, we take a sniff and note down what we can smell. Grass, almonds, TSP, honey, pear drop sweets, vinegar, cinnamon. Of course, my nose picks up different scents to everybody else on my table and we get a variety of odd and interesting answers!

As well as smell, master blenders need a good palate. Next, we’re guided through a tasting with four different malts already poured out in Glencairn glasses in front of us. These are the whiskies we’ll be using in our own individual blends, each from a different whisky-producing region in Scotland and each with their own character and flavour.

From Islay, we try a peaty Bowmore. From the Lowlands, a light citrusy malt from Glenkinchie, Edinburgh’s closest distillery. From Wick in the north of Scotland, we sample a slightly salty Highland dram from Old Pulteney Distillery. The final glass is a spiced, fruity single malt from Aberlour Distillery in Speyside. As well as single malt whisky, a blend also has a high percentage of grain whisky.

With these flavours in mind, it’s time to start measuring volumes and creating our own blend. Ultimately, there are thousands of combinations to be made but it all comes down to personal preference. By the end of the evening, I leave with my own bottling – and I’m surprised just how good it tastes! The composition of my secret Scotch blend, “Nae Clue”, will go with me to my grave. Suffice to say, the name deliberately undersells the bottle’s contents. I don’t want anybody stumbling on my secret!

Find out more about the Scotch Whisky Experience’s new blending event on their website. The blending package also includes a tour of the five-star attraction and a regional whisky tasting.

You can also learn more about Scotland’s national drink on our dedicated whisky section. Sláinte!

Comments

  • Ralph Hamilton

    What an experience. I would love to do that. A Whisky Trail tour is one on the “bucket list” for me.
    I am a fan of the Islay Whiskys. The first one I bought was Auld Blackie, a very dark Laphroaig. At first I thought I had wasted my money. After a few wee drams though, I came to appreciate its flavours. It remains my favourite, although most Islay drops are OK by me.
    BTW. We make an acceptable “Scotch” in Tassie here in Oz. Just out of Hobart. Hobart has the best water in Australia. I realize how important the “burn” is. The original two bottles I tried, were similar to the trusty export. (The Valley of the Deer) Glenfiddich.
    Must be my Scots ancestry showing through.

    • Hey Ralph, thanks for your comment. Fascinating stuff! You can find out more about Scottish whisky in our eBooks here: ebooks.visitscotland.com/whisky-distilleries-guides/ Sláinte!

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