The setting lends itself perfectly to a blending masterclass with a master blender, from one of the world’s most iconic brands. The unmistakable facade of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, serves as the perfect backdrop for my rendezvous with Colin Scott, master blender at the house of Chivas Regal. As soon as Scott shows up for our little chat, I find myself in awe of him and the heritage he comes from. Self-assured, charming, articulate and humorous, Scott leads me to a blending table, which looks straight out of an alchemist’s laboratory. Bottles, glasses, troughs and pipettes in all shapes and sizes, laid out on a table, with a notebook and pencil for notes.
Could this really be happening? I am indeed about to embark on a blending session, with someone who is possibly the world’s most respected blender, from Chivas Regal, long regarded as one of the world’s best blended whiskies. Scott begins by telling me that I am about to experience ’the art of blending’, a phrase that Chivas Regal has so appropriately coined and used in their context.
He begins, “One way to think about Chivas Regal’s blends is — you look at three different single malts. This one is fantastic, the other one is phenomenal and the third is absolutely incredible. In your bottle of Chivas Regal, you’ve probably got those three malts as part of the blend.” While the world gushes on about single malts — understandably so — especially since they seem to have become the trendiest thing around, Scott wants to bust the myth about blended whisky being inferior. “People need to understand that blended whisky is equally good in terms of quality and prestige. They are just two different products.”
Before setting out to create my own Chivas Regal blend, out of the different malts placed in front of me, I ask Scott to give me a brief historical context about his iconic brand. “The Chivas story started way back in the 1830s. Malt is the original whisky of Scotland and it dates back many many centuries. We think it might have even come from Ireland, but it’s been in Scotland for hundreds of years. Then grain whisky was introduced in the 1830s. Once this was introduced, blenders came along and started to create blended scotch.”
Has the art of blending changed much, in the 21st century, I ask the master blender.
“It hasn’t changed. In 1909, the then master blender at Chivas, Charles Howard created the first Chivas Regal 25. This was a masterstroke in blending. In 2007, I recreated this blend. But we didn’t have the original bottle nor did we have the original recipe. But we did have Chivas Regal 12 and 18, so taking the thread and style of these blends, we created the 25. In 1909, we created the first ‘luxury’ whisky, and in 2007, we recreated the legend.”
As Scott handholds me through the process of creating my blend, playing around with the proportions of the different malts placed before me, I decide to make the conversation a bit more interesting. What are the common misconceptions about whisky that he encounters? “Firstly, the grain is the most important part of the blend. People tend to think that grain whisky was just added to make volume, but, in fact, it has a very important role to play. If you change the malt to grain ratio, it changes the whole taste. One way to think about a blend is that if you’re building a house, you select all the different bricks. These will all fall down if there is no cement. In this case, the bricks are the malt and the cement is the grain.”
I proceed to do a bit of fact checking myself. The most common misconception is that Chivas 18 and 25 are merely aged versions of the 12. I let the master clear the air. “They are three different identities and three different formulas. They are different taste experiences blended in the same style. The tasting notes are altogether different.”
Colin Scott keeps a close eye on me as I experiment with the different malts placed in front of me. The task at hand seems daunting at first, but then, as he talks me through the tasting notes and aromas of each malt, it becomes fun. He also explains the different characteristics that each malt would bring to my blend. In front of me, there are single malts from the different regions of Scotland — Highland, Lowland, Speyside and Islay — as well as a bottle of grain whisky. Smoky, woody, oak, nutty are just some of words used to describe each malt. The process begins with me tasting each single malt, followed by adding it into my final blend.
At the end of the evening, with Colin Scott’s help, I successfully created my own blend of Chivas Regal. I even added my name to the bottle label, to personalise it further. If you’re curious to know what is the proportion of each malt in my blend — well, you’ll have to just guess. That, remains my secret!
Colin Scott’s Whisky-Food Pairing Rules
Chivas Regal 12 – Works well with seafood like prawns, scallops and fish.
Chivas Regal 18 – Perfect for a main course of red meat, chicken or even a chocolate pudding dessert.
Chivas Regal 25 – A great way to end your dinner with a nice cheese, perhaps even a cigar.
Does Indian food pair well with whisky? Yes, says the master blender, the spices in the blend and the food complement each other very well.
Interview: Riaan George
Photography: Vishal Jolapara