Master Blenders and Master Distillers are the people we should be thanking every single day because if not for them, we wouldn’t be out here enjoying the fruit of their hard-work. They are the people responsible for crafting, nurturing and overseeing the creation of what we all love so dearly.
These are enlightened people, with knowledge and wisdom beyond our wildest dreams. Like a film without a director, or a cinematographer, things just wouldn’t be the same without a Master Blender or a Master Distiller.
Usually, we are more familiar with their work than with them. So The Whiskypedia took some time out to help you acquaint yourselves with the people that help create what we tend to enjoy so much. Here are five of our favourite quotes from five of our most beloved Master Blenders and Master Distillers to help you get to know them better.
Colin Scott from Chivas Brothers
Having joined the great house of Chivas Brothers in 1973, Colin Scott was destined for greatness. After all, he was following into the footsteps of his father, and his grandfather by dedicating his life to the love of Scotch whisky. It took Scott many years of hard work, experience and the tireless pursuit of knowledge before he was elevated to the role of Master Blender.
He became the Chivas Regal Master Blender in 1989, nearly sixteen years after he first joined the company. With it, he joined a pantheon of great men like Charles Howard, Jimmy Lang, Alan Baillie and Charles Julian, all of whom held the honour before him. Colin Scott has created some of the best Chivas Regal blends currently in circulation, winning an avalanche of awards and medals at competitions all over the world.
“The art of the Master Blender in understanding the many different flavours in Scotch whisky is like the work of a composer: not only do you need to completely understand the musical characteristics of every instrument, but you must also understand how to combine them to build an unforgettable, spellbinding symphony."
With over 40 years of experience, and having created blends such as the Chivas Regal 18 Year Old Gold Signature and the super-premium luxury blend, the Chivas Regal 25, Scott has truly achieved it all. He now holds the position of Custodian Master Blender, guiding the next generation of Master Blenders to hone their skills and take Chivas Regal to newer heights.
Alan Winchester from The Glenlivet
Beginning his career at The Glenlivet Distillery in 1979, Alan Winchester worked nearly half a dozen other positions before he became the Master Distiller in 2009. When he joined the distillery, he was working the cooperage as a labourer, before being put in charge of cleaning the wooden vats.
Winchester has clearly worked at every conceivable role at The Glenlivet Distillery, which puts him at an advantageous position of understanding everything about it. The history, the heritage and the quintessential Glenlivet character are all embedded within Alan Winchester. He is a man who lives and breathes Scotch whisky, and has dedicated his life to perfection of his art. On being asked “How he became interested in whisky”, here is what Winchester said;
“You’re asking a Scotsman that? It’s in the blood of a Scotsman I think. It’s quite easy – it’s rooted in the area and my family history. My grandfathers and uncles were farmers and there were lots of distillers in amongst them.”
In a way, Alan Winchester may have achieved perfection. His work at The Glenlivet has earned both him, and the distillery numerous accolades over the years. Winchester has created some sublime expressions, including the rare and precious 50 Year Old single malt whisky, The Winchester Collection 1966. Bottled at cask-strength, and exploding with rich flavours and aromas, only a 100 bottlings of this irresistible single malt have been released.
Sandy Hyslop from Ballantine’s
Only the fifth Master Blender in the history of Ballantine’s, Sandy Hyslop is a man who understands the magnitude of his job very well. As part of his training and grooming for the job, Hyslop was under the tutelage of not one, but two previous Master Blenders. He studied the art of blending from Jack Goudy and Robert Hicks, the third and fourth Master Blenders in Ballantine’s history.
After the mantle was passed to Hyslop in 2005, he set out on a mission. Hyslop endeavoured to preserve the genesis of Ballantine’s along with bringing his own flair of innovation to the brand. He created the Ballantine’s 40 Year Old, the oldest member of the brand’s core range, and created the Ballantine’s Brasil, and the Ballantine’s Hard Fired.
‘You’ve had a completely different upbringing to me, you’re a different generation to me, so get your own flavours and get your own words… Whether it’s a blended malt, whether it’s a grain whisky, whether it’s a new distillate from Aberlour, whether it’s a new distillate from Allt-a-Bhainne – as long as they’re getting their own vocabulary and gaining their own confidence.’
His approach towards blending was the product of learning the ropes from two of the best Master Blenders in the industry, with larger-than-life, yet contradictory personalities. His own curiosity and strive to create something knew has also played a pivotal role in his success. Hyslop was recently appointed the Director of Blending at Chivas Brothers, which puts him in charge of not one, but two respected houses of blended Scotch whiskies.
Robert Hicks from Ballantine’s
As Sandy Hyslop’s mentor, and his predecessor, Robert Hicks has had one of the most lasting impressions on the blended Scotch whisky segment. Believed to have been blessed with one of the most excellent noses in the industry, Hicks was vocal in how much he relied on his sense of smell in order to do his job well.
He took up the job in 1994, after his mentor Jack Goudy retired. Hicks was stepping into some big shoes, and he was aware of that. But with more than 24 years of training, hands-on experience and learning from one of the best Master Blenders in the business, Hicks was more than prepared for the job.
“It’s an easy job, sticking your nose in a glass of whisky. My job is just... smelling whisky. A normal day you’d do about 800-1400 samples. But you can’t taste that many, or you’d be in trouble.”
Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker
Having been at Johnnie Walker for more than 40 years, Jim Beveridge is not just a well-known guy in the Scotch whisky industry, he is one of the best. The Johnnie Walker brand has been around for more than 200 years, and Beveridge is only the sixth Master Blender in the brand’s history.
He has been credited with creating some of Johnnie Walker’s most recent home runs including the super-smoky delight, the Johnnie Walker Double Black. Not only has Beveridge enjoyed success in the form of some wonderfully received blends, he was also recently awarded with OBE medal.
No matter what price a whisky is, we want that whisky to bring delight to whoever buys it—that’s what still gets me out of bed in the morning and fires my imagination and conviction after 40 years in the industry.
With an extensive career that spans decades, Jim Beveridge has had a lasting impact not just on Johnnie Walker, but also on the Scotch whisky industry as a whole. He is considered a role model by many new students of the art, and some younger prodigies in the world of blending too.