Chivas Blending Masterclass

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I recently attended a blending masterclass hosted by Chivas brand ambassador Matthew Cordiner, in Usquabae Bar, Edinburgh. I was invited along by my cousin, for what was one of the best whisky events I have been to, we were talked through the history of the industry, blended our own whiskies and even got to take away a 150ml decanter of the blend we created – as well as enjoying plenty of great drams in the process.

The night started with a sample of the Chivas 12yo blend as we were told and discussed the history of the industry, and how it has changed over the last 500 years or so. I must confess here that this was my first time ever trying any of Chivas’ blends and I must say I was pretty impressed; a very light, well rounded and fruity blend for a great price too.

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After we had sampled the Chivas 12yo and discussed the history we then moved on towards making our blends. The first thing we had to do was to sample the whiskies that it would be we were creating our blends from. We were given 5 bottles of whisky, each marked with a different whisky producing region, each representing the style of whisky produced in that region. This sparked a discussion as to the relevance of regionalising whiskies in modern times though we were all too excited about creating our own blends to get too hung up on it. The regions stamped on the bottles and my basic notes I took for each are shown below, as well as a guess as to what it might be.

Grain – as with any blended Scotch a component of it has to be grain whisky to be named as such, I don’t have a huge amount of experience in grain whisky but I must say that this one was very nice indeed. Lots of peaches, toffee apples and lemon peel with rich oak and vanilla. This turned out to be a Strathclyde 12yo single grain and to be honest this whisky blew me away, for a 12yo grain whisky it is really fantastic, I will definitely need to see if I can get my hands on a bottle of this.

Lowland – Lowland whiskies were generally renowned for being lighter and more floral in style. As soon as I put this to my nose I knew immediately which distillery this came from. I had that classic almondy/marzipan-like nose that I associate with Auchentoshan. It was also very floral and fruity, mostly dried fruits which made me think that this was their three wood bottling, which is what it turned out to be.

Speyside – the Speyside whisky – we were told before we tried this – was the Chivas owned Strathisla, which is used as the heart malt for the Chivas blends. Possibly the most picturesque distillery this whisky was very interesting. Notes here included berry pastries, caramel dairy milk and loads of sweet fruitiness and malt, with a subtle menthol undertone.

Highland – the highland whisky was rife with heather, honey and drying woodspice, as well as lots of malt. My guess for this one was Old Pulteney 12yo, and I wasn’t the only person to guess that. It was in fact Dalwhinnie 15yo, which I was quite surprised by.

Islay – the final component that we could use for making our blends was a nice smoky whisky from Islay. The Islay whisky was very heavy and full bodied with a massive earthy character, burning seaweed, bonfire ash and citrus it was a bit confusing to me. Initially I thought Laphroaig because burning seaweed is just something that I associate with their smoke, though the citrus put me in mind of Bowmore. In the end I went for Laphroaig as my guess which is what it turned out to be, the 10yo.

Once we had sampled and acquainted ourselves with our possible ingredients it was then time to start blending. I knew from the start that I wanted at least half of my blend to be made up from Grain whisky as this is what pulls all of the character of the malts together. Matthew put it brilliantly when he said that it’s like building a wall. The malts play the role of the bricks, while the grain whisky acts as the mortar; it’s what holds it all together.

I was feeling in a smoky mood on the night that we were doing this blending session and so I decided that I wanted to create something with a smoky edge to it. As I found out very quickly, a little smoke, goes a long way, it doesn’t take much to have a big effect on the blends character. Similar can be said for sherried whiskies, it doesn’t require much to add a big fruity and spicy suggestion. After a bit of playing around – and plenty more sampling – I came up with the following recipe.

Grain Strathclyde 12yo 50%
Lowland Auchentoshan Three Wood 7.5%
Speyside Strathisla 12yo 12.5%
Highland Dalwhinnie 15yo 17.5%
Islay Laphroaig 10yo 12.5%

After having came up with what will surely be the next world-beating blend, we then had to come up with a name for it. I decided to call my blend ‘Who the f*ck is peat’ on account of the high phenolic character and in homage to the genius that is Ken Loach and his film, the Angels Share. Keeps your eyes peeled as I’m sure you will see some Who the f*ck is peat in a shop near you soon!

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I would like to thank Usquabae for holding the event and Matthew from Chivas for hosting. It was a great night and a very fun experience.

Sláinte

Gary

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