Heaven at the Scotch Whisky Experience

The Scotch Whisky Experience (1)

It’s very difficult for me to put into words how I felt at the Meet the Blenders event at the Scotch Whisky Experience (which is a bit of a pain, since I am a blogger!) but I will try to describe the event and how much I enjoyed being there. Just to catch you guys up, the meet the blenders event was organised as part of the International Spirits Challenge. The International Spirits Challenge is a competition to rate different spirits. The Whisky leg of the competition was held at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. The judges for this competition are many of the master blenders within the industry plus Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole and Louie Walsh (Ok, maybe I lied about the last 3)

The meet the blenders gave members of the public the chance to as it says, meet the blenders. They had been judging throughout the day, and at night we got to come in, have a few drams with them in the lovely setting that is the Scotch Whisky Experience, and pick their brains. And when you have nigh on 200 years worth of experience in the room (and that’s just Richard Paterson, ho ho ho) you have the opportunity to get any question you want answered. Well, questions about whisky. I don’t think questions about Richard’s moustache wax, or questions to Angela about Sweden’s chances in the Euro’s would be accepted.

We started off with some cocktails, and a bit of chat as all the guests assembled. I got chatting to Charlie Maclean, Raymond Davidson (Mr Glencairn) and Siobhan from the SWA. Charlie was telling me about his fantastic foray into the world of stardom with the movie Angel Share and other little anecdotes.

Then we got introduced to the stars of the show….

(John Ramsay, The Edrington Group, Chris Morris, Woodford Reserve, David Stewart, William Grants, Angela D’Orazio, Mackmyra Svensk Whisky, Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay, Caroline Martin, Diageo,  Tadashi Sakuma, Nikka, Billy Leighton, Irish Distillers– Jameson, Gordon Motion, The Edrington GroupSeiichi Koshimizu, Suntory )

The plan was to go to the Slainte Bar (the SWE’s flagship bar). Each blender had a table and a dram. We would wander, talk to them and enjoy the libation they had to offer. Here are the people I spoke to:

Billy Leighton (Irish Distillers)

It’s always a pleasure to talk to Billy. He is an absolute gentleman and a genuine chap to boot. Myself and Paula (Sherry Blogger) went to him to be enlightened on some of our favourite topics (Irish whiskey, fortified wine & casks). He spoke about the best sherry being Oloroso to season casks, what he used most of all in terms of casks from Spain (Quercus Robur at 500 litre size), Black barrel Jameson and the origin of the name (heavily charred) and about the fact they toast but do not char sherry casks.

Gordon Motion (Edrington Group)

I spoke to Gordon for a few minutes about Famous Grouse, the fact they have been the most popular blend in Scotland for such a long time and his own lengthy apprenticeship. We also spoke about some of the whiskies he had at his disposal, but he was quite busy, so I let him deal with customers and I moved to another table.

David Stewart (William Grant’s)

Spoke to David at length about how his responsibilities have changed since he was a young man. Many more editions, many more casks. I asked him if he felt his whisky had changed over the years and whether he felt peoples tastes had changed. He said that he really just concentrated on the whisky that was Balvenie’s style and the whisky that he wanted to make.

Caroline Martin

Really interesting chat with Caroline. It was interesting to hear about her responsibilities, from tasting new spirit, through to problems with blending samples created, through to the odd bottle being sent back to be analysed because of flaws in the flavour, to crafting new blends. Talked for quite a bit about crafting the new Platinum label and then I tried it. Wow, it is superb! I don’t know how much it is going to cost, but it is top notch!

Johnnie Walker Platinum

Nose: Fruity, zesty and aromatic. A classy, delicate nose that reminds me of a nice chilled sauvignon blanc or torrontes. Slightly oily too.

Palate: Juicy, a little waxy and a tiny bit of spice. This is a superb whisky. The sign of a great blend is that it is the sum of all its parts. You don’t taste any individual whisky, more like a fantastic recipe. This blend is seamless.

Dalmore Tasting, Q&A and Raffle

The next part of the event was a question and answer session in the Castle Hill Room, where we had the opportunity to do a tasting with Richard Paterson and ask questions to all the blenders. He took us through a very special Dalmore, matched with coffee, a bit of cake and some chocolate. If you want to read more about the Q & A, and the tasting, check out James’ Blog here (James & Tiger were my partners in crime for the night and what a night ensued!)

I’ll try and get a hold of the Q&A on video, but until then just to say it was a fantastic evening. I had a brilliant night talking to the blenders, having a few drams & I even won a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue on the raffle (bloody jammy whisky bloggers!). Many thanks to the folks at the Scotch Whisky Experience and many thanks to the blenders.

To all you whisky geeks: keep an eye on the events at the Scotch Whisky Experience. This was an awesome one and there will be more to come. Here’s a link to some of the events they are holding over the fringe.

Chris Hoban

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