I’ve always found the craft of blending fascinating. The way that Scotland’s master blenders are able to bring together a whole variety of whiskies and still achieve a consistency of flavour is nothing short of magical. So I jumped at the chance to head up to The Scotch Whisky Experience and try out one of its new Blend Your Own Sessions.
Our host for the evening was Susan Morrison, the attraction’s director and general manager. Throughout the night, Susan took all the budding blenders on a journey of discovery, which was educational, whilst also being friendly and laid-back.
On arrival, our tables looked like amateur chemistry kits, laden with pipettes, measuring tubes and an assortment of bottles which were filled with both single malt and grain whiskies. Before we went near the whisky though, Susan warmed up our senses with a flavour perception test. We nosed ten mystery bottles, passing them round the table, before identifying what each smelt of. Hopefully the fact I only got eleven out of twenty won’t put you off my other whisky reviews! Noses prepped, it was time to get stuck into the whisky.
In front of us were four whiskies from each of Scotland’s whisky producing regions: light Glenkinchie from the Lowlands; sweet Old Pulteney from the Highlands; rich Aberlour from Speyside; and smoky Bowmore from Islay. Susan explained that it was important for us to understand each whisky and how it would impact our blends when it came to creating them. And thankfully, this involved tasting each of them in turn, to learn about their body, nose and palate. Now, it was blending time.
Blends are made up of two things – single malt whisky and grain whisky. Grain whisky is produced using a variety of different grains and is typically produced in a continuous column still, which produces a higher percentage of alcohol but is less flavourful than a single malt. The light character and more-neutral flavour is used to smooth out the harsher characteristics that can be found in single malts, giving blended whiskies the desired consistency of flavour.
At least 50% of our blend had to be grain whisky, but the rest was up to us. I decided to play it safe and went with 70% grain, followed by equal parts of Glenkinchie, Old Pulteney and Aberlour. This produced a whisky which was sweet and fruity, but was slightly lighter than some of my favourite Speyside whiskies. Blends are designed to be more approachable than their single malt cousins, despite still possessing their own character, and I think my blend succeeded in doing this. Best of all, we were sent on our way with a 100ml sample bottles to share/force upon family and friends, along with a certificate of blending.
The whole experience was great fun and is pitched perfectly for a whole range of people, from whisky experts to complete novices. For a whisky bore like me, it provided a great glimpse into the mysterious world of blending, as well as showcasing the artistry of Scotland’s brilliant blenders.
The Blend Your Sessions started from £65 per person for groups of ten or more and includes a tour of the attraction, a glass and a sample bottle of your blend to take home, along with a certificate of blending. For more details or to book, log on to www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk or call 0131 220 0441.
[Disclaimer: As mentioned before, I work for The Scotch Whisky Experience in my day-to-day job, but I’d never write about anything I didn’t truly enjoy.]