“A Master Blender is someone that has a fantastic sense of smell. Your nose is by far the most important tool as a professional blender. To put it in context, I probably nose 1,500-2,000 samples a week yet taste around five. There are far more flavour receptors on the nose – almost 5,000 of them in fact!
As well as having a good sense of smell, being able to describe and identify those smells is incredibly important. Everyone’s life experiences are different, and everybody describes smells slightly differently. For example, if I asked you to think about what grass smells like, you’ll have an image in your head of a certain time, whether that’s when you’re young in the garden or on holiday. That picture will match up to a specific smell in your head, and everyone’s is different. That means it’s very important to be able to articulate that smell. Rather than saying you can smell apple, you need to distinguish the type – say, soft red apples rather than crisp granny smith apples, or sweet toffee rather than creamy toffee. You need to paint a picture using your own words and use those descriptive words consistently across whiskies.
Being a Master Blender is a huge team effort – it’s not just down to one person in the role. When I first became a Master Blender I was blending the stock that the previous Master Blender had laid down for me. Patience is important here, as it took time to be able to blend whiskies with the stock that was put down under my tenure. You also have to make sure to leave the house in good order; that is, to leave the right stock for the next Master Blender. I’ll get to see some whisky blends through from start to finish, but the older whiskies that I’ve just tasted to lay down for a long time will be for the next Master Blender.
Being able to experiment is incredibly important, as is being prepared to fail in some of those experiments. I’m lucky that I can experiment to my heart’s content! With whisky, there’s no instant outcome – you have to try something with a small amount of stock, then wait years to see the result. If you like that result, you then have to do the process again on a grander scale.
While people think I’m hidden in the blending room like a magician, the biggest part of being a Master Blender is making sure that a brand with incredible lineage like Chivas remains the same consistent blend that people love, year after year.”