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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Lucy Britner

Five minutes with… Colin Scott, former master blender at Chivas Brothers

Chivas Regal is one of the biggest and most recognisable blended Scotch whiskies in the world. We talk to custodian master blender Colin Scott as he turns in his tasting…

Chivas Regal is one of the biggest and most recognisable blended Scotch whiskies in the world. We talk to custodian master blender Colin Scott as he turns in his tasting glass after an incredible 47 years in the whisky industry. 

Colin Scott has something pretty special in common with both Roger Federer and Tiger Woods… but that’s a tale for later on in his career. Now, we start at the beginning when Scott joined Chivas Brothers in 1973 and in 1989 became Chivas’ fifth Master Blender. As well as being the custodian of Chivas 12, he has seen the brand through an era of innovation – including Chivas Mizunara, Chivas Extra and Chivas 18Both Scott’s father and grandfather worked in the Scotch whisky industry and aside from a brief flirtation with accountancy, Scott has spent his working life in whisky.

Colin Scott

Say hello to the legendary Colin Scott!

Master of Malt: How has the world of the master blender changed since the late 80s?

Colin Scott: When I started blending, it was very secretive. There was no marketing support to be done. From the 90s onwards, that part of the business took off – it was a requirement for us to go into the market to launch products. It has grown and grown. I basically started when there was only The Glenlivet 12, Royal Salute 21 and Chivas Regal 12 – that is what our business was. In the 90s, when Johnnie Walker was adding all the different colours we had to react and that’s when Chivas 18 came along and then others followed that. Today, with social media, the media and communications… the excitement, everybody wants more.

MoM: Do you have to have a natural talent for tasting or can you train your palate?

CS: You have to have a level of nosing ability and sensory acumen. At Chivas, we have an annual test that people go through. For blenders, it’s a different level. The company has a couple of hundred nosers around the country to check products every time a vat is moved or emptied. Some are working on barrels, they have a different test, some are working on vats and they have a different test. But at the end of the day, all of the people in quality have to take that test and pass it. When they empty the casks for a blend, for example, you might have 500–800 casks to check for off notes. This would take a couple of hours.

MoM: How do you go about putting blends together?

CS: When we sit down as blenders and talk about it – that’s when you start to learn about all of the different characters and flavours, the interactions. The whole thing is all about flavours. Blending is like having a football team – you’ve got your star but then you’ve got the workhorses behind them. You’ve got whiskies that keep everything right and then ones that you then have to control. It’s about managing flavours. Every single new spirit from a distillery has its own unique character and flavour that is unique to that distillery. If The Glenlivet blew up tomorrow, we couldn’t go to another distillery and make The Glenlivet. Blenders have to safeguard the integrity of the brand. We have to ensure that Chivas Regal today is what it was 10–20 years ago. We maintain that consistency and that status – that’s very important. Scotch has amazing respect around the world and it’s important to uphold that.

Colin Scott

Scott has spent an incredible 47 years in the whisky industry.

MoM: Could technology ever replace the human nose?

CS: A computer is only as good as the information you put in. You’ve got to train it. There are already sensors on a bottling line that will identify which whisky is being filled. It’ll say ‘Chivas 12’, for example, and if something comes along that’s not, it’ll say ‘no’. It doesn’t know what it is or why it is saying no, but it can recognise that it’s something different. There’s a lot that can be done from a quality control point of view but at the end of the day, the human nose is a phenomenal piece of kit.

MoM: How have drinkers changed over the years and what exciting serves have you tried on your travels?

CS: A lot of people still think you have to drink whisky neat, which is quite strange. We’ve been trying to educate and get people to drink whisky however they like it. A lot of people don’t like the heat of the alcohol, whereas others do. I went to Brazil and had a serve with coconut milk – it was actually delicious. It’s all about balancing flavours – Chivas 12 and ginger ale is a great drink but ginger ale and some other whiskies don’t work because the balance goes haywire. Bartenders are making some incredible cocktails. I got involved when we started the cocktail competition [Chivas Masters] around the world. Some of the innovation was fantastic – cocktails are not reducing the status of the whisky, they are taking it to a different level and giving the consumer a different taste experience. There are no rules.

MoM: How do you drink yours?

CS: Personally, I would recommend you add a little water – 50/50 – that brings out another raft of flavours you don’t get when it’s neat. If you want it cool, add a couple of cubes of ice to cool but not chill. Chilling flattens the flavour. But at the end of the day it’s all personal stuff.

Colin Scott

Scott is particularly proud of the delightful Chivas Regal 18 Year Old

MoM: 47 years is a long time. Can you share a few career highlights?

CS: Chivas 18 has been a phenomenal experience. The expression launched in 1997 and was repackaged in 2004 with my gold signature on the bottle. I’m very proud of it, it’s fantastic to have that on the packaging. One of the best things was watching drinkers taste the whisky and then smile before taking another sip. And the comments; people said it was amazing. The Chivas style is rich and about a balance of flavours and you have this smoothness. But I think Chivas 18 has a real velvety smoothness. And then, of course, it has got rich fruit flavours, toffee, dark chocolate and then a little hint of smoke coming in at the end. It’s basically taking a line up from Chivas 12 to 18 and then selecting the whiskies to keep it in that style and tradition but selecting the whiskies to give it a completely different taste experience to Chivas 12. A new blend will take six months to a year, but generally speaking, the packaging takes longer.

MoM: How many bottles of Chivas 18 have you got at home?

CS: Enough for a wee while. I’m not going to run out, don’t you worry.

MoM: What about Royal Salute 50-year-old in 2003, was that a highlight?

CS: That was amazing – there were only 255 bottles and it was very unusual to have a 50-year-old blend. I launched that in Japan (they had 7 bottles) and meanwhile it was launched in Kathmandu: the first bottle was given to Sir Edmund Hillary because the news of his ascent of Everest came on the same day as the Queen’s Coronation, in 1953. So it was an anniversary for both. The Duke of Argyll [who has a long-standing relationship with the brand] went out to Kathmandu to give Hillary bottle number one. Hillary’s bottle is now back in the archives in Strathisla. We gave a big cheque to his charity just before we gave him the bottle and then just before he sadly passed away, he offered it back. So the Duke went back out and gave him another cheque for the charity – for the Sherpas.

Colin Scott

Cheers to you, Colin Scott!

MoM: You have travelled a lot over the years, any memorable stories?

CS: In the early 90s, we went to China with Chivas 12. We took pipers and we went in kilts and we did a daily programme of education, supermarket visits, KTV visits, meeting people, giving gifts. We played the pipes in the supermarkets, in the KTVs – people loved it. We made a big, big noise. This we did for a number of years and I think it really sowed the seeds, although we probably didn’t realise it at the time, because then China became our biggest market in the early 2000s. I met the most amazing people – that’s the greatest thing I’m going to miss. Not only the people in Pernod Ricard.

Another one – having launched Chivas 25 in New York, we then flew to Dubai and there we actually flew across Dubai in a helicopter and around the Burj Al Arab twice and we landed on the helipad where there were all these people waiting for the launch party. Not many people have been on the helipad at the Burj Al Arab. At that time, it had only been Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, of any importance. In Dubai every year after that we arranged a Legends dinner and we had a celebrity as a guest of honour. That included people like Sir Colin Firth, Sir David Frost, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ben Kingsley. It was just a wonderful experience. During the day, we would have lunch and chat with them. David Frost was a wonderful, amazing person. They are all incredible in their own different ways and I’ll never forget that.

MoM: Master blender aside, what did you want to do for a job?

CS: I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. But I think it would’ve scared the living daylights out of me!

MoM: What will you do now you’re retired?

CS: I’m going to enjoy myself, spending time with friends, family, fishing and golf. I will travel, not at the moment of course, but I’ve got some air miles to use up. Maybe a wee trip. The thing is that when you travel for business, you’re in a hotel, you’re in a restaurant, then you do tastings and things, back to the hotel ad then you come home. I’d like to explore Japan more, it’s a beautiful country, as is Taiwan.

 

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The joy of distillery pets

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and…

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and botanical snacks with the proud owners of several distillery pets

Once upon a time, distilleries would employ mousers fearless, often semi-feral cats with the job of keeping the mice out of the barley. These days, all kinds of creatures can be found sleeping by warm stills, entertaining visitors or patrolling the grounds. Some even have their own Instagram accounts. MoM found five distillers willing to share the stories of their four-legged or feathered friends.

Darcy from the Cambridge Distillery, England

You could say that Darcy is the brains behind the entire operation: it was walks with her owners, (Cambridge Distillery founders) William and Lucy Lowe, through Grantchester Meadows that sparked the idea for the business. “There wouldn’t be a Cambridge Distillery without Darcy,” explains Will. “We made the decision to start making gin whilst out on a walk with her and it was out on a walk that we discovered the amazing array of botanicals that surround us, which inspired us to create the world’s first truly seasonal gin. Everything went from there.”

Darcy the black lab even has her favourite botanicals, including nettles, apple and pear blossom, blackberries and blackcurrants. She can usually be found overseeing operations by following the sunny spots around the distillery and then cooling off with a swim in the river Cam, which flows behind the site. It really is a dog’s life. 

Chicken from FEW Spirits, Chicago, Illinois

Don’t be fooled by the name, chicken is a dog. Though he is also a bit of a chicken: “He is a very good boy but he hates the noise and smells at the distillery,” says FEW founder and Chicken’s human, Paul Hletko. “It’s a very scary place for him and he just wants to sit in my lap when he’s there.” Chicken enjoys hanging out with his brother, Elvis, and naturally the pair have their own Insta – @chicken_and_elvis (chicken is the foreground above, Elvis behind).

The big question is how did the family end up with a dog called Chicken? “I have three kids, two wanted a dog. One wanted a chicken. She’s still mad and thinks she got ripped off,” explains Hletko. Elvis’s name choice was a bit more conventional – he came home when Hlekto’s oldest child was in a big Elvis Presley phase. “My wife and I wanted Egbert (or Egg, for short) to answer the ‘chicken/egg which came first’ question forever, but we lost to the kids.

“Elvis is also a very good boy.” MoM wonders how often he leaves the building…

Ginny from Manifest Distilling, Jacksonville, Florida 

Ginny the cat walked into the distillery right off the street. “She hid in our ‘high-proof room’ for the first couple days before she realised that we were her friends,” says general manager Jim Webb. 

It wasn’t a great start for Manifest’s new feline friend – she needed a trip to the vet to get her jabs as well as get rid of what Webb describes as “FLEAS FROM HELLFIRE”. They also discovered she had a broken leg, right at the knee, that couldn’t be fixed. Luckily, it healed on its own and restored Ginny with the majesty and mischief of a good distillery cat: “She can climb and jump and set off the motion detector alarm at all hours of the evening and early morning,” says Webb.

In less unusual times, Ginny’s favourite job was to go on tours and meow to get all sorts of attention from new people. Now, though, tours are on hold so Webb and the team have a new full-time job, paying Ginny attention. “She likes finding confined places to nap and currently is in our front-of-house stock closet snuggled up in a case of plastic shot glasses (safely wrapped for their future shooter’s protection),” says Webb. 

Ginny’s also on the ‘gram: @manifesting_ginny

Otis from Badachro Distillery, Scotland

Otis, the long-haired Weimaraner, joined the Badachro menagerie just before lockdown. “We already have two Labradors, Ellis, our old lady (13) and Timo (10) who were only mildly amused – to be honest, we think Ellis wanted to give him back straight away, but Timo quite enjoys having a little brother to go out for walks with,” says Badachro co-founder Vanessa Quinn.

Izzy the cat “tolerates” Otis, while the chickens are having to take a temporary break from being free range and the ponies believe him to be crazy. “One of the highlights of Otis’s life at the distillery are the delivery drivers and the posties, always prepared with a dog biscuit. They are more than welcome and he will let us know when they come up the drive,” says Quinn.

As lockdown life eases, visitors have started to return to the distillery and many are keen to meet Otis, who has become a hit on the Badachro Insta (@badachrodistillery).

Otis is nearly six months old now and Quinn says he might be trained as a gun dog, though he hasn’t yet decided what he wants to be when he grows up.

Rowan from Lux Row Distillers, Bardstown, Kentucky

Most distilleries have cats or dogs. Rowan, however, is a peacock. In fact, Lux Row inherited a handful of peacocks from the property’s former owners, the Ballard family. When the distillery opened in 2018, the folk at Lux Row say there were about half a dozen birds. “Now we’ve got at least 17 four new babies this year.”

While most are tricky to tell apart, Rowan boasts the longest tail feathers and so the ambassadors named him after a prominent historical Bardstown figure, who also gives his name to the road on which the distillery is located. Handy. Rowan enjoys strutting his stuff for the visitors and allows himself to be photographed after all, every side is his best side.

“No other distillery on the Bourbon Trail (that we know of) has such unique animals,” the team at Lux says. Mr Ballard still comes to feed the peacocks two or three times a week, but every now and then they may snack on some spilled leftover grain.

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Seven of the best pre-mixed cocktails

From seasoned spirits producers to bartender-created brands, the quality of pre-mixed cocktails has never been better. Today, our new contributor Lucy Britner catches up with a few of the people…

From seasoned spirits producers to bartender-created brands, the quality of pre-mixed cocktails has never been better. Today, our new contributor Lucy Britner catches up with a few of the people behind the products to see what makes them so tasty 

Once the preserve of the train journey, pre-mixed cocktails have come a long way. And with a summer of weird indoor, outdoor, don’t-get-too-close-to-me drinking on the cards, bottled and canned cocktails provide the ideal solution. While the canned G&T is a (pretty great) staple, the world of pre-mixes grows ever more sophisticated every day. So, to get an idea of what’s set to tickle the summer tastebuds, MoM caught up with seven producers to chat flavours, serves and the ideal snacks to go alongside. 

Mac & Wild Wild Fizz 

This pre-bottled cocktail from Scottish restaurant group Mac & Wild packs a summer punch with Blackwoods Vodka, lemon verbena, wild nettles, peach liqueur, celery and fino sherry. “Wild Fizz was conceived during a summer walk a few years back along Edinburgh canal,” says head of cocktails, Luke Leiper, who created the range at the company’s Edinburgh base. “There are lots of wild botanicals that grow there including verbena and nettles. Initially I picked them both for teas but started experimenting with vodka infusions. Peach worked really nicely… but I wanted it to be even fresher and settled on celery to achieve that.”

Leiper enjoys Wild Fizz topped with prosecco or tonic in a chilled flute glass with fresh lemon peel zested on top. Snack-wise, he plumps for a selection of charcuterie from Edinburgh company East Coast Cured. 

Sacred Negroni

Highgate’s very own micro distillery, Sacred, has taken each ingredient from the classic Negroni cocktail and developed all-natural English equivalents. Sacred co-founder Hilary Whitney says the mix sees equal parts of classic Sacred Gin, Rosehip Cup and English Spiced Vermouth “combined in the bottle to allow the ingredients to marry and mellow”. 

“We call the Rosehip Cup the English alternative to Campari the beautiful colour comes from grape skins and rhubarb juice,” Whitney says. English Spiced Vermouth, meanwhile, is made with English wine from The Choirs in Gloucestershire. Whitney suggests serving with olives, cheese or cured meats at picnics and parties “virtual or otherwise”. 

Handmade Cocktail Company Vesper 

Can’t decide between a gin Martini or a vodka Martini? Don’t bother making a choice; drink a Vesper instead. The drink du jour for Britain’s best-loved secret agent, the Handmade Cocktail Company’s Vesper is made with premium English gin, vodka, vermouth and bitter aromatic wines. It’s described as “dry, juniper-led nose with tangy light citrus and hints of geraniums, cream soda, cereal, sage and a little grating of nutmeg”. The palate meanwhile is tangy and tart, with zingy lemon top notes. 

To invoke your inner Bond, add a healthy measure to a large, ice-filled glass or shaker. Stir for a minute or so (or have it ‘shaken, not stirred’ if you’d prefer). Strain into a chilled Martini glass, garnish with a strip of lemon peel and serve with one raised eyebrow a la Roger Moore.

Cockspur Cockspur Rum Punch

“Our Cockspur Rum Punch very much replicates the crowd-pleasing rum punch that comes hand in hand with any social occasion in Barbados,” says Steve Wilson, CEO of Woodland Radicle Ventures, the company that owns Cockspur. The drink is a blend of tropical juices including pineapple, orange and coconut with a hint of Caribbean spice and a generous glug of Cockspur rum. 

Ideal for outdoor summer drinking, the Bajan characteristics lend themselves to spicy food pairings. “Hot and spicy chicken wings go very well with it, I also love rum drenched prawns with coconut, lime and chilli,” adds Wilson.

Black Lines Pear & White Tea Fizz 

“We wanted to design our own drink and after a summer’s afternoon eating pear ice lollies and drinking iced tea we thought the flavours complemented each other really well,” says Morgan Ward, head of sales and business development at Black Lines. “That set the wheels in motion and we started experimenting and testing the flavours with a variety of spirits.” Black Lines eventually settled on Chase Potato Vodka combined with Junmai Sake from Kanpai, the UK’s first sake brewery. Ward says the sake brings a dry finish to the drink. 

Good drinks deserve good snacks and when it comes to what to eat with Pear & White Tea Fizz, Ward’s suggestions are a far-cry from a bag of vending machine salt & vinegar on the platform at Clapham Junction. “We recently collaborated with Brindisa, the Spanish deli based in London, and we included a tin of their famous Perello Gordal pitted olives with every order,” he says. “I’d recommend snacking on these whilst you enjoy the Pear & White Tea Fizz the balance of saltiness from the olives and sweetness from the drink is a real winner.”

East London Liquor Company Vodka & Rhubarb 

ELLC Vodka & Rhubarb sees pressed rhubarb juice meet a little apple juice before being blended with East London Vodka and filtered water. The drink is then carbonated to the “perfect level” of fizziness. “Using British wheat for our vodka gives a creaminess that blends perfectly with our rhubarb soda,” says James Law, who developed the recipe and is a big fan of rhubarb’s famous tart tang. 

Law recommends enjoying the drink with roasted and salted almonds “straight from the bag”. Good man. 

Starward Nova

Starward (New) Old Fashioned

Australian whisky producer Starward describes the (New) Old Fashioned as “a BBQ-ready distillery batched cocktail”. The classic was created by the Starward team of bartenders and it strikes the balance between sweetness and aromatic spice. The cocktail also highlights the use of ex-red wine barrels, used to age the whisky, and adds an Australian twist with Starward’s own blend of wattle seed bitters (wattle seeds come from Acacia and they have a nutty, coffee, chocolate aroma.)

For a foodie fix, the gang suggests a barbie: “Try it with duck, steak, sardines or barbecue chicken.”

Lucy Britner has been a drinks journalist for 15 years. Her work has appeared across numerous publications and she was one of the founding editors of World’s 50 Best Bars. She holds a WSET diploma in Wine & Spirits and in 2019 she received the honour of becoming a Keeper of the Quaich.  

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