The tradition of blending whisky is decades old, with one of the first blends being made by Andrew Usher and William Sanderson in a Coffey Still. That was in the 1860s and the craft still exists today, although Master Blenders are a rare breed, with only around a dozen being in the country at any one time.
But what does it take to become a Master Blender? Wouldn’t we all love to have the job of tasting whiskies and creating new undiscovered taste sensations of our favourite tipple?
Where to start?
Most Master blenders begin their careers as apprentices. This means learning from the current Blender and learning the subtleties of the trade first-hand. Eventually, if you make the grade as an apprentice, chances are you will take over from the Master Blender who taught you.
Seems easy enough. But in reality, how do you know if you’ve got the knack for creating great blends? Anyone can taste a whisky, but what gives a Master Blender the ability to make a great combination?
The real question to ask yourself should be, do I have the nose for the job? That’s where the secret to blending lies. In the nose. If you can nose a good whisky and decipher each specific and intricate flavours and smells, then chances are you would make a good whisky blender.
But don’t quit your day job in the meantime. This is a craft that has taken Grant’s Whisky’s previous Master Blender David Stewart 12 years to perfect. That’s 12 long years of holding tulip glasses to your nostrils.
Being able to sniff out each individual flavour is important. Blending is a delicate art and having a good palate means that you will be able to match flavours, as well as keep up the consistency and quality of your product.
The nose of a Master Blender holds the key to creating some fantastic flavour combinations. Being able to taste through smell is essential. It may be easy to taste through the tongue, but if you can smell each gentle and elusive element of the whisky, then you have abetter chance of succeeding at blending.
I’ve got a nose, now what?
Time and creativity are key. Time is needed to make sure each individual malt is up to standard, so Master Blenders need to be patient. Add this onto the time it takes to train and we’re racking up a serious amount of yeas for a highly coveted position.
Alongside time and dedication, they need to be inventive. Blending may be about getting the right flavour combination but also creating new ones. As previously mentioned, blending has been around since the 1800s, so something must be keeping it alive.
That something is the ability of Master Blenders to create new flavours and discover new ways malts can interact with each other. Having a good nose is all well, but knowing how to use that nose is something else.
What it boils down to is time, patience, dedication and most importantly, a good nose. So do you think you have what it takes? If so, then you should head down to your nearest distillery.
Not all, but some distilleries offer tours and classes that involve learning how to blend. If you really think you’ve got the knack, then get out there and try it! You never know, you could be the next greatest Master Blender, only time will tell!