I've just got back from a little trip to the Scottish Highlands and it must be said - they take whisky proper seriously up there.
Coming in alongside Irn Bru as the nation’s favourite tipple, it’s pretty obvious that the Scottish people are going to be passionate about whisky, with most actively inspecting every label to see whether it’s blended, single malt, double malt, super-double single grain malt or whatever complex term is being used at the moment.
This can all be very confusing for the non-whisky connoisseur and trying to find the best whisky for your tastes can be a very difficult and daunting prospect. Therefore, we decided to head on down to The Blend by Chivas Regal, and their ‘Art of Blending’ session. Its aim: to allow guests to learn about the heritage and history of premium whisky, including the origins of single malt and grain whiskies, sampling different malt and grain whiskies and blending them together to create a unique blended whisky.
The event is located in The Loft, a brand-new space that has opened up on Quay Street above where the old Walkabout pub used to be. As you enter the little side door and head up the lift, you’ll be surprised by just how large and well decked out the space is. There’s a massive bar and a nice seating area all around. Towards the back you’ll probably gleam tables adorned with a range of scientific equipment that would make Professor Wheetos nervous.
The Art of Blending is £15, takes an hour and includes a complimentary Chivas cocktail (it’s all about The Colony). Not only this but you also get to take home the very blended whisky that you create with your own hands – perhaps to show off to your mates or just to drink on a Sunday afternoon while watching the footy.
What should you expect then? Well, as someone who has never really had much of an interest in whisky or the whisky world – I must say that I was very surprised, informed and also rather entertained.
It starts off with a talk by an expert from Chivas, who will happily explain the history, process and loads of little tid-bits that go into making whisky in Scotland and around the world. They’ve been making the stuff in Scotland for more than 500 years now so there’s plenty of ground to cover but it’s always informative and actually pretty interesting.
I learnt that Chivas Regal is a premium ‘blended’ whisky which is different to a single malt whisky insofar that it’s a mixture of different whiskies with different flavours – all coming together to create a unique taste, smell and flavour. In this respect Chivas have been going for absolutely ages and still operate out of the oldest operating Highland distillery, Strathisla.
Getting down to the blending, you’re given 5 bottles of different whiskies, each with its own flavour, which you are then tasked with blending to your own personal tastes. There’s Floral, Fruity, Creamy, Citrus and Smoky, which can go into your blend in whatever proportions you like. As you’re playing around with the measures, you get the chance to try each one, talk to the experts and discuss exactly which you think would be the best.
The Floral one is typically used as the base of the blend, with around 50% of the final product being made up by it. It’s then a case of deciding what you want your main flavours to be – and to be fair I went a bit overboard with the Smoky and Creamy. Smoky can be overpowering, but I loved it and the final ‘Ben Brown Blend’ was a bit of an acquired taste. But it’s my whisky and I like it so I’m not bothered what anyone else thinks.
Regardless of your existing knowledge of whisky, you can definitely learn something at the Art of Blending, while having an enjoyable time and getting a tad tipsy. I feel like an expert now, and have become a bit of a whisky bore whenever I get myself down somewhere that has a range bigger than Mike Baldwin’s personal selection.
Book your tickets to The Blend before it ends in May.