A master blender since 1989, Colin Scott is Chivas Regal’s guardian of quality consistency. Armed with an outstanding sense of smell, Colin lays the groundwork for a range of whiskies, some of which won’t be drunk for another 40 years
Word has it your nose is insured for $100m…
That is an interesting figure. I wouldn’t write it. Things escape sometimes. Yes, it’s insured, but we don’t talk about numbers or anything. We’re all insured.
But a good sense of smell is key to becoming a master blender?
That is the basis of our job. To assess the quality and the flavour and the character of whisky, you have to sniff it. Your nose can pick up hundreds of aromas and characters; your tongue only distinguishes four elements: sweet, sour, salt and bitter. So whatever you taste, pineapples or peaches or plums, it is your nose telling you. So that’s the first thing that will happen: your nose will get tested. And in fact we get tested every year, just to make sure our noses are still functioning properly. That’s a scary day.
You were born and raised in Scotland. To what extent is whisky a Scottish matter?
I think it lends a sort of credibility. When you are from Scotland and you talk [about Scotch] it gives a sort of authenticity, it gives an extra dimension. But then again, any man can talk Scottish. You need to have passion and I think that comes with the nationality. There’s quite a range of great whiskies: Irish, Japanese, American and Indian. They’re all great products, but you just have to remember they are all great in their own right. They are all different, but you can only get Scotch from Scotland.
Chivas has a long association with old-fashioned luxury. It was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria…
It’s a great history, for over 200 years. It in fact traces back to a little grocery shop in Aberdeen. That grocery shop, in its early years, got a reputation for quality. So much so that by the 1840s, when Queen Victoria came to Scotland, she got Chivas brothers to provide goods and even butlers, maids and servants to Balmoral. The first year she was in Scotland, she actually stayed on the estate. Balmoral was built by her during that time and it is still the summer residence for the royal family.
Do you ever order a Scotch outside of working hours, or would that just feel like another day at the office to you?
We don’t swallow in the office, we only taste. We can’t drink; we still have to drive home. So it’s a new dimension at home. I think alcohol is really about your mood. When someone asks you, “What will you drink?” it is all about what you feel. And
I think drinking a glass of Scotch is all about comfort: it is very restful, very de-stressing and relaxing… very warming, very comforting.
Is older better?
Not necessarily, it is just different. It is like people: you can have someone who’s really nice at 25 and a complete ass by 35, or the other way around. But I think you have about a 30% loss over 20 years, so by the time you have 25-year-old whisky, you have precious liquid. To me, it is like a fruitcake and a Christmas pudding. You are going from a light fruitcake to a rich Christmas pudding. Some people don’t like Christmas pudding, but to me it’s fantastic. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.
Any whisky ‘must nots’?
As far as I’m concerned, we make the whisky. Our job is to get it in your glass, then it’s up to you. I always add water. I don’t enjoy whiskey neat, because when you are assessing, you take everything down to 20% volume, so that any difference is all about flavour.
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