Event

An Evening With The Blenders 2017 at The Scotch Whisky Experience

Last night I attended the 20th annual #MeetThe Blenders or ‘An Evening With The Blenders’ as it is more formally known, hosted at The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.

Every year some of the top and longest serving Blenders in the whisky industry gather for a week or so to sample their way through the entrants of the International Spirits Challenge Whisky Categories. As a part of this gathering of the great minds, a public event is held on one of the evenings allowing regular whisky drinkers a chance to meet the blenders up close and personal – something nigh on impossible in your average whisky festival these days. As a bonus the blenders are also encouraged to bring along something a little special to pour for visitors, often something not normally available.

Hosted by The Scotch Whisky Experience venue and team, the open tasting and meet & great session was also catered again this year with canapés provided that complimented many of the whiskies on offer. Compered by the indomitable ‘The Nose’ Richard Paterson, we were introduced to the judging panel with well over 300 years of experience between them! Including:

#MeetTheBlenders panel

Richard Paterson (Whyte & Mackay, Dalmore)

Mackinley’s Shackleton Blend Batch 2

Shinji Fukuyo (Suntory)

Hakushu 18, Chita

Billy Leighton (Irish Distillers, Jamesons)

Midleton Pot Still, 27 year old 1995 Port Finish CS *

David Stewart (William Grant & Sons, The Balvenie)

The Balvenie 21 Portwood & Triple Cask 16

Tadashi Sakuma (Nikka)

Nikka Coffey Grain

Gordon Motion (Edrington, Highland Park)

Highland Park Fire

Caroline Martin (Diageo)

Roe & Co Irish Whiskey

Angela d’Orazio (Mackmyra)

Mackmyra 10 Year Old* & Expedition

Randy Hudson (Triple Eight Distillery)

Notch 12*, Triple 8 Bourbon & Nor’Easter

Bill Lumsden (LVMH, Glenmorangie/Ardbeg)

Ardbeg Dark Cove, Glenmorangie Bacalta & Signet

*my favourite drams of the evening 😉

Following the open taster session we were split into 2 groups and took part in either the question & answer session with the Blenders or taken round some of the new additions to The Scotch Whisky Experience tour.

We started with the blenders and took part in a lively session whose jovial tone was set by Bill Lumsden’s ablutions about any love held for marketing departments and their constant demand for innovative new products in an industry that generally requires 10 years advance notice of matured whisky requirements. This was echoed across the board  – even from Caroline, explaining that despite having the biggest stock to draw from, searching for new flavours legally in whisky for consumers is still a challenge. The Q&A session continued to discuss the challenges of obtaining quality casks (see video below), expansion plans in the face of current and projected demand including the huge investment in upgrades of Midleton distillery (Billy) and Macallan (Gordon) and also the challenges whisky faced from other spirits such as Gin, currently experiencing a huge rise in popularity at the moment.

Triple Eight Distillery’s Randy Hudson

Explaining how as a small craft distillery producing numerous products, they can provide their own variety of cask requirements.

The new additions to The Scotch Whisky Experience tour started with a panoramic film presentation of the Scotch whisky regions, accompanied by a Scotch & Sniff (TM – you heard it hear first!) – actually scratch and sniff card conveying an aroma reminiscent of each of the regions whisky in a multi-sensory feature.

The origin and production of Blended Scotch Whisky

Then we moved into the 1870’s blending room where we were greeted to an audio-visual display portrayed across the walls and bottles around the room of how blended whisky arose and how blends are constructed – culminating in a special tasting of The Scotch Whisky Experience’s very own 25 year old blend – produced for their 25th anniversary in 2013, containing 25 malt whiskies and limited to 252 bottles retailing at £100 – this was some of the last stock available! Finally the animated vault doors were unlocked and we exited into the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection of 3,384 bottles of Scotch Whisky!

Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection - The Scotch Whisky Experience

Like what you read? why not book a tour and experience it for yourself 

2 replies »

  1. It was a good evening, Barry. The SWE have played about with the format over the last few years. This year they wanted to showcase the new elements of the tour but, as clever as they are, I felt it detracted from the serious business of drinking whisky and talking to their heroes, which is what the attendees are there for, especially after shelling out £30 to attend (£5 increase on last year).

    Some great and exclusive whiskies were available to sample – Hakushu 18, Highland Park Fire, Balvenie 21 Portwood for example. So why, given the resources at her disposal, does Caroline Martin insist on consistently bringing the low end of Diageo’s range? Two years ago she brought Haig Club, last year it was Smoky Goat and this year Roe & Co, which is actually a decent blend. But, as mentioned, the attendees are connoisseurs, why couldn’t she have brought one of the new Special Releases as an exclusive or even something from the cask as Billy Leighton has done consistently. He gets it! His 23 year old portwood Middleton was the star of the evening, thank you Billy! It’s this kind of thing that makes the event and brings me back.

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    • Thanks Oliver,

      It was a great event as usual, I agree some elements of the format are maybe still not quite right. The questions to the panel were mostly pre-set – I guess to ensure a modicum of continuity between the two groups/sittings. I guess the Scotch Whisky Experience were very proud of the new additions to their tour and I did appreciate them and can’t really fault them for showing off a little as our host – however combined with the ticket price increase I can see the validity of your complaint if you are familiar with TSWE or are more focussed on spending quality time with the Blenders (after all it is what the event was intended for).

      As for Caroline’s selection from Diageo – I received the impression from Caroline that she was very passionate and proud of the creations she has presented and maybe as a blender she is selecting something she has personally worked on? However, over the last few years they appear to be using it as a marketing/PR exercise to see how their novel blends are being received by the general public, albeit a select group – many of whom may have already tried these – I think only Smoky Goat was pre-release? Leaving me a little bewildered by their selections, especially when compared to other selections such as Billy’s wonderful single casks. I thought Richard’s delivery of the Shackleton blend was also a shrewd marketing ploy too.

      Please feedback to the organisers as every year they seek to improve this event and I’m sure will take note of your concerns!

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