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Issue 17 - The unsung heroes of whisky

Whisky Magazine Issue 17
July 2001

 

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The unsung heroes of whisky

Dave Broom talks to the people behind some of the world's most famous brands, the blenders, and attempts to piece together the complex jigsaw of tasks their job entails

Blenders are the unsung heroes (and heroines) of the whisky trade. Little time has been spent asking them quite what they get up to in their sample rooms. No great surprise then that most of us have no idea about the complex work that goes on to ensure a blend ends up on the shelf. During this short investigation what became clear is that the blender's job doesn't start when the whiskies are ready to be pulled together and bottled but they are intimately involved with every aspect of production, from distillation to marketing. All had their own spin, but one word kept re-appearing: consistency.

You'd expect a giant firm like UDV to have one Master Blender overseeing its huge range, the Grand Poo-Bah of blended Scotch, but UDV doesn't work like other firms, as Jim Beveridge explains. “It's a team effort,” he says.
A blender is: “a strategist, inventory manager, flavour specialist and innovator.” That means controlling distillation and maturation programmes; cask management (vital when you have up to 7 million casks maturing at any one time) and then bringing it all together through a person “who creates the blends and ensures consistency by understanding their flavour make-up and has the knowledge of how to manage the influences of distillery character, wood and maturation.” Complex stuff therefore and not, as many people think, just a matter of following a recipe handed down through the generations. In reality, there is no recipe: the blend remains the same desp...

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