Whisky Magazine Issue 9
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Charles Maclean talks to Robert Hicks, the master blender at Allied Distillers.
CM Are whisky blenders born or trained?
RH A bit of both. You have to have the right temperament to be a blender. You have to be a perfectionist, passionate about fine detail – like a watchmaker, say, or one of those guys who makes model ships to put into bottles. You have to have a well-trained nose, of course, but also you have to have a prodigious memory of the characteristics of malt and grain whiskies. Experience is key here, and obsessive interest. You have to be single-mindedly dedicated to the whiskies in your charge. The blender's fundamental responsibility is to the consistency of his blends. They must be the same from batch to batch, year in year out, from generation to generation.
CM How did you learn the trade?
RH I joined the whisky trade in November 1964, aged 19. It was a temporary measure, until I decided what I wanted to do. You might say that I still haven't decided. I was raised in Dumbarton, and joined Barton Distilling at Alexandria. My first mentor was Noel Malloch, who had been trained at Dewar's in Perth before the war. He believed, as I do, that to be a good blender you have to have an understanding of every stage of the production process, right through to packing and shipping. I worked under him for the last three years of his life, then got the job of assistant blender at Hiram Walker in 1970. I've been here ever since. Here I worked under the great Jack Goudy, a legend in the trade and custodian of the Ballantine's blends for 50 years. For the...