Talking Blended Excellence with… Billy Walker

Talking Blended Excellence with… Billy Walker

As part of a new series of blender Q&As, we sat down with Billy Walker, master blender at The GlenAllachie and Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame inductee, to talk about the increasingly popular category of premium blends

News | 26 Oct 2021 | By Christopher Coates

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Having enjoyed a career of almost 50 years to date, Billy Walker is one of the whisky industry’s most respected master blenders. After selling The BenRiach Distillery Company in 2016, he put together a team to revive The GlenAllachie distillery and its adjacent brands. Walker’s GlenAllachie has quickly acquired a reputation for excellent cask selection and management.

Why did you decide to launch a premium blended Scotch whisky brand?
Right at the beginning of the negotiations to acquire The GlenAllachie Distillery, we were very enthusiastic to get ownership of both the White Heather and MacNair’s [blended] brands. We recognised that there was an opportunity to rehabilitate White Heather, given the history of its previous reputation and strength of market penetration. However, we also recognised that we had to propel the new creation under the ultra-premium blend sector, which is attracting an increasing amount of attention.

How do you approach the creation of a premium blend? Does this differ from your approach to creating a blended malt or single malt?
The development and creation of a premium blend starts as an embryonic concept. As part of the equation, we are incredibly lucky to have access to some stellar grains and malts. We clearly want to get the individual component whiskies right, as well as the grain to malt ratio. A lot of time is spent teasing out the correct components and formula.

Once these are found, we fill to casks for a significant secondary maturation programme in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso puncheons, as well as Appalachian virgin oak casks, to enrich the flavour profile.

This process is religiously followed until we reach the ‘sweet spot’. We then bottle at natural colour, with no chill filtration and at a high strength of 48% ABV, for maximum flavour experience.

What is the target demographic for White Heather?
Our target audience is the curious, inquisitive consumer, or indeed anyone who will appreciate the complexities of a premium blend.

In your opinion, is White Heather for sipping neat, mixing, or both?
As a master blender, I would encourage people to enjoy White Heather neat, as a premium sipping experience.

During this ‘age of single malt’, do you think die-hard whisky fans are coming back around to the idea of blends as premium and desirable products?
Unquestionably, the growth of and increasing interest in the single malt category may have distracted somewhat from luxury blends; however, the ultra-premium blend category is definitely back on the radar.

What do you feel makes White Heather special or unique?
White Heather 21 Years Old enjoys the luxury of being a newcomer, benefitting from the creative freedom of building its own personality, unlike established legacy brands. This has allowed the team to include all their key building blocks in the brand make-up.

What do you think a premium blended Scotch can bring to the table that a single malt can’t?
This is a difficult question to answer, but if chosen well, the grain part of the formula can contribute some really unique and interesting flavour characteristics to the totality of the blend experience.

What proportion of grain to malt do you usually work to when blending and why?
At the top end of aged blends, I would be looking in the territory of 40 to 50 per cent malt content.

Are there specific makes you particularly like to use in your blends? What do you think these spirits bring to the table that makes them so suited to being blended?
Of course, all blenders have their favourite distillery makes, but that information will remain in my black book!

Read Christopher's article on six of the best blended whiskies of 2021 here. We're talking to each of the palates behind these whiskies — read more 'Talking Blended Excellence with...' features as they come out here.

White Heather21 Years Old
Glenallachie Distillery
ABV: 48%
STYLE: Blended

Nose: Peaches in syrup and clementine segments. Leather, dried black limes and manuka honey, with some delicate florals. Perhaps a hint of violet. Some cereal-driven notes of All-Bran (wheat) and barley bread. A touch of leaf mulch, then vanilla.

Palate: Medium bodied. The peaches are back, joined by stewed fruits (apples, pears, brambles), orange boiled sweets and shortcrust pastry sprinkled with brown sugar. Chewy toffee, too.

Finish: Medium-long, with a delicately nutty (cashew) finale.

Comments: A delightfully complex and malt-forward blend, with an aged grain element that brings plenty to the table too.

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