Talking Blended Excellence with… Colin Scott

Talking Blended Excellence with… Colin Scott

We sat down with Colin Scott, master blender at The Last Drop Distillers, to talk about the increasingly popular category of premium blends

News | 02 Nov 2021 | By Christopher Coates

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Colin Scott grew up around a distillery on Orkney, his family having been in the whisky industry for over a hundred years. He started out at The Glenlivet and became Chivas Regal’s fifth master blender as part of his 50-year-plus career in whisky. After retiring from Chivas a few years ago, he joined independent bottler The Last Drop.

Although single malts and even ‘single estate’ spirits are currently in the limelight, The Last Drop has now released a number of venerably aged blends. How would you characterise the response from distributors, retailers and customers?
Due to the dissipation of the ‘Angel’s share’ during maturation, only very small volumes of intensely flavoured spirit are available after extreme ageing to create remarkable Scotch whiskies. Therefore, it is not surprising that distributors, retailers and customers show a keen interest to secure a supply when new releases are introduced to the market. I think that small, limited-edition releases of extremely aged spirits, whether blended whiskies, single malts, single grains or single estate, will always, in their own way, steal the limelight.

How do you approach the creation of an ultra-premium blend such as the 50 Years Old? For example, do you start with a particular flavour profile in mind and seek out appropriate stock, or allow the available liquids to set the tone first?
When creating a 50-year-old blend, there will be a limited number of casks available in the inventory that are aged more than 50 years. We will draw samples from each of the available casks in order to understand the flavours and characters of the spirit. … From these assessments, we will select the appropriate casks and prepare a small ‘pilot blend’ for assessment. Depending on the results of this assessment, further pilot blends may be required to rebalance the flavours, to achieve the final blend that is considered to be truly remarkable, and suitable for a TLD release.

Who is the target customer for these blends?
These extremely aged whiskies are created for the luxury market and customers who seek and desire the finest things in life. The Last Drop describe themselves as curators of the world’s most remarkable spirits, and the word ‘curator’ is all-important here: we like to see ourselves as helping our friends and customers by selecting only the most remarkable spirits to put in The Last Drop bottle. However, it’s also important to emphasise that we are passionate believers in the opening and sharing of these lovely old spirits: spirits are made to be shared and enjoyed with loved ones and friends old and new.

What do you feel makes for a great aged blend?
The small volumes of spirit in casks that have been matured to extreme ages have superlatively intense characters and flavours that are unique to each cask. The different spirits are then selected and blended in perfect harmony so that no individual flavour is predominant through the nose, taste and finish … creating a taste experience that is easy to enjoy but full of complexity and delightful discovery, and which lasts a lifetime in the memory.

During this ‘age of single malt’, do you think die-hard whisky fans are coming back round to the idea of blends as premium and desirable products worthy of the same pedestal as aged malts?
There is a growing understanding that aged blends will contain many of the single malts that whisky fans have put onto pedestals, and that perhaps an aged blend is greater than the sum of its parts and therefore worthy of the ‘aged malt’ pedestal. My view is that aged malts, aged grains and aged blends are all great … However, they are all different, and it is only one’s own personal preferences that creates the different pedestals.

What makes TLD’s blends special or unique?
TLD has always, and will always, seek out, create and present unique and remarkable spirits from across the aged spirits categories … Each of our aged blends is a treasure from a time gone by; an irreplaceable glimpse into the past. All our bottlings are limited and, once gone, they are no more.

As we are not bound by a house style, we celebrate the differences and qualities of each of our blends. The whiskies in the blend, the finishes in different oaks, the time spent in a long and happy ‘marriage’: all these elements go into the final bottling, and we particularly enjoy sharing them with customers all around the world.

What do you think a premium blend can bring to the table that a single malt can’t?
As a premium blend contains different single malts and grain whiskies, it has a great complexity of characters and flavours that are different to those in a single malt. Consider the difference between going to a party with lots of people, many of which you may not know, and meeting one friend for a drink. Each of them is a wonderful experience, but creates different stimulations and memories. Think of the premium blend as a party full of friends old and new, and the single malt as an individual person – these are different dynamics!

Tom Jago, co-founder of The Last Drop, always said “a single malt is like a virtuoso solo instrument, but a superb old blend is like the whole orchestra playing under the command of a great conductor.” We still love this analogy.

What proportion of grain to malt do you usually work to when blending?
Grain whisky’s character and flavour influences a blend by promoting and harmonising the more flavourful malts. Therefore, the percentage of grain depends on the final taste experience required from the blend. It will also depend on the age profile of the final blend. For example, The Last Drop’s 56 Years Old blend, released in 2019, comprised over 60% single malts, which means that, back in the 1960s and 1970s, it would have been described as a ‘deluxe blend’.

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.
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