Once I went to the pop-up bar event in London that Chivas Regal hosted, where they gave attendees the chance to blend their own bottle of Whisky. Since going we’ve been doing a bit of testing ourselves and we can now offer you the ‘how to’ guide on blending.
It even includes some helpful words of wisdom from none other than Chivas Regal’s Global Brand Ambassador Max Warner.
Don’t say we don’t spoil you! It’s time to cement your Whisky connoisseur status even further by turning that average birthday gift hiding at the back of your drinks cabinet into the secret component of a premium homemade blend.
Step 1: Respect your elders
You may know your Whisky but let’s have some respect for who you are up against here when it comes to blending. The master blenders who do this for a living will be working with a wide range of Whiskies on a daily basis, the majority of which they can identify by smell alone.
Max told us that to work with a brand like Chivas Regal, “You will need to have a qualification from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling to be considered for a position within the Blending Team. There are tests carried out on blenders olfactory senses (the nose) as this is the most important ‘device’ for appraising and assessing Whisky”.
Unless you’ve been nipping out to the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in your spare time then make sure you start simple.
Step 2: Start Simple
Pour a measure of single malt into your glass then use a pipette to add a few drops of another Whisky you know has a different flavor profile.
Try creating a peated version of a well-known Speyside for example by adding a few drops of peaty Whisky to some Glenfiddich 15. Or take a lighter, lowlands Whisky exclusively from Bourbon Casks like Auchentoshan Springwood and see if you can create a slightly sweeter version with a few drops of a Sherry influenced Whisky like Aberlour 12.
Starting with this method will keep things simple and also help you improve your nosing and tasting skills as you attempt to pick up the subtle changes in character when a few drops of a malt is added to another.
Step 3: Put down the peat (but keep it close by!)
This might already be a no-brainer for those of you who don’t like the smoky stuff but adding peaty Whisky to a blend is a subtle art.
Most blends will tend to start their base flavor with a Grain Whisky. While you might all shudder and scream at Grain Whisky being the cheaper stuff, its lack of malting also ensures that it is generally a much lighter drink that can help more premium Whiskies blend together very well.
By no means, however, should peat be forgotten. The dominant flavors of peaty Whisky will certainly overpower if you use it as the main base of your blend but this does not mean it should not be used.
As Max told us, “Peated Whisky is used to bring the body to blends and some Chivas Regal Whiskies actually blend multiple peated varieties (ages and different casks) to create a specifically peatier style.
So remember, start with a light Whisky, and don’t forget about the potential of adding a touch of peat.
Step 4: Focus on regions
When it comes to adding more than one malt into the mix, focus on the regions of the Whisky.
When trying to blend at home Max was pretty clear with his advice: “If you have some (single malt) Whiskies already lying around already then identify which region they are from and try and make sure you have a Highland, Speyside and Lowland style as they all have different characters which can go into producing something interesting. At Chivas, we always say that blending Whisky together (in the right way) helps to create something that is ‘greater than the sum of its means.”
Simple right? All we’d say is that when it comes to mixing more Whiskies it’s worth giving your blend some time for the flavors to marry together. If your vision isn’t impaired too much after all this testing then jot down the amounts you are mixing and stick a little note on the bottle to remember.
These little things will make it easier to reproduce your blend when it inevitably requires global distribution!
Step 5: Have a goal
There are lots of great blending kits out there that offer you a great variety of flavors in one pack alongside all the equipment you’ll need to feel like a true Whisky scientist.
And you can even find websites online that let you play around with virtual blending and make your own personalized bottle. It’s always easy however to get lost in scientist mode and suddenly find yourself adding a few drops of anything until you fill a bottle.
A great piece of advice on this is to start your blending project by thinking of a Whisky you would like to emulate with your blend. Maybe you could follow in the footsteps of a Chivas Regal project that set their Custodian Master Blender Colin Scott the challenge of creating a Whisky Blend from Scotch Whisky with a flavor profile inspired by Mizunara Japanese Oak.
Whatever you go for having a clear goal in mind should stop the urge of just adding a few drops of anything you can get your hands on until the bottle is full.
Let the blending begin!