26 February 2015

Whisky Insiders Interview - Sandy Hyslop

Chivas Brothers

Ballantine's Master Blender


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I’ve worked in the whisky industry since 1983 and during my first year I showed an aptitude for being able to identify different flavours on the nose. Very early in my career I started nosing samples regularly but I also spent time in all areas of the whisky making process to increase my knowledge across the business as much as possible. It’s been an incredible journey!

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
As part of my development, in 1992 while working as a Quality Controller in Dundee, I was invited to spend one day a week with Jack Goudy, the legendary former Master Blender of Ballantine's. I spent more and more time learning from Jack and, after this period of apprenticeship, I was appointed Blender at the Ballantine's Headquarters in Dumbarton. Ballantine’s has only ever had five Master Blenders in its 150 year history which has given all of the Ballantine’s whiskies the advantage of great expertise handed down through the generations of Master Blenders. It’s a very special legacy to be a part of and I’m humbled by that every day.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
My first dram was back in 1983 when I started work at Stewarts Cream of the Barley in Dundee. I was given a large dram of very old cask strength first fill sherry matured Glencadam from the manager whilst visiting Glencadam distillery. The taste was outstanding: sweet, smooth and fruity. The distillery manager insisted I add some water to open up the flavour and fully appreciate the flavour. Glencadam distillery was associated with our brands and part of the formula for SCOB and was part of the group at that time.

What does whisky mean to you?
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than discussing Scotch whisky and I absolutely love to share my passion with people who appreciate Ballantine’s. I really enjoy the variety of my job as a Master Blender because I get to work across the entire whisky production process and interact with whisky fans and colleagues at all levels of the business.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
Continuing to enjoy creating the best Scotch: Ballantine’s!

What was your last dram?
My last dram was on Monday night whilst staying at our company house, ‘Craigduff’ in Keith. I travel to Speyside most weeks on a Monday and Tuesday to test the new distillate from all our distilleries. I enjoyed a glass of Ballantine’s 17 year old. It was superb and up to the usual standard with the signature delicate, balanced, sweet soft fruit flavours and a sensation of smoke. I am in the very fortunate position that I can justify this as homework!

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
I often add a good measure of water to my whisky to help change the dynamic of the flavours as well as the temperature, which can really complement lighter foods such as salmon. And always remember that American oak imparts a predominantly vanilla spice so a dish with vanilla flavours will really work as a pairing, too.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
A really special place for me is Glamis Castle just outside Forfar. Every year in July I meet up with some of my friends for a big vintage car rally. We stay in the grounds of the castle all weekend and there is nothing better than sitting outside in fantastic surroundings with old friends enjoying a large glass of Ballantine’s 12 Year Old.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
We are always listening to whisky aficionados and appreciate that there is a real thirst for new products that explore the influence of wood and aging in whisky. So we’ll continue to look into new ways of impressing and engaging Ballantine’s fans and new whisky consumers through innovation.

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Ballantine's is my favourite whisky; it offers a unique drinking experience that is incredibly complex with layer upon layer of perfectly balanced, wonderful flavours. I drink my Ballantine’s with about 50/50 bottled water and also enjoy Ballantine’s 12 Year Old with soda in a tall glass with lots of ice.

Many thanks to Sandy Hyslop . Who will be the next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!