Blending your own whisky with The Blend

We thought we knew a fair amount about whisky before we started hosting The Blend by Chivas but we’ve learnt a huge amount more about this very popular spirit.  Not only is it the most popular spirit in more countries worldwide than any other, but closer to home there are currently more than 20 million casks of whisky aging at the 128 different distilleries in Scotland alone. For someone with an interest in whisky that’s a breathtakingly exciting array of flavours and styles to try.

We’ve welcomed over 700 guests to join Phil Huckle, Senior Chivas Brand Ambassador, to The Blend, over the past four months. Some have been passionate whisky lovers while others have not known much about whisky but were joining a whisky loving friend or someone interested in learning more. However, whatever their knowledge level I am certain, like me, that everyone, has learnt something that they did not know about the interesting story of this very popular distilled alcohol.

For some it has been learning the difference between whiskey (Ireland and the USA) and whisky (Scotland and most other countries) and the many theories on the etymology of these two words. Without doubt the subtle differences in Gaelic in Scotland and Ireland and the different countries that the intrepid Scots and Irish travelled to will definitely have a bearing on that, but to me there is no doubt at all that with the name deriving from the Gaelic for ‘water for life’ (uisce beatha in Ireland and uisge beatha in Scotland) it has quite rightly become one of the most popular spirits in the world.

For others it has been the challenge of blending their own whisky to bring out their favourite flavours. Prior to the nineteenth century whiskies were single malt but following work by Sir Anthony Perrier (1770–1845), built on by Robert Stein in 1828 and then by Aeneas Coffey who patented the column still known as the Coffey Still in 1830, it became possible to blend malt and grain whiskies to produce a lighter, sweeter and more importantly, consistent whiskey.  During The Blend each guest was given six different styles of whisky to blend into their personal perfect blend with their favoured percentage of fruity, floral, creamy, citrus or smoky flavour.

For me when I participated in The Blend it was not just the challenge of getting the right blend (how much of a flavour would be the right hint without overpowering the other flavours!) but the part that phylloxera played in whisky’s success story and that I found fascinating. Whisky was the winner while this pesky pest decimated many of the popular vineyards in France and elsewhere. At the time Brandy & Soda was very fashionable, almost certainly the drink of favour with many of residents close to us here in Eccleston Yards. The 1860 Revenue Authorities Act to allow blending of “plain British spirit” with pot still malt whiskey, which followed the 1823 Excise Act sanctioning the distillation of whisky in return for a licence, simultaneously coinciding with the opportunity for this new precious cargo to be taken around the world in equally new, and at the time speedy, steamships along with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which saved these ships more than 6,000km of travelling in the North Atlantic and Southern Indian Oceans by offering a direct route via the Mediterranean and Red Seas, meant that Whiskey & Soda quickly took its place.

This fortuitous timing for whisk(e)y producers much have had a bearing on its current popularity in so many countries around the world. Though its increasing popularity since must be credited to the subtle complexities and variations in the spirit. Over the past decade its popularity has soared again and with more than 40 bottles of Scotch whisky shipped overseas (to 175 counties) every second it now accounts for more than 20% of all UK food and drink exports giving the UK government £3bn a year in tax. In France it has become so popular that more Scotch is sold in a month than Cognac in a year.

Photo credit: Rashmi Narayan (Instagram @rashnarayan_traveller)