Where the rich are investing 2015

The master and his malts

Brian Kinsman of Glenfiddich reveals the secret of the perfect blend 

India is amongst the top three fastest-growing markets in the world for premium spirits. No wonder then, that the world’s most awarded single malt whisky brand, Glenfiddich by William Grant & Sons, has launched its latest 21-year-old single malt and is all set to roll its 26-year-old creation come February.

The Dufftown, Scotland distillery, is one of the last few in the world that is family-owned. Master blender Brian Kinsman shares the secrets of a centuries-old-craft that is still just as alive.“Creating whisky is as much an art as it is a science,” says Brian. “It’s not something you learn overnight, nor is there a job manual for it. It takes patience, knowledge, and gut intuition to be able to make a great-tasting whisky.”

It takes almost a decade, up to 1,000 samples ‘nosed’ in a day, a very well trained nose, and the vital ingredient of pure intuition to become a Scotch whisky master blender. Brian Kinsman is only the sixth master blender since Grant’s was created over 100 years ago. Born in West Lothian, Scotland, Brian studied chemistry at The University of St Andrews, where he graduated in 1994 with a first class honours degree.

So how does a chemist, fresh out of university get the top job of a master blender? To start with, he had to take an eight-year apprenticeship to learn everything about whisky making, under renowned master blender David Stewart, the most experienced in the industry. If you think about it, this is the same amount of time it takes to become a doctor. “Eight years may seem like a lot of time to learn how to do a job,” says Brian. “But in whisky, time and patience are essential ingredients, as the whisky needs to age in oak casks for years before it’s ready. Also, you have to experience all the variations that can take place when whisky is maturing. For example: the effect of temperature on the spirit. Some of these variations only come up once every few years.”

Most consumers are generally repertoire drinkers, but they are willing to give a new tipple a shot when given the chance. According to Brian, “There’s a growing consumer demand for the ‘un-standardised’ and ‘non-corporate’, since while scotch has a loyal patronage, people are looking at experimenting at the same time”. Consumers are looking for a novel experience and the on-trade becomes even more important. Getting the balance between growing awareness and creating genuine cultural relevance is the key. Scotch drinkers want to be addressed as modern, rather than from a specific country. 

The newly launched Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Gran Reserva Rum Cask Finish keeps in mind the growing league of a younger, affluent population that enjoys good taste. This 21-year-old single malt was matured for 21 years in Scotland, and then given a vibrant twist by finishing up in its last four months in Glenfiddich’s own Caribbean rum casks.

There is also a creative element in the job of a master blender. Brian says, “Unlike a baker who might follow and repeat a set recipe, a Scotch master blender has to adapt his ingredients and proportions to create a consistent flavour of whisky. An entirely natural product, affected by seasonal fluctuations and the mysteries of oak cask maturation, no two whiskies emerge from the cask the same. Therefore, it’s the job of the master blender who uses his gut intuition, to combine the right flavours that will make the very best whisky and that recognisable Grant’s taste.” 

As far as the cask is concerned, in addition to ensuring that the current whisky is ageing properly, a master blender is always experimenting with different cask types, ageing, and maturation methods to develop new whiskies. The 21-year-old entrant goes with the popular tag line ‘Raised in Scotland, Roused by the Caribbean’, because it has been matured in casks that contained Caribbean rum.

Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Year Old is matured exclusively in American Quercus Alba (white oak) bourbon barrels. Up to 65 percent of a whisky’s flavour is attributed to the cask it matures in. During the 26 years of careful maturation, this incredible expression has picked up unique aromas and intense flavours of lush vanilla, light oak, and spice. A rich golden colour, it is soft and delicate on the nose with a complex finish. This single malt remains true to the heritage of producing fruity, floral, and deeply flavoured whiskies.

Brian has witnessed great change in recent times, and is enjoying the challenges that come with it. “Creating new expressions is one of my main highlights. To immerse oneself in the whisky-making and maturation process, to come up with a drink that has never been tasted before, is very exciting.”