What does a master blender do?

Master Blenders ensure that every bottle of a whisky bottling has the same taste for years and has the typical character of the distillery. But how does a master blender manage this feat and what are the special characteristics of it? contents

What are the tasks of a master blender?

It is the master blender that keeps an overview of the numerous whisky barrels in the warehouses. In addition to the actual blending of whiskies, a master blender is responsible for monitoring and developing the maturing whiskies. This also includes regularly checking the whisky barrels on a random basis. Among other things, he has to decide whether a whisky is already ready for bottling or whether it will benefit from longer storage or whether it should even be transferred to another whisky barrel for a finish.

However, a master blender must always look to the future. After all, the whisky stocks have to be planned decades in advance and developments have to be started at an early stage. Whisky that was not distilled and stored 10, 15 or 20 years earlier is missing later. Good barrel management in the warehouses is essential.

When checking the whisky in the warehouses, the tasting of a master blender looks a little different than that of the connoisseur at home. At the tasting in the warehouse, the whisky is taken directly from the barrel with a valinch or made available to the master blender in his tasting room as a sample. However, the whisky is usually not drunk by the Master Blender, but only judged with the nose.

If the mouth is tasted, the whisky is usually not swallowed but spit out. What would be a sacrilege for the whisky connoisseur is probably healthier in the long run in view of the many tastings necessary for the Master Blender.

The main task of the Master Blender is to actually blend the whisky. Blending does not only mean Scotch Blends, which are a mixture of single malts from different distilleries and grain whiskies . Single malts from a distillery are also blended from several whisky barrels. The biggest challenge and responsibility of the Master Blender is that it has to create the same exact taste and character of a bottling from different whisky barrels over and over again. However, he is also responsible for the development of new bottlings. How does a master distiller master this task?

How does a master blender work when blending a whisky?

Before blending whisky, the Master Blender must literally create order. Depending on the required taste profile and the amount to be filled, he selects a two or three-digit number of whisky barrels with different characteristics. One also speaks of batch in this context. These whisky barrels are sorted according to different smells and flavors, such as fruity, floral cereal smoky, etc.

On a smaller scale, the Master Blender uses these barrels to assemble the blend or single malt with the desired flavor profile “in a test tube”, so to speak. He is often supported by the Master Distiller and other experienced employees. With this sensor panel, every step is precisely documented. Because from the mixture on a small scale, the final filling is later blended in proportion. Of course, the Master Blender does not start here from point 0. Based on his experience and on the basis of handed down knowledge, an approximate recipe already has a composition that works well and harmonizes. So in detail it’s a little bit more about fine-tuning the mix.

Master Blenders rely on so-called “lead whiskies

When blending blends, which can come from malt and grain whiskies from more than 40 different distilleries, so-called “lead whiskies” help the master blender. These are whiskies that play a special role in the blend and are therefore contained in large quantities. An example of this is Strathislay whisky, which is of great importance for Chivas Regal.

How do you become a Master Blender?

Even more than the Master Distiller , a Master Blender usually learns his craft in practice over many years. A degree in chemistry, microbiology or similar is definitely an advantage for a master blender. But the most important thing is, in addition to a certain level of talent (or a good nose), curiosity and knowledge about whisky as well as simply trying, trying, trying.

Only years of experience will give even the best Master Blenders the necessary tools to recognize the decisive nuances in the whisky and to skillfully combine them with each other when blending.

Well-known master blenders

Because of their special importance for the constant characteristics and the taste of the whisky that has been as uniform as possible over the years, good Master Blenders are very popular. They often hold their posts for many years.

After all, they are at the crucial point to shape the reputation of a distillery for decades. It is striking: In addition to many male master blenders, more and more women are working in this function at well-known distilleries. Do you even have a better nose for good whisky in the end? In fact, there is evidence in science that women have a better sense of smell than men. A fact that can only be useful when nosing whisky. We present some particularly well-known Master Blenders here:

Richard Paterson (Dalmore)

One of the most dazzling whisky personalities is without a doubt Richard Paterson. Anyone who has ever visited one of the very entertaining tastings with “The Nose” will no doubt be able to confirm this. It is noteworthy that Richard Paterson became a Master Blender at Whyte & Mackay at the young age of 26 and has remained almost 50 years since then. The whiskies created under the direction of master blender Richard Paterson include the single malts from Dalmore, Jura and Fettercairn. One of the many anecdotes about Richard “The Nose” Paterson is that he had insured his nose for more than 2 million euros for some time. No wonder if the nose is the most important tool of a master blender …

Dr. Jim Beveridge (Johnnie Walker)

Few Master Blenders are responsible for as much whisky as Dr. Jim Beveridge. Together with his team in Scotland, he oversees more than 10 million whisky barrels in Scotland and therefore probably more than any other master blender. The responsibility is great: After all, the Johnnie Walker whiskies are by far the most sold Scotch blends worldwide. Every bottle of whisky should always taste the same in each of these countries. His term of office of almost four decades is impressive and shows how important consistency in the position of master blender is. For his services to Scotch Whisky, Dr. Beaten Jim Beveridge in 2019 from Queen Elisabeth II to Knight (OBE).

Stephanie MacLeod (Dewar’s and Aberfeldy)

Even unusual paths can lead to whisky, because Stephanie MacLeod originally had little to do with whisky. Only after studying at the University of Strathclyde did she discover her great passion, but also her talent for good whisky. Here she was initially responsible for the creation and testing of the sensor panels. When the position of Master Blender became vacant, it didn’t take long to think about offering her the job. Stephanie MacLeod was appointed Master Blender in 2006 and has since been responsible for well-known bottlings, such as the Aberfeldy 12 Years , which is one of the best single malt whiskies for beginners.

Dr. Rachel Barrie (BenRiach, GlenDronach)

The master blender Rachel Barrie is considered one of the pioneers among the female master blenders. The names in her vita, such as Glenmorangie, Laphroaig, Bowmore or Glen Garioch are quite impressive. Rachel Barrie has a background in science, studied chemistry in Edinburgh and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2018. Currently she looks after the whisky casks and single malts from BenRiach, GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh. All three distilleries were recently raised by the busy Walker family (including Alistair Walker with the Infrequent Flyers whiskies ).

Dr. Bill Lumsden (Ardbeg and Glenmorangie)

Another real original is Dr. Bill Lumsden, who is responsible for bottling Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. Incidentally, the correct designation of his post is “Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks” - so it contains significantly more tasks than that of a pure master blender. Here he benefits from the fact that he has a degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in microbial physiology and fermentation science.

Dr. is known Bill Lumsden also for his willingness to experiment. Be it unusual Russian oak barrels in the Ardbeg Kelpie or the use of wild yeast strains in the Glenmorangie Spios. Dr. also has controversial and brisk sayings Bill Lumsden always likes to be on the lips. For example, that the age of a whisky is actually not important to him.

David Stewart (Balvenie and Glenfiddich)

The Malt Master and Master Blender David Stewart is one of the pioneers for modern single malt whiskies. As a master blender for Balvenie and Glenfiddich, he was one of the first blenders in the 1980s to experiment with the combination of whiskies matured in different barrels and finishes. Bottlings such as the Balvenie Double Wood 12 years are now modern classics and the finishing of whiskies is also used by many other master blenders.

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