Kitchen Talk: Colin Scott – Master Blender for Chivas

Colin Scott

It’s early in the morning on Carrera 7th in Bogota, in the elegant J. W. Marriott hotel. Colin Scott, the Master Blender for Chivas,had arrived from Lima the night before, and would spend a few brief days in Bogota before heading on to Caracas. This was his fourth visit to Colombia.

He looked very Scottish in his kilt, and his perfect attire was completed with the argyle jacket, white shirt black tie and dressy mink sporran. We took our seats in the comfortable arm chairs of the bar area of the La Mina restaurant.

I have to admit I was nervous. Here was the Master Blender for Chivas, the creator of Chivas 18. But his big smile and his laugh that comes from deep inside him put me at ease.

English Tea

The first order of business was tea. He’s from Scotland, after all. His Colombian hostess proudly offered him a fruit infusion, which he politely accepted but put down on the table without tasting. He shook his head, and commented to me; “It’s a shame to ask for tea in Colombia, isn’t it?” Tea in the land of coffee. But he needed his English tea to start of the morning; where to get a proper tea in Bogota?

About 10 minutes later the hostess came back into the restaurant, proudly proclaiming, “We found tea!” Sir Colin couldn’t be more pleased. “Proper tea?” He exclaimed, “Oh, look at this!” A smile brightened his face, and he looked at me and proclaimed, “We’ve got English Breakfast.”

A proper start to the morning.

His honey-like voice is smooth and full of character, like one of his whiskies. His fatherly explanations show that he enjoys sharing the wealth of information he’s accumulated over the decades. And he had the patience of a man who waits 25 years to blend a whisky.

This Master Blender behind the flavors of Chivas 18 and 25 has whisky in his veins – he literally grew up with whisky. “My grandfather worked in the whisky industry and my father also did. I grew up around that, and learned about whisky.”

Travels  and Education

He now travels around the world as an extension of his job as master blender. “ I used to do blending 24-7, but it’s a great chance to go to different countries, meet the people and see different traditions. “ About Bogota he comments: “It’s an exciting city with lovely people. And they’re great Scotch whisky drinkers. Thank you for that.”

As world ambassador his role is to get around to the bars and the clubs to promote the product and educate the client. For instance, he talks with the barmen and encourages him to try this aged, super premium, luxury whisky – and then the barman transmits that to his clients.

“Because – why do people drink what they drink? Because their friends drink it. Why do you have to drink what others are drinking? There’s so much variety. And in the case of Scotch, they’re all great; it’s all about your own personal tastes.”

When people try whisky, they know it’s good but they don’t usually know that much about it. His job is to give them the knowledge so they can understand what the differences are; it’s not just a whisky is a whisky is a whisky.

Flavors and Blending

Blending goes back 150 years, though distilling Scotch goes back 500 years. Little has changed over time: it’s the same natural ingredients, the same process is used.  “It’s amazing the array of flavors that you get from just cereal, water and yeast. You get fruit, vanilla, nut flavors. Where did they all come from? The ingredients are the same in all the distilleries, but the resulting flavors are unique to each one. So that gives us this wonderful array of flavors to select from to actually create the taste experiences.”

Colin Scott got his start in Chivas back in 1973. After starting with bottling, he says, “Then I got involved with spirits quality, which brought me in touch with the blenders. I got tested, and then joined the blending team. That was a very exciting, fantastic, place to be, with all those different whiskies of different ages.”

In 1989 he became master blender. To be a master blender requires not only experience in the industry. For a master blender, a good nose is important, since he needs to have the capacity to store and remember the aromas of thousands of whiskies. He also needs vision to be able to nose a new spirit and project its character in the decades to come.  And it takes technical skill to know when a whisky reaches perfect maturity. “I think the real attribute of a blender is the passion. He’s going to put the time into it: 7, 8, 10 years, and that’s a lot of time.”

His greatest moment is to see the reaction of people to the whisky, when he presents his creations. “It’s very exciting to go and represent that”.

Then he smiles and sums up his work of a lifetime: “So when someone picks the glass up and tastes the whisky, and smiles, you think Whew, job done! It’s good to see that smile – that will do me.”

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For Spanish speakers, you can read the article that was originally published in Casa Viva Cocina: Maestro de Sabores Colin Scott.

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