Interview with Colin Scott, Chivas Regal Master Blender

Colin Scott, Chivas Regal Master Blender visited Sydney this month to launch Chivas Regal Extra, the first expression in almost ten years. We caught up with Colin at an intimate tasting at Eau de Vie Bar, then at the official launch with Chris Noth (Mr Big) at a Darling Point mansion. We were also very fortunate to be given an opportunity to enjoy a private and relaxed lunch with the man responsible for three Chivas expressions.

In this one-on-one interview, we chat to Colin about his background, the Chivas house style, his favourite food and whisky pairings and he shares with us two of his proudest moments in his long and successful whisky career.

Colin Scott, Chivas Master Blender
Colin Scott at the Launch of Chivas Extra

Corinne Mossati: Were you born into a family involved in the whisky business?

Colin Scott: Very much so. My father was with Robertson & Baxter in Glasgow which is now the Edrington Group. My grandfather worked for them as well. They were both in the whisky industry. My father went up as managing director to open Highland distillers. I grew up around distilling. Subconsciously, I learnt a lot about malt whisky.

There, they did their own malting. They cut their own peat. It was quite interesting to see the whole process in situ. Their malting is now only about 10% of their production. When he fist got there, it would have been just about all their own.

My father was very big on responsible drinking. He taught us about alcohol and spirits. We did get a taste of wine or beer. Like in France, it was all part of learning about it.

Did you start your working life in whisky?
No I didn’t. Subconsciously, I was aware of it. You are in the countryside and you can smell it. It’s around but you weren’t sat down and given masterclasses in it.

What was your first whisky experience?
I’d had a taste of whisky but I wasn’t keen on it. I did not start drinking whisky until I was way into my 20’s after joining Chivas. I was working with whisky but our portfolio then had gin, vodka, rum, whisky. So we had everything.

You joined Chivas in 1973 and become master blender in 1989 and then in 1997 you created the Chivas 18. How much of your own influence went into making the 18?

Your own knowledge and experience goes behind selecting the whiskies to create the blends. There is a lot of Speyside there and a lot of Strathisla at the heart. There is a core but once you see what is available, you make your selection to create the Chivas house style with the smoothness and richness, and also to have the thread that goes from 12 to 18. But it is a totally different selection of malts and grains and it’s that difference that gives you a different taste experience.

Did you have much say in what you wanted to create in the 18 or were you bound by the Chivas house style?
The style is basically the background. It had to be in that family. If you are given the list of whiskies, you have to use your own experience and knowledge so you pull out the whiskies so they fit that style.

I didn’t create what I wanted. I didn’t create an 18 yo blend that we called Chivas Regal. I created Chivas Regal as an 18 yo. That’s the way to look at it. But you still have to use your own knowledge and experience to make that selection.

In 2007 you created the Chivas 25. How close is it to the original from the 1900s?
I don’t know. We don’t have a sample. We don’t have the recipe. We don’t have a formula. It all got lost in a fire in Aberdeen about the 1920’s. We knew that Chivas Brothers were buying Strathisla single malts in the late 1800’s so you can reckon it was in it. But again, it is taking the Chivas style, moving it from 12 to 18 to 25.

All 3 Chivas expressions are not simply the 12 YO aged for additional years. Why did you choose that approach? 
They are 3 are very different tasting whiskies. You can’t just age the 12yo longer as we would not have the stocks. We have plenty of other aged whiskies. That is part of our tradition. As I mentioned, James discovered that aging was an important factor in his blending. They were producing 10 yo whiskies in the 1860s and 20yo in the 1880s and when they produced the 1st Chivas Regal in1909, it was a 25 yo.

At Chivas brothers we have always had this tradition of having aged whisky and that is why we were able to introduce the 18 within a year of deciding to produce it. Similarly with the 25, we did not have to wait 5 or 6 years to get it sorted. We had the stocks ready to go.

The 12 yo is a house. The 18 yo is a mansion and 25 yo is your castle. All the different bricks are the malts to build the foundation. Then you have your bricks to build your house, your mansion, your castle. If you just left it like that it would all fall down – no cement. You need the grain whisky as your cement. This is the importance of the grain.

In July 2010, Chivas introduced the age matters campaign and now in 2014, Chivas Extra has been released. Is this a response to the non-age statement that’s on trend?

If you go back to traditional blenders, there was no age statement. Age statement came in 1916. And the Chivas 12 was always the flagship. If you discount the 25 yo, there has always been the 12yo blended scotch. There was going to be no compromise on age.

You have to look at what drives the business. We are listening to world trends and to what the consumer wants. You are always looking for something to expand your portfolio. Our objective is to make Chivas the no 1 whisky company in the world. You have to use innovation to try and get ahead of other people.

I think it is a very accessible way without clouding the issue. You have the name Chivas Regal and everybody knows that. A lot of people buy on price. They see the 12 yo and think ok, but then see the 18 yo and think that is out of my range. And then they see Chivas Extra, and thinks that’s right in it. We are trying to embrace the same consumer twice who has the Chivas 12 and Extra at home and drinks them equally so to speak.

How long has the Chivas Extra been in planning?
It goes back just over a year. A year from us is quite a long time on the blending side. The packaging the strategy has to be planned – how they are going to present it to the world. We would have the spirit in 6 months. You have to plan your stocks for the next 5 years.

Do you have any favourite food matchings with the Chivas range?
Whisky is a bigger flavour profile than wine. If you have good food and you have good whisky, then you have a good pair.

Prawns and scallops with Chivas 12, warm chocolate pudding or chocolate fondant with the 18 yo. The other one would be red meat or game. Venison would be great or pheasant and duck. With Chivas Extra, it’s with dessert or after dinner. A meat plate or cheese board with Scottish cheddar or blue cheese like Stilton. Sticky toffee pudding. Also would be very good with crepes Suzette. With the 25 yo, it’s back into game or red meat like duck. 25 is really the end of the day so it’s like cheese or a cigar.

You could of course drink the 12 or 18 all the way through but it’s nice to have a progression. Don’t be shy about what you eat with your whisky. Be brave with your choice.

What would be your proudest moment in your 40+ years in the whisky industry?
I’ve been very lucky working with Chivas and our portfolio of whiskies and all the tradition of aged whiskies. We have like up to 50 whiskies in our inventory, and to be a guardian of that is just a proud lifetime.

The Chivas 25, that was a special moment. There were 25 New York fire department pipers. It was in the Yew York public library and there were 400 guests at the dinner and the pipers went in and they started playing. They were all around the room, down the sides. I followed one piper in with a bottle of Chivas 25 around the room and up onto the stage. By that time, the guests all had a glass in front of them on the tables. A quick taste – slainte!

What was another great moment was doing the selection, not for Chivas but for Royal Salute. What we do is to make a selection of the mature products to make the blend. But to get to the 50th anniversary, the golden jubilee in 2003 so back in 1993 we blended a 40 yo royal salute to put away until 2003 in a single cask. We didn’t know the end result. We knew what we had selected. We knew the cask we were putting in into. We knew it would change in the next 10 years but not change it dramatically but we monitored it as the time went on to make sure the strength was there. It was quite low in strength but we could not let it fall below 40%. So we had to manage the cask really well. When we blended it in ’93, we had a 1949 Strathisla in the blend.

That was a great moment. That the cask had survived. We bottled 255 bottles and the first bottle we gave to Sir Edmund Hillary on 29 May 2004. The Duke of Argyle presented it to Sir Edmund and we gave a big party for him and his sherpas, and gave a donation to his charity the (Himalayan Trust) for sherpas.

An then before Sir Edmund died about 3 years ago, he offered the bottle back and so we gave him another cheque for his charity. So we have bottle #1. on the 29th May. That was a special moment.

With our sincere thanks to Colin Scott for his time.


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About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.