Last week, I was privileged to attend the Whisky Blending Masterclass hosted by Douglas Duncanson. He is a senior brand ambassador for East Africa at Diageo, who are the major shareholders of East African Breweries Limited. The Masterclass was organized by EABL to help us get a better understanding of what goes into whisky blending. There is always this thrill that comes from learning new things so I was excited to get things going. For the purpose of this masterclass, Douglas used the Johnnie Walker product blends, the widest distributed brand of Scotch Whisky in the world. Its diverse product line made it the perfect specimen for this masterclass.
Whisky blending is an intricate process that incorporates all of one’s senses. It follows the basic process of eating where you look, smell then taste. Each of the senses influences how the other perceives the drink and what you are getting out of it. So the first order of the day was getting to know the process of making whisky from grain to glass.
The grain is harvested, then taken through the malting process, fermentation comes next followed by distillation, letting the mixture mature then the final process required is blending. Each blend can contain up to 40 malts. Each malt then contains ingredients such as toffee, smoked salmon, chocolate, citrus, apples, cabbage, sawdust, ginger. These ingredients determine whether a malt is fruity, woody, fresh, peaty, spicy, and malty. The dominant ingredients in these malts is what further determine the final tastes and smell of the product. For example, the Johnnie Walker Blue Label has almost the same variations of fruity, woody, malty, spicy and peaty tastes and smells. The final product is a perfect blend of tastes such as dried fruit, chocolate, spice with a smokey finish.
For the purpose of this masterclass, we focused on four malts; fresh fruity malt, creamy sweat grain, rich fruit malt and the smoke malt. The idea was to blend these malts creating our own unique whisky. The first step of our whisky blending was the use of sight. Holding the glass against the light, we were able to see the different variations of the golden colour dominant in all whiskeys. The second step was the use of the sense of smell while the final step was the use of the sense of taste.
The Fresh Fruity Malt smelled really fruity and fresh. It also tasted fruity but with a woody finish. The second malt, the Creamy Sweat Grain smelled meaty with a hint of cereal. Its taste was very malty with a chocolate finish. The rich fruit malt smelled like nuts mixed with cereal. It tasted like Weetabix and chocolate. The final malt, the smoke malt smelled like iodine and damp embers. Its taste was as straightforward as the name.; very smokey.
The next level in the blending process was mixing the malts together. Depending on what malts ones taste buds enjoyed, we each mixed the malts in different ratios to form our very own 100mls of whisky. Through a couple of rounds of experimenting how well the ratios worked together, we were able to formulate our own ‘perfect’ whisky which we named. For some of us who are more inclined to sweet tastes and smells, the final result was more or less bursts of fruity goodness. Though I highly doubt any of us will be serving our whisky to other people, we did pretty well for first-time whisky blenders. It was such a rewarding and knowledgeable experience.