Geeky With Whisky: International Master Blenders Colin Scott and Kevin Balmforth Share 5 Fun Facts

To celebrate Chivas Regal's legacy, Colin Scott who has been in the company for many years and who is in charge for creating Chivas 18 and Blender Kevin Balmforth were in Manila for a series of events.

Scott who is a custodian master blender acts as a mentor to the blending team where he passes on his knowledge acquired over his 43-year career. Meanwhile, Balmforth who became part of the blending team in 2016 is in charge for maintaining the consistency and excellence in quality and innovation of the brand. 

Chivas Regal Colin Scott Kevin Balmforth
[L-R] Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador Hamish Houliston, Master Blender Colin Scott and Spirit Quality Leader Kevin Balmforth

Whisky is celebrated mostly for the craftsmanship with how it is made, its unique flavor profile and the memorable experiences it brings. But as a beginner or an enthusiast of the spirit, where do you really begin? We sat down with Chivas Regal's Master Blenders Colin Scott and Kevin Balmforth to ask some of the questions you probably have! Read the full interview below:

1. For those who are casual fans of the drink, what are the basics they should look for in a bottle?

Kevin Balmforth: First of all, there should be Chivas Regal written on the front. *laughs* Basically in Chivas Regal there's a whole blend of flavors in there and everyone who drinks it will appreciate different flavors within it because it's quite complex. So it's just a case of trying it and see what you like.

Colin Scott: In general, Chivas Regal has one of the styles of smoothness and richness of flavors and it also has this harmony that Kevin was talking about. There's no particular flavor that's predominant so people would find the fruitiness, floral, sweetness or the nuttiness – there's a flavor in there for everyone. For me, that gives an international appeal, the style is very easy drinking and is great to share with friends.

2. How is the brand distinguishing itself among your competitors?

Colin Scott: If you take Chivas 12 and its main competitor, they've basically been head to head over the years for a long long time. Some countries were ahead and other countries have just been in the market for a while but overall, it's always an exciting market. Especially here in the Philippines, Chivas is showing terrific growth so to be here is a great honor for us.

Kevin Balmforth: Yeah I think Chivas have a distinctive house style that's very much Speyside that's one of those prolific whisky regions in Scotland and all our products are based around this influence from that region. Islay is the heart of every Chivas Regal and it's virtually in the heart of Speyside, of this rich and fruity notes. Not only the product but also it comes from the name Chivas Regal: a name you can trust, it comes from a blending department which has been going for generations.

Chivas Regal Colin Scott Kevin Balmforth Chivas Regal Colin Scott Kevin Balmforth

3. What's the distilling process like?

Colin Scott: What we have in Scotland is over a hundred of malt and grain whisky distilleries; we own fourteen, but every year we're actually buying whiskys from all the other companies as new spirits to fill in to cask and then mature so in twelve years plus, it's ready for Chivas 12 or 18. We monitor the new spirits that we bring in and we distill and once we put it into the cask, that becomes our responsibility so when it's ready for blending, we mix it to our own formula.

Kevin Balmforth: We have these distilleries, we fill in the casks and we have this huge inventory that's our collection of casks – we have 6 million so we have a huge array of flavors in there so the blender's job is picking those flavors, all those different cask types to match the flavor profile that we're looking for. For example for the Chivas Regal 12, we have a formula and we will sample the cask to that formula and try to match it with that year. If we're producing a new product, we'll have a flavor concept and we use our experience and knowledge to blend certain flavors – all the different cask age and products, grain and malt whiskys to try and match that flavor profile.

Chivas Regal Colin Scott Kevin Balmforth

Colin Scott: So in reality, as blenders, we are custodians of the past, present and the future. For Chivas 18 today, we're taking whiskys from the past to create it but also we're also taking new spirits and putting into casks for Chivas 18 in eighteen years time. So it's really all about maintaining the high quality but also the consistent quality and taste experience yesterday, today and tomorrow for all our whiskys. 

Kevin Balmforth: A blender in his first part of his career will be relying on the previous blender. There are two main assets to pass down from master blender to master blender: the quality of the inventory and the knowledge, skills and experience you need to pass on. Because you could have an amazing inventory but if you don't know what to do with it, you're just left with a good inventory. 

4. What's the difference between blended with single malt in terms of flavor and process?

Kevin Balmforth: Single malt is just from one distillery while a blended whisky is from at least two or more single malts mixed together and some grain whisky. So a grain whisky is produced slightly differently to a malt whisky; it uses a column still and is distilled multiple times whereas a malt in a pot still is distilled twice so the distillation process is different. The grains are generally a bit lighter in character; they're still quite fruity and sweet but they're not as rich and powerful. A single malt is quite rich and fruity and have a lot of flavor while blended has all that flavor as well but has a lot of complexity since it uses a lot of products.

Colin Scott: One way to think of it: if we go to dinner with a single malt and have a dinner party with 20 people who are male and female, you have a whole different dynamic and so that's like a blend. And if you change your guests to a dinner party, that would be totally different group so that will be another blend. So that's one way to think of blends and single malt. They're all different in flavor profile to each other and they're all great but because they're different, it means you can then decide which you prefer. And I think with Chivas Regal, because of its smooth, rich and harmonious style, it gives an international appeal wide across the globe.

5. Is there a proper way of drinking whisky? Should it be on the rocks or neat?

Colin Scott: *laughs*

Kevin Balmforth: What I always tell people is to drink whisky the way you want to drink whisky and not how someone tells you how to drink it. I can tell you what I do – I add half as much water so if I have 50ml of whisky, I'd add 25ml of water and that brings it down to 30% alcohol which is a comfortable drinking strength. My advice to people is if you drink whisky straight and the alcohol is too hot, you need to add a little bit of water because you can't appreciate the flavors if the alcohol is too aggressive. You can add water or ice that would give you a different taste experience to the drink or you can use it in cocktails – it's really experimenting and finding out how you enjoy it.

Colin Scott: As far as we're concerned, once you put Chivas in your glass, our job is done. It's up to you to enjoy it how you like it. I drink it slightly differently that Kevin, I don't add ice and do 50-50 with water and that works for me. When you're in hotter climate, maybe add one ice just to cool it a bit and that would be good as well. You can have it neat, with ice, with water, as cocktails or whatever. There aren't any rules, it's for your enjoyment but we would recommend a little water to just bring out those flavors and reduce that heat of the alcohol.

Chivas Regal Colin Scott Kevin Balmforth Chivas Regal Colin Scott Kevin Balmforth

BONUS: What are the best food paired with whisky?

Colin Scott: With Chivas Regal – with great whisky and great food, it'll work. The Chivas 12 with prawns or mangosteen or scallops, the Chivas 18 with chocolate pudding and Chivas 25 with steak.

Kevin Balmforth: I don't have any set food prepared for that but I think whisky works with most foods. I think it's what you want so my advice would be to try it and see what you like to pair it with. 

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