By Dave Broom
THE door swung open and in front of me was a room full of whisky. I felt like pinching myself to see if it was all a dream. But no, it was a dram (to be precise, 100 drams).
The reason I was there was to get an insight into the mind of a blender and how he creates a new whisky. The blender in question was Colin Scott of Chivas Brothers and the new product is Century - a cleverly named brand that contains, you've guessed it, 100 malts.
Scott's was a daunting but fascinating task that led him by the nose from the Lowlands, out to Islay then back through Perthshire to Speyside and the northern Highlands. There were some stunning drams - Speyside and Islay both shone in terms of consistent high quality - but there were some pretty weird ones as well. It would be all too easy to go along the line picking out your favourites and dismissing the rest.
But that, of course, is not the point.
Scott, who bears a striking resemblance to Tony Blair, had a brief to produce a vatted malt using these 100 different constituent parts. My head swam, not just from the fumes but from how all these totally different individuals could be corralled into something new.
Some would be used for their aromatic qualities, others for their palate weight. One sniff could identify the prima donnas who shouted from the rooftops, but alongside them were others whose function was to support and balance.
In a blend, some flavours (Islay, for example) may need to be muted, while others have to be enhanced. The art lies in knowing how different combinations will work, how a splash too much of one can send the whole blend in the wrong direction.
So, even those malts which gibbered like gremlins in the bottom of the glass had a quality that would benefit the greater whole. Blending is an exercise in democracy, not dictatorship.
Blenders remain enigmatic figures. They claim to be simple custodians of their blend's heritage, but they are artists. They don't just follow a recipe, they have to tweak and adjust, cajole and nudge. Every cask of every malt is different, therefore the ingredients in a blend will remain fluid. The secret is knowing how to produce a consistent product from ever-changing ingredients.
Century (wholesale enquiries to Oddbins: 0181-994 0942) is the latest addition to the ever-growing Chivas portfolio, which ranges from the classic sweet and graceful 12-year-old to new boys such as the pungent 1801, the chewy, herbal and citric 18-year-old, and the complex Oldest with its aromas of cocoa, orange, strawberry jam and light peat smoke.
And Century? It's a dangerously drinkable dram that offers tempting glimpses of a huge range of aromas and flavours - hay, bergamot, heather, dried herbs then peat, and a long, complex finish. A glimpse of Scotland in a glass - a success, in other words. n