Behind the Whisky Blender

on Jan 19 in Blended whisky, Editorial, whisky Industry news by dan

One of the hottest most talked about topics of late has been the new startup website, whisky blender. We love the concept, the design and the execution of this venture. We can see the aspiration and the spirit of adventure in the site that reminds us a lot of what the whisky blog-o-sphere and enthusiast community is capable of.

As with all commercial ventures and concepts though, we quickly lose interest; it’s not a insult or even a nod towards any negativity, it’s just the nature of attention and people. We all see something new, evaluate its merits, discuss the idea and then often lose interest as the topic/idea/paradigm becomes old news.

However what I personally will never lose interest in is… a story, and especially an ever on-going story with great characters, adversity, success, failure and all the other things associated with an Epic. Having spoken with the chaps behind Whisky Blender I quickly realised that is exactly what was going on and I was desperate to help get that story shared with the world (or at least our little world!).

So here for you, is a story. A story about two guys, whisky, dreams and a thirst for success! Written in the format of an interview, here is the whisky blenders past, present and future and why it has came to be.

Tell us about Whisky Blender

Quite simply, it’s a brand new website which allows its visitors the opportunity to blend their very own personalised bottle of Scotch whisky. You visit the site and start your blending adventure in our virtual lab. Here you are presented with an empty bottle and the ability to cycle through the seven different whisky options available to pick from in order to fill up your bottle. These quality whisky options were handpicked by our expert John Lamond – who is a Master of Malt, published whisky author and all-round guid lad – who sampled them before writing up a very brief (but descriptive) tasting note, as well as an evocative title, for each one. Once the bottle is full there is an opportunity to check the blend and make any last minute tweaks before proceeding to name it and crown yourself as the blender on the bottle’s handwritten and stylish label. Each bottle blended is recorded in our database and given a unique bottle code. Feeding this code into a field on our Bottle Store will bring up your blend again. So even if you didn’t want to buy it there and then, you can return to the site without having to go through the whole procedure again (but also with the opportunity to tweak it once more) before checking out. That’s about the gist of it to be honest.

Why did you set up the website?

There’s a few reasons for this I guess. We wanted to create something to allow people a simple way to own a unique bottle of blended Scotch whisky (or blended malt Scotch whisky); one which they’ve not only had a say into how it tastes and what it’s called but also to have a little bit of fun in the process. Or at least, that’s the idea we had for the site which made us set it up. How the idea came about is probably more relevant. Basically we just wanted to do something. Anything. Being huge whisky fans for years now we have attended festivals, watched reviews, taken classes, visited distilleries and enjoyed their tours… but we weren’t part of it. Or more accurately, no part of it was ours. Around two years ago, after getting fairly well lubricated at the Whisky An’ A’ That Festival in Ayr then grabbing some scran, touring the local pubs and napping on the train back to Glasgow only to hit another watering hole, we started talking. Drunkenly brainstorming (as we often do) what kinds of things we felt would be cool to do; more importantly, that two plebs from the Glasgow area could do. Then, EUREKA!

What was the inspiration?

First and foremost, the inspiration was undoubtedly whisky. We’d been drinking it all afternoon and were most definitely “under the influence”. I’m not saying that beer didn’t have a part to play here but it’s far more poetic to give credit to the whisky. In all seriousness though we’ve been ‘into’ whisky our whole adult lives and this in itself inspired the project. I’d say that being Scottish was a big element too, without sounding overly patriotic, I guess we had a sense of ownership over Scotch or perhaps it has ownership over us and we feel the need to pay something back. Whatever the relationship actually is there’s a feeling of pride. We’re proud of Scotland for producing such an incredible, inspiring, mysterious and all-out quality drink. Also we were inspired by the fact that on several occasions we’ve been known to blend our own bottles (using the dregs of near finished ones) and were often very impressed with the results. This is something we would recommend anyone with a few ‘less-than-half-full’ bottles to try too. It’s  fun!

What’s your best blend so far?

We don’t taste the blends that come in, however we have ‘reblended’ a few out of our own curious natures and are pleasantly reminded of what a great idea this is. Hahahah! So as for the best blend, I’m not sure. Personally I’ve always had trouble rating whisky. I know a lot of people score whisky and I think that’s great. I guess I’m not strict enough for that and consider myself more of a casual whisky fan and tend not to review them too intensely. If I like it I’ll recommend it to someone and if I don’t I’ll say so – but all too often I’ll try something again and have an entirely different opinion; this phenomenon does not bode well for a scoring system in my book (certainly not one which I am prepared to curate myself). It all seems a little too definitive for something so unpredictable. Especially in the case of our blends as the whisky is getting thrown together and then immediately corked. Different whiskies are often left in a cask to marry together. The cask breathes and the air helps this process. This is not the same in the bottle. So the blend will change over time as the bottle is opened, poured, left; open, poured, left; open, poured and so on and so forth. As oxygen and time is introduced the whisky grows and finds its balance. Your first dram will be unrecognisable compared to the last… another reason we find whisky so exciting (is that sad?) and Whisky Blender so awesome!

What does the future hold?

Who knows? That’s the short answer. We get emails all the time asking us if we’re going to do this, introduce that, etc… it’s all very exciting and we love the suggestions. The site has only been operating about two months and we’ve still not included all the features that we’d originally planned to (a lot was omitted from the ‘launch version’ of the site in order to get it out before Christmas) and we’re now working to get as much of this in as possible. Things which we are currently working on are an HTML version of the site (for devices such as iPad) as well as a mobile version of the site. We also want to allow people to submit video reviews of their blends to us to assist future customers when deciding how best to go about blending their bottle. We’re also going to begin filming short videos ourselves to educate people and make the whole experience more involved, clear and fun! Ideas we’re throwing about are limited edition whisky options, alternative bottle sizes, competitions and additional ‘add-on’ products (like gift box, whisky glasses, etc..) so stay tuned.

What is your favorite whisky memory?

I’m confident that some of my favourite whisky ‘memories’ never quite made it as memories, haha! I guess I need a story though… um… we were over in Paris visiting our good friend, Nick, who moved there a few years ago. We coordinated our visit to coincide with Whisky Live and had a good old ‘sample’ before hitting the streets of Paris to see what the pubs were like. Well, it’s no Glasgow, I can tell you that! Either Paris has very little to offer for a good night out or Nick is a horrible guide (I am inclined to blame Nick entirely). We drank the night away and had a fantastic time despite not really feeling all that comfortable in any of the bars he took us to – which in turn transformed the night into some kind of French pub crawl. The company was good, that’s all that mattered. After exhausting all Nick’s horrible haunts it was time to get the Metro back to his flat to raid his whisky cabinet. Feeling fu’ from the predominantly alcohol-themed day we relied on Nick to get us home safely (given he lived there and we couldn’t even speak French). After being on this train for what felt like forever it suddenly dawned on me that Nick mentioned he was only six or seven stops away… and something did not feel right. Suddenly the train stops in a dark tunnel which was definitely not a station. No sooner had we realised there were was nobody other than us the lights went out and we were in complete darkness. Drunk, confused, frightened and alone. We see a shadowy figure pass by the window. The driver? He’s left his cabin and walked straight passed the three pished Scotsmen sitting in the locked carriage. We say nothing, our minds scramble and then we roll around laughing in the empty, silent, foreign prison of a carriage. Hahahahah! All was fine though and apparently the Metro does this at the end of the line. The driver gets out and moves to the other side of the train, starts it up again and makes his way down the line again. Nick had taken us to the wrong side of the station and we travelled away from his stop instead of towards it. We were underground for about four times the amount of time it should have taken because Nick is a nightmare. The rest of the night was spent drinking more whisky and discussing a parrot who imitated the doorbell.

If you could change one thing about the whisky world what would it be?

The whisky world is a delicate balance of many elements and it extends much farther than I have explored yet. Because of this I would be frightened to change even one element of it in case it disturbed that balance and somehow affected all the things I currently love about it. Things I really love in the “whisky world” are enthusiasm, banter, adventure and honesty. The energy that some of the whisky fans have, and the genuine love for whisky they display to their readers/viewers, is absolutely outstanding. Blogs like this very one here in fact; born out of sheer enjoyment and then carried by mutual appreciation. Love that! Videos like the ones Ralfy puts out there in YouTube land; sharing his own findings and interpretations to help, guide and evoke discussion with fellow malt-muppets (or whatever his most recent shout-out might be). Great whisky shops like the Good Spirits Co. on Bath Street, Glasgow; where it’s not about bargains, or a quick sale and instead they are there to actually chat to the customer and genuinely help them find what they are looking for. Writers like John Lamond, a man who holds one of the best courses on Whisky you could ever wish to be on (someone who will tell you straight up what the score is and exactly what he thinks of it). The whisky fans tweeting all day because they just love the stuff. Festivals like Glasgow’s Whisky Festival or Whisky An’ Ai That in Ayr. All the People who don’t do it for the money (sure, perhaps they get money but it’s certainly not the reason behind it). The little people are what I love about the whisky World – the ones on the forums and at the festivals having a good time. People who save a nice bottle specifically to share it with their friends. People with a passion who go out and do stuff; and when I hear about something whisky-related that sounds really interesting, it’s made all the more awesome when it’s not some big faceless corporation. When you find out that behind it all it’s just two wee plebs from the Glasgow area. Yes, I did just bring it back to us and say that I think we’re awesome… again. So what I would change, I guess, would be very little.

Vistit the site:

A big thanks to Andrew Nicolson for help putting this together and being a sport. We wish you every success in the venture and hope your whisky dreams come true.

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