A very nice profile of a master blender is out there on the Wired website. A master blender is a title that is given to someone who has been deemed by a distillery as someone who is worthy of designing their whiskies.
Wired profiles Richard Paterson
|Richard Paterson. This nose KNOWS.|
Richard Paterson–from what I can find online–is known as “The Nose.” Scotch runs in the man’s family. His father was a scotch whisky freak.
Back to what a master blender actually does.
Whisky, by nature, is very unpredictable. You are extracting alcohol from a beer-like substance, putting into some kind of wood barrel, leaving it somewhere to age, aging it a certain number of years, etc. So as you can imagine, even though you may have technically created barrels of whisky from the same source, the end product in each barrel is probably going to taste a little different than another barrel from the same batch of whisky.
So this is where the master blender comes in. He (or she, but I am not privy to master blender women out there) chooses the barrels. He chooses the age. He chooses which barrels are worthy and which are not. He designs a certain flavor using different-tasting barrels of different ages into a unique flavor. The master blender chose exactly what you are tasting in that dram you are holding right now.
If you are drinking a single-malt, it is most likely not a whisky that came from one barrel of one batch of whisky production. Single malts from single barrels will be labeled as such–Single Cask. Since single malts are usually blends of other whiskies from the same distillery, someone has to be able to design and reproduce large batches for bottlings so that people may purchase something consistent. Can you imagine how pissed off someone would be if they bought a bottle of The Macallan 12-year and it tasted like Edradour? It would be quite noticeable, indeed!
So the master blender puts his nose, mouth, and whatever he uses to decide and design the flavor of each style of whisky bottling. He chooses the right casks to put together to make the flavor that you may already be used to. Someone actually has to put together that Macallan 12-year each year so that if you buy a replacement bottle down the road, it is going to taste so similar to your last bottle that you may be familiar with. Chances are, a master blender would be able to tell the difference. Hence the word “master” in there.
|Jim McEwan putting his schnoz in a seemingly young dram.|
Another amazing blender that I know of, and hope to meet some day, is Jim McEwan.
This guy is my personal hero from his design of the PC series (see my post about the PC7 here). I have a bottle of PC7 and PC6 and I cherish them so much that barely ever break them out. He is not only made two of my most beloved bottles, he also is credited for bringing new life to the once scuttled Bruichladdich distillery.
Bruichladdich was shut down in 1995 and then reopened in 2001 with Mr. McEwan at the helm. From the articles I have read from him, he does not have any qualms about speaking his mind no matter what the cost. Politics may not be his thing, but creating amazing whiskies most definitely is. I do not think that master blenders go on tour, but I would love to go to a tasting if he were to present somewhere.