You’ve got to be impressed by Royal Salute’s patience. A fan of keeping whiskies in its barrels—21 years at the very least—its latest release artfully blends the scarcest, hand-selected whiskies that have slow matured for a minimum of 51 years. For the math disinclined, that means every drop was laid to rest no later than 1970.
The second expression from the scotch maker’s pinnacle Time Series collection, the 51 Year Old (2021 release) saw Master Blender Sandy Hyslop hand-selecting whiskies from some of the finest distilleries across Scotland. Among them, the famed Strathisla, Longmorn and Glen Keith distilleries in the heart of Speyside, as well as from the now-demolished Caperdonich distillery. Bottled at cask strength and non-chilled filtered, the sublime blend has powerful notes of blood orange, Manuka honey and sweet hickory smoke, peach and bergamot.
With time at the heart of Time Series 51 Year Old, we took a walk down memory lane with Sandy Hyslop.
The youngest whisky in the Time Series 51 Year Old 2021 Release was laid no later than 1970. Since a bottle is like a time capsule, paint us a picture of 1970.
This whisky has had an amazing journey with every single cask of whisky being held in our warehouse, maturing from 1970 and earlier—that’s five decades! This extremely long maturation brings an unprecedented depth and complexity of flavour with a phenomenally long finish on the plate.
I would have been five years old at the time the whisky was laid down and would have just been starting school. I had absolutely no idea of the amazing career that lay in front of me working in the whisky industry.
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Smells and tastes have the ability to bring up memories and influence emotions—like a good dram after a long day. When savoured, what do you hope the Time Series 51 Year Old 2021 evokes?
Flavour and taste is a very personal thing and evokes memories and experiences that are very unique to you. If you were drinking a glass of this amazing whisky, the contents would last much longer than another whisky that you had tasted before due to the full flavour and amazing finish. Subconsciously you would not be reaching back for another sip right away due to the flavour taking an age to dissipate on the palate. You can refer to my tasting notes here.
Your father ran an antiques business and you are a collector of vintage collectibles and watches. Does this appreciation for time-tested craftsmanship run parallel to your reverence for the mature whiskies laid down in the cellar?
This is an excellent question. I firmly believe that all the time spent with my father in his antique shop gave me a real appreciation of quality, authenticity and heritage. Little did I know that when I started in the whisky industry that there would be many similarities in these standards and ethos when I became the Master Blender for Royal Salute. I love collecting vintage and antique items and have many different collections, but watches are a real passion of mine and I have a significant collection ranging from Casio and Seiko to Rolex and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Making a blend involves bringing together many different malt and grain whiskies, of different flavours and matured in different cask types, to make something that’s complex and far greater than the sum of their parts. Watchmaking is similar with almost microscopic parts put together to make beautiful timepieces that often have amazing complications (chronograph, monophase, etc) that is again greater than the sum of its parts.
How young were you when you got into the whisky business, and was it tough to learn the trade?
I was 18 when I started as a blending room assistant nearly 39 years ago! It was in a small whisky company in the north east of Scotland. I quickly showed an aptitude for nosing, differentiating flavours and formulating whiskies. As it was a small company, I was given the opportunity to learn many different roles within the whisky making process while still working in the blending room. This was a fabulous grounding and prepared me to take up a more senior blending role when I moved to Glasgow looking after international whisky brands. When I started in the industry back in 1983 I could only have dreamt of being responsible for such a prestigious whisky as Royal Salute—it really is a dream come true.
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Do you now enjoy mentoring younger colleagues?
I absolutely love working with our trainee blenders and sharing my experience and passion with them. It is really rewarding to see them grow in confidence and flourish. In our blending room they are given the opportunity to work on all aspects of the whisky-making process from new malt and grain distillate assessment, cask selection, new product development, to testing of mature whiskies. It takes a lot of dedication and practice to master all these skills and takes many years to become completely proficient in all aspects of the role and I really enjoy being part of this learning journey.
How can the average drinker train their nose and palate to best enjoy all of whisky’s nuances?
Experimentation is the key to training your nose and palate. I would always recommend keeping a portion of the bottle you are currently drinking to compare against the new bottle you have opened. By comparing the whiskies against each other you will be able to identify differences such as levels of smoke, sherry impact, intensity of orchard fruit, cask/oak influence.
I write tasting notes that are printed on the carton but everyone should treat them only as a guide, as flavour is a very personal thing. When we are testing whisky professionally, we always bring the whisky samples down to 20% ABV, regardless of the strength in the bottle. This opens up the flavours and reduces the intensity of the alcohol allowing you to integrate the nuances of the whisky much more easily.
Make me jealous. What’s the best part of your job?
Being able to draw samples from our extensive inventory maturing in cask all over Scotland and bringing them to the blending room to experiment and formulate new whiskies to add to the prestigious Royal Salute family.
To know more about the Royal Salute Time Series Collection 51 Year Old 2021 Release, click here.