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DI talks to Sandy Hyslop
Published:  19 December, 2014

Sandy Hyslop, Chivas Brothers’ master blender, is hands on. He’s not one for travelling long haul most of the year. Christian Davis tracks him down to where he is happiest.

Kilmalid, Chivas Brothers’ major bottling facility in Dumbarton, Scotland, is not one of the prettiest places to visit in the scotch whisky industry. Figuratively speaking, it’s a million miles away from picturesque Strathisla distillery in Keith or the magnificent Glenlivet facility in Speyside. Just outside Glasgow, it plays a major part in the bottling and distribution of Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s whisky, Beefeater gin and Malibu, producing something in the region of 20 million cases a year.

It is at Kilmalid that Chivas Brothers master blender Sandy Hyslop is based. Hyslop reckons to nose about 250 samples a day and actually tastes about five a week. “The nose is so much more sensitive than the palate,” he says. Probably best known as Ballantine’s fifth master blender ever, he is actually more important than that. Hyslop plots the course of Pernod Ricard’s scotch whisky operation.

He likes to get in early: “Seven-thirty, I like to know what is going on and make sure everything is all right.” And so he should.  With the global thirst for scotch whisky, many master blenders and distillers are obliged to hit the road to explain what they are doing and why. Not the 49-year-old Hyslop, who has been involved with making scotch whisky for 31 years.

How much does he travel?  “One week a year,” replies Hyslop emphatically. There’s a pause then: “They can have me for one week a year.”

The ebullient Scotsman then goes on to qualify that statement by saying that he goes to Speyside every week and if there is an event or a tasting, he is happy to join in. “I like to interact,” he says. But it is plain from his first answer that Hyslop has no taste for airports, international hotels and basically being away from what he knows and does best.

When asked where he does like going, his reply is immediate: “ I like Japan the best. They are so organised when we are doing tastings. They are very courteous and so enthusiastic about Ballantine’s.”

So how did it all start? Hyslop aspired to study chemistry after leaving school but his father had other ideas.

“My father steered me to a lab assistant job at Stewarts Cream of Barley which was owned by what was then Allied-Lyons. My father got the best of both worlds – I was earning, bringing some money in and a day a week I was training,” he says.

Stewarts was Allied-Lyons’ first whisky. Then it bought Teacher’s, Ballantine when it bought Hiram Walker and finally Long John via the acquisition of James Burroughs, best known for Beefeater gin.

“I started working in the laboratory, then working with the blenders. We were a really small group so I got thrown into all sorts of jobs. I was in the inventory department, then bottling, QC (quality control), filling casks,” says Hyslop.