DI talks to Sandy Hyslop

This is a special Rolex, developed so scientists could keep track of time in electromagnetic environments, by repelling the effects of magnetism. Why ‘Milgauss’? It is named after Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, who was a German mathematician in the 18th-19th centuries. He is ranked as one of history’s most influential mathematicians, contributing to many fields, including number theory, algebra, statistics, differential geometry, geophysics, electrostatics, astronomy  and optics.

Hyslop attributes his passion for collecting to his father, who ran an antiques shop. He used to help out and developed a keen sense of something’s worth and being able to seek out and identify quality.

What about his son, five-year-old Stephen? “He likes coming in with me of a Sunday morning. He has a really keen sense of smell. I cannot have a sneaky mint. He will ask: ‘Have you been having mints?’”

So, could Stephen Hyslop be Ballantine’s sixth or seventh master blender? 

A brief nosing of the Ballantine’s portfolio gives a snapshot of the scale of Hyslop’s task just in maintaining the Ballantine’s style.  From Finest through the 12-year-old, 17-year-old, 21-year-old up to the daunting 30-year-old, the house style shines through the ever-deepening liquids. Soft, sweet, smooth and delicate with no hint of smokey peat, whereas Chivas is all about Speyside fruity notes.

Hyslop also worked with both Jack Goudy and Robert Hicks, which sounds akin to being stuck between a rock and a hard surface or between Morecambe & Wise. He describes Goudy as “passionate but could be gruff” whereas Hicks was “flamboyant”. 

He points out the level of commitment and the weight of responsibility of his job. The current Ballantine’s 30-year-old is essentially a blend of whiskies that Goudy laid down. Hyslop may never get to try the 30-year-old made from whiskies he has overseen being made and laid down.

He goes on to explain that if there’s a need to affect a change in a blend possibly due to expiring stocks, he will start to make that change over a period that could be three years. “We have to smooth out the recipe so the blend never falls off a cliff edge.”

There was a demand for a 15-year-old Ballantine’s.  “I was never going to change the 12-year-old so we arranged a special production for China. Jack Goudy told me: “It can take 30 years to build a brand but one bad batch can ruin that.”

So, to be in the scotch whisky business you have to be in it for the long haul. Hyslop is still a long way off retirement but does the have a successor lined up? “There are two of them”, he says, gesturing towards the sample room. They might well be keeping the seat warm for son Stephen.