DI talks to Sandy Hyslop

19 December, 2014

“Ian Jardine was Stewarts Cream of Barley master blender. There was a lot of setting up and he let me try them (samples).” Jardine used to test Hyslop and lay traps. “I used to get it every time,” he
 says confidently.

“Ian Jardine was very innovative and you needed to think on your feet. We were managing mature fillings but also lots of supermarket blends – gin and rum as well. But Stewarts Cream of Barley paid the mortgage,” says Hyslop.

So what does it take to make a master blender? Is it all about
the palate? “It is different for different people. When I say ‘apple’ I’m thinking of a red apple, whereas you might be thinking of Golden Delicious or a green apple. It is all about people’s perceptions. I can taste, using my words but you have to find your own. When I hear that I know you are getting it. But you cannot force words upon people,” he says.

On the art of blending: “It is about 75% ability and 25% passion and dedication – I’m not just saying that. You have to focus on getting it right. A lot of people have a great sense of smell but the name of the game is being able to describe it. You have to practise doing it all the time,” says Hyslop.

“We have to assess people as part of ISO 9001 and the pass rate is 90%. Different generations have different descriptions. I will say ‘stewed apples’ because when I was a kid that is what my mum made. If I say ‘coal gas’, younger people around me say: ‘What is that?’”

Hyslop is in full swing now: “It’s about attention to detail. If I got less than 10 on a scale of 1-to-10, I would be very, very surprised.” One of Hyslop’s lab colleagues was asked and he immediately replied: “Eleven.” Hyslop is cock-a-hoop. 

He oversees a department of 24. Four are working with him in the sampling room on the organoleptics; there is a team planning to ensure whiskies are in the right place; another overseeing vatting. So for example, Ballantine’s Finest. Hyslop and his team require working with 800 barrels of malt. Another team looks after casks, including the ones coming from the US. They have to empty, oversee cleaning and grade them. “We are filling 80,000 casks a month,” says Hyslop. Finally there is the technical department overseeing things such as quality control.

So how does Sandy Hyslop relax? “I love going to antique fairs and car boot sales. I collect automobile memorabilia – MG cars – Scottish glass, Ysart (glassware made by a Spanish family in Perth, Scotland, in the 1920s), watches, even Dinky toys.” He has a room at home devoted to displaying his various collections.

He likes to rebuild cars, so why MGs? “I’d love to have a Jensen Interceptor or a Bugatti but I can’t afford it,” Hyslop laughs. He has also dabbled with motorbikes.

For most uninitiated in watch collecting, the first question is: “Do you have a Rolex?” Hyslop’s instant replay is: “Yes, I have a Rolex Milgauss”. 

Keywords: Sandy Hyslop

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