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Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Art of Blending with Chivas Whisky, where I am unexpectedly revealed as a MASTER BLENDER

As I have said before, I am a fairly recent convert to the world of whisky, and whilst I like it very much - with all its whiff of old books, and leather armchairs, and hard-drinking, ball-busting ladies who probably keep a small pistol in their brassiere - I am still an enthusiastic but ignorant amateur. Left to my own devices, I tend to revert to a well-known brand of bourbon that is frequently on offer at the supermarket; I say this not with pride, but with the knowledge that there is a much wider world out there and that I want IN ON IT.

Thus I find myself at Gorilla on Whitworth Street, sitting in a room set up like the most exciting Chemistry lab you've ever seen (I would certainly have enjoyed lessons more at school had they been more like this), waiting for the Chivas "Art of Blending" event. Chivas is the third-best selling Scotch whisky in the world, with a bottle sold every two seconds, and despite the fact that it takes around 40 years to become a Master Blender, we are all here to have a go at producing something drinkable in around 90 minutes. So great is my whisky ignorance, I had some kind of idea that blended whiskies were inferior to single malts, no doubt haunted by ill-advised bottles of Bell's hastily and erroneously purchased from the duty-free; this misconception is gently corrected by brand ambassador Rachel Macdonald, who tells us that over 90% of Scotch whisky sales worldwide are of blended whiskies, and that the whole beauty of a blend is that it allows you to find a whisky that fits your own taste perfectly. Makes sense.

So, we all get to work on blending our own perfect whisky. On the table in front of us (as well as the mixing beakers, tasting glasses etc) is an exciting array of whisky bottles, each bearing a generic label - we have Grain, Lowlands, Highlands, Islay and Speyside, and the idea is to taste them all and then decide which proportion of each we want in our own blend. I am at a table composed enirely of gentlemen, who take their sweet time over this; I take a business-like, decisive approach and briskly taste each before deciding on my percentages and knocking up my own, personal 250ml of whisky, which I name the "Manchester Malt". To my surprise, it is very good, and I sit smugly basking in my own glory until Rachel brings us each a shot of Chivas Regal 12 and 18 and I realise that I am probably better off leaving it to the experts after all.

This is, of course, blending made easy - all the whiskies on the table in front of us are good quality brands in their own right, so we can't really go wrong. The evening is tremendous fun though, as Rachel (pictured above) is friendly and knowledgeable (as well as being young and female in what must surely still be a male-dominated spirit world) and the shared mixing tables are sociable and generously loaded with whisky that you are encouraged to drink (even if there is more than a whiff of competitive testosterone about my table). This was a press preview, but I plan to go back when the event returns on May 26, 27, 28 and 29 May - tickets are a ludicrous £10, which includes your own 250ml bottle of whisky to take home. Tickets can be purchased here via Eventbrite, and more information about the Chivas brand can be found here.

And as for the Manchester Malt? It was - quite unfeasibly - deemed a winner, netting me a bottle of Strathisla whisky as well as a real sense of pride (and luck). So if you were one of the people on the 143 last Thursday evening who sensibly avoided sitting next to the rather excitable girl clutching a large and a small bottle of whisky to her victorious breast, you have missed your chance to make the acquaintance of a Master Blender...

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