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Master of the Chivas Realm: Sandy Hyslop

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03/01/2024 Mastery and Genius, let’s talk to Sandy Hyslop, Director of Blending and Inventory at Chivas Brothers

There is one person who holds the key to some of the world’s top whiskies -  Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s, Royal Salute, and The Glenlivet. Sandy Hyslop, with 40 years under his blending belt does this pressure-inducing job with flair. 

You oversee some of the world’s leading brands - Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s, Royal Salute, and The Glenlivet. A dream come true but also an immense challenge. How do you balance the two facets?

I am incredibly proud to be Master Blender in charge of such well-known and prestigious brands. After 40 years in the whisky industry, working with Scotch still never fails to make me excited. Of course, the job comes with challenges but it’s also an opportunity (and in fact, it’s actively encouraged) to keep innovating, experimenting, and learning. I’m also incredibly fortunate to have an amazing team around me who motivate me every day through their collective passion for the business.

Over your impressive 40-year career in the industry, how have you seen the role of a Director of Blending and Inventory evolve, and what key changes have influenced your approach?

Throughout my time in the industry, I've seen a significant evolution in my role as Director of Blending and Inventory, as well as the industry as a whole. This transformation has primarily been driven by technological advancements, globalization of the whisky market, increased consumer demand as well and a growing emphasis on environmental sustainability. To stay ahead of the curve, I've adapted by encouraging and understanding the new ways consumers enjoy Scotch, by embracing technology and incorporating aspects of these into our practices and processes.

As a leader, you've likely encountered challenges in preserving the artistry of whisky blending while incorporating modern technologies and practices. Can you tell us how you've managed to strike that balance effectively?

I’m incredibly passionate about protecting the reputation of the heritage brands within Chivas Brothers’ portfolio. The artistry has been passed down through generations, and therefore it’s essential to maintain and honor this heritage by using technology as an enabler rather than a replacement for traditional techniques. For example, innovations in technology have made our casks and batches far more consistent in flavour, helping us to ensure that every bottle is consistent in quality. By focusing on consistency and quality when introducing new technology and innovative tools, this fusion ensures we maintain the precision and quality, that Chivas Brothers’ is known for. Our Chivas Extra editions are a great example of balancing traditional techniques with innovation. A portion of Chivas Extra 13 is finished in tequila barrels, or matured in Olosoro sherry casks, adding an extra touch to the 13-year-old whisky.

With decades at Chivas Brothers, you've likely seen various phases of growth and change within the company. How has your understanding of the company's values and goals shaped your role in maintaining spirit quality and planning?

Throughout my long tenure at Chivas Brothers, the company's enduring commitment to producing high-quality spirits has become central to my work, requiring constant refinement and attention to detail in every aspect of production. As Master Blender, it's my responsibility to ensure that we are sourcing premium ingredients, that there is constant refinement in our distillation processes, and that we are maintaining meticulous attention to detail.

In your role, ensuring spirit quality is paramount. Could you walk us through the process you and your team follow to guarantee the highest standards are met during blending?

Whisky blending is undoubtedly an art. Achieving flawless balance is the result of decades of practice, experimentation, and a deep understanding of flavour. My nose is by far my most important tool. To put it in context, I probably nose 1,500-2,000 samples a week yet taste around five, so this is a really important skill to have. Protecting the reputation of our legacy brands in Chivas Brothers' portfolio is something I'm extremely passionate about as without consistency in the distillation of our legacy products, like Chivas 12 or Ballantine's Finest, there is no foundation from which innovation can thrive. To ensure we continue to uphold the highest standards, we must have rigor and an eagle eye for the details, at times drawing from our vast inventory of liquid to recreate or reimagine flavour profiles. Doing this is only possible with people who are truly passionate about Scotch and that’s what my team represents.

Living on the west coast of Scotland undoubtedly places you in the heart of whisky culture. How does the local environment influence your work and your approach to maintaining the Chivas Brothers' legacy?

I think it’s impossible to have grown up in Scotland and not feel connected to whisky in some form. The country’s rich whisky heritage, coupled with access to an abundant source of pure water and quality barley. This had a profound influence on my work. The water used at our distilleries is sourced locally. The landscape serves as a constant reminder of the industry's long-held traditions and the importance of using the finest ingredients. It’s also home to a vibrant local Scotch whisky community and we’re an industry that believes in collaboration and sharing expertise. Having the ability to hear their valuable insights and feedback and their undying commitment to quality, tradition, and community enables me to do what I do each day.

Selecting casks is a considerable part of your role. What is your approach to wood management for each of the brands? What are some unusual cask finishes that you have been experimenting with?

It’s really important to invest in top-quality casks for maturation as these are an essential component in the final flavour profile of the product. The cask's history must also be taken into account while examining cask finishes. A second fill barrel enables a superb flavour balance between the cask influence and distillate character when utilizing a cask for a long maturation, such as 21 years or more. Whereas using all first-fill casks can be too great and can on occasion totally take over if the distillate is left in the cask for an extended period.

Being able to explore and experiment with unique cask finishes and aging techniques is a really exciting part of the job and something that is actively encouraged at Chivas Brothers. We’ve experimented with an array of unusual cask finishes over the years, including Chivas Mizunara, the world's first blended Scotch whisky selectively finished in Japanese Mizunara oak casks, as well as The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve single malt Scotch whisky which is finished in barrels that previously held Caribbean rum. A couple of years ago we launched Royal Salute’s Polo Estancia blend finished in top-of-the-range Argentinian Malbec wine casks and more recently Chivas Regal also added a Margaux cask-finished expression to its Chivas 18 Wine Cask Series.


Chivas has ambitious sustainability goals that they are constantly on target to accomplish: to be carbon neutral across their distillation by 2026, that all their packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025, and to close the gender pay gap by 2024. What role do you play in achieving these goals?

My role is not just about creating exceptional spirits but also aligning with the company's broader mission to create a better future for both the business and the world. Recently, as part of Chivas Brothers’ sustainability pledges, we have shared our commitment to achieving carbon-neutral distillation by the end of 2026. To make this happen, we're investing over £60m to introduce innovative heat recovery methods and electric boilers in suitable distilleries. Our technology, including Mechanic Vapour Recompression (MVR) and Thermo Vapour Recompression (TVR), has already proven its effectiveness, leading to a remarkable 53% reduction in carbon emissions at our Glentauchers distillery.

Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of whisky blending? Are there any emerging trends or technologies that you believe will significantly shape the landscape in the future?

One notable trend I foresee is a continued exploration of unique cask finishes and aging techniques, especially with the relaxing of the rules of casks you can use. Today’s younger generations have new tastes and a real thirst for experimentation in their drinks. As a result, whisky producers are becoming more experimental, which is leading to a broader spectrum of whisky profiles and diversity of offerings in the market.  Looking forward, whisky lovers can expect a more diverse and dynamic landscape of blends that cater to different tastes and preferences.

What can we find you drinking on a Friday evening? What music would you be listening to?

You can usually find me in my garage on a Friday night listening to some rock music and surveying my many and varied collections. I appreciate a wide variety of spirits from around the world and I love trying out new flavours. But I also appreciate a classic like Royal Salute Signature Blend. It’s a rich, flavourful, and delightful whisky, and there are many different ways to enjoy it. Ice, water, soda, or I like to mix up a special Royal Salute drink like The Kensington, which is made with Royal Salute 21-Year-Old The Signature Blend, rose water-infused honey syrup, fresh lemon juice, and soda water, served in a tumbler is a tasty treat! 

As anyone who knows me well will know, I love a good watch and Scotch pairing and I enjoy sharing my love for both on Instagram. In the case of Royal Salute, it would have to be The Grand Seiko Elegance SBGK005G. The stunning in-house hand-wound movement and Zaratsu polishing of the case make for an elegant and sophisticated timepiece and a perfect pairing for Royal Salute with its amazing history, outstanding presentation, and opulent whisky.

In conversation with Malvika Patel, Editor and VP, Beverage Trade Network

Note: Header and Index Image Source: Sandy Hyslop for Chivas.

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