In Conversation With Sandy Hyslop, Royal Salute Master Blender

The King of Whisky Royal Salute has unveiled its latest limited edition whisky expression, in partnership with Pedro Ximénez, the Royal Salute 29 Year Old Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Finish Edition. Royal Salute is a luxury crafted and aged Scotch whisky that starts where other whisky ends at 21 years old. Originally created to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the 21 gun salute that honoured her, Royal Salute is steeped in tradition with its strong links to royalty.

The whisky is expertly crafted by Master Blender, Sandy Hyslop, and The Luxury Editor recently caught up with Sandy in Seville on the official launch of the new expression. Read on to learn more about Sandy and what it is that makes Royal Salute one of the world’s most luxurious blended malt brands.

Blended Scotch has been in your professional lifeblood for 35 years tell us how you got into the world of whisky?

I got into the industry by complete fluke, I had a place to go to uni, but my father was not keen on it, he thought it would be a huge drain on the family finances. He spotted a job in the local paper as a sample room assistant in a whisky company and you were also allowed to go and study chemistry one day a week in Aberdeen. I applied for the job and got it and have never looked back. It was great working for a small company doing lots of different jobs in the company and from a very early stage I showed a great aptitude to being able to nose and describe flavours and very quickly the blender at that company said you need to come and work with me full time and it just grew from there – 36 years later here I am!

You are master blender for Royal Salute what does it take to do this job and what is a typical day like for you? 

I am responsible for the quality and continuity of all the Royal Salute expressions. It includes managing the flavour of the new distillate that is laid down and filled into casks and left for 21 years. I am involved with setting the formula for all the products to make sure that we have the right flavour profile and making sure we have the right stocks laid down for the future, long after I won’t be here. When I retire from being Master Blender there will be 21 years worth of inventory to keep the brand going and support it going forward.

Why is 21 a key number for Royal Salute?

The 21 year old relates to the 21 gun salute that is fired on special Royal occasions, in particular during the Queen’s Coronation there was a 21 gun salute which gave inspiration for the first 21 year old blend that was created back in 1953. And continually since 1953 21 years old has been available, there is no other whisky in the world that has been continuously available at 21 years since 1953 so it is very special.

For people discovering the world of luxury blended malts tell us about the history of Royal Salute and its strong ties with the Monarchy.

The owner of the company at the time Sam Bronfman wanted something that was fit for royalty and he designed the 21 year old expression and personally delivered two bottles to the Coronation. It was the first time any whisky brand had done anything like that, the links to royalty are very strong.

Royal Salute expressions are all ultra luxury whiskies, what are the key characteristics that set them apart from other blends and brands.

Royal Salute has a richness and a depth of character of orchard fruit flavours that are unbelievably opulent. If you were to give someone who enjoys a glass of whisky and give them a Royal Salute and not say anything to them and monitor how long it took them to drink the glass you would be amazed how long it takes to drink it because subconsciously they are not reaching back to quickly drink more as the drink is staying in the palate and taking a long time to dissipate so it takes much longer to drink because they are getting some wonderful flavours and this is all about good distillation and good quality casks. The cask plays a huge role in the Royal Salute blends.  

What are the key flavour profiles of Royal Salute you keep in mind when creating a new expression?

Richness, fruitiness, it’s indulgent and opulent that fills the palate with flavour.

What do you feel are the biggest misconception about blended whisky?

I think the consumer has much more knowledge about Scotch whisky than they did 15 or 20 years ago and I think there is a real thirst for knowledge on how to understand expressions. The knowledge emphasis is on single malts and there are some great flavours, but with something like the Royal Salute malts blend it is far far more multifaceted than a single malt, it has many more flavours and is much more multi dimensional so when you are tasking it the array of flavours is far more complex. 

How did the partnership between Royal Salute and Pedro Ximénez come about?

I have a long relationship with our cask supplier in Spain and I had spoken to him about getting some casks and conditioning them with Pedro Ximénez. It would have been much easier for me to just buy empty Pedro Ximénez casks that would have been coming from Bodegas, but I really wanted to control the flavour from the start, I wanted to be able to take Spainish oak and be able to condition, dry it, condition it with Oloroso, take that Oloroso out, condition it with Pedro Ximénez then bring it to Scotland and fill it with whisky. I wanted to absolutely control the process. 

How did you go about picking the different malts to go into this new expression?

To make the base blend before we filled it into the Pedro Ximénez casks I drew many many samples and brought them up to the sample room and made a blend in a miniature version of what the final base blend would be, from there we did a couple of different formulations. We did it the same way it would have been done 100 years ago, bringing the cask samples in, taking the cask sizes in their proportions and then settle on exactly what I was looking for. 

I was looking for something that was going to fit with the Royal Salute character and have all those fruity tones but I didn’t want it to have the smoke influence in there because of that rich sweet flavour coming from the Pedro Ximénez I felt would clash a bit with the smoke, so it is much more fruity and sweet, concentrated syrup or plums and honey. Over and above that there is wonderful spiciness in there as well, a bit of liquorice and cinnamon and that soft treacle toffee that is coming through. It is actually very Christmasy, it has sultanas and Christmas pudding and fresh flavours coming through. It is Royal Salute for those with a sweet tooth. It has the Royal Salute DNA running through it but pulled and stretched by the different finished.

Is this a limited edition expression?

This is a one off, with less than 500 cases.

For people who want to buy this and enjoy this at home how would you recommend serving it? 

With something that has so much flavour and depth of flavour and complexity it is super versatile, you can drink it neat, with water, a big block of ice that melts slowly with it. Or as a base to a cocktail, not every whisky can stand up to being used in cocktails, but this one can. 

What do you anticipate are the next innovations / trends in the blended malt industry?

There are a lot of new things happening in the sector, especially with the relaxing of the rules of the casks you can use for influencing whisky there are a lot of different things we can try now. I think we need to experiment these days, with the “thirsty for knowledge” people want to know about new expressions. The good thing about our 29 year old Pedro Ximénez is we have so many good strong guarantees in it; it is 100% finished in sherry casks, it’s not just sherry casks it’s Pedro Ximénez casks, we didn’t just buy empty casks we got casks made and  conditioned and brought them in, it has a really strong credentials. 

What’s next for Royal Salute?

We are experimenting lots at the moment; we are trying lots of different casks – that’s the great thing about working for Royal Salute, there is no pressure to be able to produce something in the next 6 months, if something works out right yes we will pursue it, but if it doesn’t work out then we won’t. It’s all about what is right with Royal Salute, we have serious stocks of aged inventory for the brand, with many years of experience  and at risk of blowing our own trumpet we are experts at blending high age luxury whisky.

What does luxury mean to you?

Luxury means something that exceeds your expectations and something that has been crafted in a way that there have been no limitations on the process and management. For me I am under very little pressure from the business to cut corners or costs, I am given a free hand to manage the Royal Salute brand as I see fit.

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