“Our malt whiskies come from every part of Scotland, we’re very lucky; these different regions have different flavor expressions. That’s the palette of flavor that we’re working with.” In other words, the palette they’re working with contains all of the flavors.
It’s an unparalleled resource, but keeping track of millions of casks is a formidable task. Broadly speaking, the casks are categorized by distillery; then by the type of barrel (some Scotch is aged in ex-bourbon casks, other in sherry, port, or wine casks). From there, barrels are classified by age.
Each of these factors—the distillery of origin, the kind of barrel, the length of aging—plays a clear and, generally speaking, predictable role in the whisky’s flavor and character. A master blender like Beveridge knows what to expect from a bourbon cask versus a sherry cask, or the same whisky after five years, versus after fifteen.
Still, “when you open up any cask,” says Beveridge, “it is a kind of discovery. That’s the fascinating part of the job—the wonder that you have when you try something from a specific cask.” Even if a given barrel is, generally speaking, what he might expect, “the underlying subtleties are always different,” he says. “As a whisky taster, I’m always intrigued: What flavors have developed? Why, exactly, have they developed that way? It’s absolutely fascinating.”
There is a true sense of discovery in the natural variation of whisky, even when that variation provides its challenges, as well. “As blenders, we need to understand where these variations come from, and how they can be controlled.” That’s so they can control the flavors in their blends and keep them consistent, year after year.