Last week we had the pleasure of meeting Richard Paterson at an event that was about matching Scotch whisky and Indian food in London. It was a busy evening that included some television filming, tasting some excellent whisky and food combinations and general fun. In between all of that, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Richard for a few minutes and chat about a number of subjects.
Richard Paterson is one of the legendary figures in the world whisky industry. He is Master Blender for the Whyte & Mackay company, who are one of Scotland's leading producers and distributors of whisky - they own a number of Scottish single malt distilleries including Dalmore and Jura, as well as releasing their popular range of blended whiskies. He became the Master Blender at Whyte & Mackay at the age of 26, making him one of Scotland's youngest. Richard is now not just the Master Blender but also a global ambassador for the Whyte & Mackay brand, Scotland and whisky in general! In addition, Richard writes an excellent and informative blog called The Master Blender and he can be followed on social networking site Twitter under the name @the_nose.
Richard began by explaining about his role and the Whyte & Mackay brand. Whyte & Mackay currently export whisky to near every country in the world and their current focus is on the new markets and economies that are opening up (eg. India, Taiwan, China and South America - all of which he has visited recently). In these markets, Richard has found that consumers are desperate to learn about whisky and he feels that his job is to explain the basics in simple terms. Common subjects include the difference between single malt whiskies and blends, breaking down peoples perceptions of whisky and instructing how to nose and taste whisky correctly. Richard said that he must "make whisky come alive" and try to get consumers to see whisky for what it really is by using their senses. In hot climates, people struggle to imagine the cold, damp locations of the distilleries where whisky is made and he has to convey this so that they take the most from the whisky and the experience.
Richard then went on to describe the way that he selects casks for blending and the slightly unconventional age statements on the Whyte & Mackay range of blended whiskies. He stated that his years of experience have now led to him automatically knowing what casks will produce good whisky. For example, he regularly visits Spain to select sherry casks from a number of bodegas and chooses them by the type of wood and by simply tasting the sherry that has been maturing in them. Whyte & Mackay currently have many types of wood cask developing, with some only suitable for single malt releases and others specifically for blending.
The Whyte & Mackay blended range have a number of releases at unconventional ages (eg. 13, 19 and 22 years old). Richard explained that this was because himself and the company believe in releasing whisky when it is ready and that this may not be at the conventional ages such as 10, 12, 18 or 21 years of age. He used the Whyte & Mackay 19 years old blend as an example - here he selects whiskies with a range of ages, of which the youngest is 18 years old. This blend has 25 component parts including a high percentage of Highland single malts, some Speyside single malts to soften the blend and grain whisky, mostly from the Invergordon grain distillery. The whiskies are blended and then left to marry and settle together for a further year. This results in the youngest whisky now being 19 years old, hence the age statement on the bottle.
Finally, the subject of the food and whisky matching was discussed. Richard spoke generally to begin with when he stressed the importance of taking your time. Firstly, take some food and wait a short time before taking some whisky in to your mouth. This will re-invigorate the flavours of the food and then wait again before taking some more whisky. The result is the full effect of the food and whisky, as your mouth has become used to the alcohol with the first taste of whisky. He then went on to speak about Indian food and whisky specifically and explained that both elements should compliment each other with one not overpowering the other. He is always looking for perfect combinations and said that the spiciness of the savoury Indian food served and the sweetness of the desserts would perfectly match the richness, subtle spiciness and sweetness of his Whyte & Mackay whiskies.
The conversation had to end as Richard had to go and film but we thank him for the time that he gave us. He is a charismatic character who has an infectious enthusiasm for the Whyte & Mackay brand and whisky in general. If you have ever met him or ever get to meet him, you will know or see for yourselves! It was an education and as Richard says in his own words "when you stop learning, you are finished!" We couldn't agree more!