Debunking whisky myths with Sandy Hyslop, Director of Blending, Royal Salute

Discussions around “the right way to drink whisky” and “what kind of whisky is best” have been around for as far back as I can remember – probably long before my time. Questions such as “should you drink whisky neat, with ice or with water?”, and “are single malts better than blended whiskies?” have been the subject of many debates and the debates aren’t showing any sign of abating.

These conversations can be difficult to follow, especially as you're bound to hear different opinions from different people. However, when an expert speaks, it is always worth paying attention to what they have to say. With this in mind, we caught up with Sandy Hyslop, Director of Blending for premium whisky brand, Royal Salute to debunk some whisky myths and talk about the life of a Director of Blending.

Sandy Hyslop, Director of Blending, Royal Salute

What exactly do you do as a “Director of Blending”?

There are many exciting parts of my role as the Director of Blending for Royal Salute. Not only am I responsible for the quality and continuity of our whiskies, but also for the purchasing and quality of all casks for the business. Another important part of my role is the responsibility for the company’s technical centres and laboratories.

The role as Director of Blending is constantly evolving as the industry develops, and innovation becomes more important. Maintaining a consistent taste experience remains a top priority. On top of that, my team of master blenders under my leadership play an integral role in product innovation and developing new flavour experiences for consumers to enjoy. There’s a real art involved in creating each blend, and we use skills that have been handed down throughout the centuries – it’s no simple task. Our blenders are experts on every single malt and grain whisky in our stock, understanding their individual character and how they will come together.

What is your favourite part of being the Director of Blending for Royal Salute?

Royal Salute is an extremely high quality and prestigious whisky brand with an outstanding reputation and it is a great honour for me to be responsible for the quality and continuity of this family of whiskies. To be part of the history of Royal Salute is incredible and to lay down whiskies now for blending many decades in the future is a responsibility I relish. It is imperative that I have the best quality whiskies maturing in the appropriate quality casks to ensure the quality of Royal Salute long after I have retired.

Royal Salute 21 Year Old

Should you add water to whisky?

You will often hear murmurs about adding a few drops of water to whisky, with the traditional perception that either it is a sin - or that it opens up the whisky, unlocking the aromas. I would suggest trying the whisky neat first and if you find it to be too strong then add some water. As the water and alcohol combine, a reaction takes place, opening up the whisky and releasing the more subtle aromas allowing you to fully appreciate it. When I enjoy a glass at home, I will usually add a little water as I firmly believe that it opens up the flavours in the blend and lets me fully appreciate the myriad of flavours in the exceptional whisky.

Should you add ice to whisky?

There is no strict rule for this. With ice, temperature reduction gives a new dimension to the whisky and the slow release of water from the ice can develop a whole new range of flavours. Ice can change the whole perception of a glass of whisky and during the summer months when you are looking for something cool and refreshing, adding ice to your whisky brings a fabulous alternative for your enjoyment.

Royal Salute 21 Year Old

Is it true that the darker the whisky, the older it is?

Not necessarily. The distillate takes the vast majority of its colour from the oak casks during the many years of maturation. It also depends on which type of cask the whisky has matured in – for example, an American oak cask will impart more golden/yellow colours whereas an ex-sherry butt will give deeper hues of red.

Are single malts better than blended whiskies?

Blending a whisky is a form of art. Just like single malts, you get different expressions of blended whiskies. Blended whisky is made with grain whisky as well as single malts. Grain whisky should be smooth and creamy and when aged and combined with high quality aged fruity single malts, it results in an excellent blended whisky. Something that needs to be remembered is the amount of time it takes to create some of the age-statement blended whiskies. All the single malt and grain whiskies need to be matured in casks for at least the age stated on the label. So in the case of Royal Salute 21 Year Old, every drop of whisky in the blend has spent more than 21 years maturing in casks. 

What goes into developing a whisky such as Royal Salute 21 Year Old?

Developing a whisky with the exceptional calibre of Royal Salute 21 Year Old takes a significant amount of time. It involves sampling hundreds of casks and preparing and formulating many different pilot blends in the Sample Room to fine tune the flavour and make sure that not only does the whisky have rich, fruity, sweet flavours but also the balance and smoothness of the blend are perfect. When developing a whisky as old as Royal Salute, it is imperative the influence of the cask used for maturation compliments the whisky perfectly and does not overpower the blend. Lastly, it is imperative that any blend created has to be repeatable; by this I mean that I need to make sure we have the inventory and quality of casks to maintain this flavour and quality over the coming years and decades to ensure continuity in quality.

Available for a limited time only and just in time for Christmas, the Royal Salute Regent’s Banquet Festive Gift Pack is available globally now for a RRP of USD $130 and from Harvey Nichols for a RRP of £150. For further information, visit:

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