A whisky less ordinary

A whisky less ordinary

Exploring Seville through the story of Royal Salute

Whisky & Culture | 06 Dec 2019 | Issue 164 | By Phoebe Calver

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It’s not often you get to taste a whisky that predates your own life, so it is safe to say that the expectations placed upon Royal Salute’s new limited-edition expression were at an all time high.

In what has already been a huge year for the brand, with the two new permanent additions to its portfolio, the Lost Blend and Malts Blend, it looks like the sky is the limit as we enter a new decade and the brand moves into its 67th year.

The brand was created in 1953 as a tribute to the British crown, providing a collection of whiskies no younger than 21-years-old, something pretty exceptional in the fast-paced world that we live in today where immediate demand can outweigh excellence.

It was in Seville on a perfectly blue-skied day that the brand unveiled its latest adventure and quite something to behold, the Royal Salute 29 Years Old Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Finish Edition; this is the first Royal Salute whisky to be fully finished in these particular world renowned sherry casks. In what can only be described as a passion project, it is clear that this launch marks the beginning of a new era for Royal Salute, a time in which the brand will finally begin to sing its own praises. If you don’t get it already, you’ll understand why in no time.

With more than 30 years’ experience in the industry, Sandy Hyslop, master blender at Royal Salute was a little intimidating to find myself sat across from on a 6am flight to Seville. After doing a not-so-subtle check via Instagram (not as creepy as it sounds) that I was about to ask the right man, I interrupted Sandy’s peace and made my introductions. Within seconds I knew this would be entertaining – there’s something about a person that lives and breathes their work that makes you instantly want to sit back and listen to every bit of knowledge they will willingly impart. Safe to say, seat allocation did me a favour there.

So, why Seville, you ask? Not only does the city represent the brand’s ethos of culture, conversation and conviviality, but the visit also followed in the footsteps of the Queen’s royal tour of Spain in 1988, a connection the brand has celebrated ever since.

The rich opulence of the city perfectly mirrors what Sandy was striving to achieve with this whisky, creating a product that is unforgettable. As Sandy explains when discussing this move for the brand, “I think we’re showing that we can make fabulous luxury whiskies but I think now it’s how we can take it to another level.

“We can do a sherry finish, but you know what, we aren’t just going to do any sherry finish we’re going to do a full sherry finish. We’re not just going to buy empty casks in Spain, we’re going to buy brand new casks, get them conditioned, follow a four-year period, bring the casks in and put the whisky into them. We wanted to make something that every single quality credential-related box was ticked.”

I’d tasted a lot of samples of PX sherry before and that had given me a burning ambition to do something with PX

Not only did the team take the time to head abroad to hand-select the casks, they also monitored the process to ensure that they were conditioned to the Royal Salute standard. This enabled the team to fill the casks in-house with the PX sherry, as well as playing around with timelines. As we all know, taking time is never an issue for Royal Salute, “We’d never done a fully finished PX, it was made clear to me that if I wasn’t happy with it, we wouldn’t do it. We’d go through the process, we’d make it, we’d finish it and if I wasn’t happy with it then it didn’t have to go to market.

“We had a commitment to getting it right. This is 29 years old, at 27 and a half/28 we started putting it in casks. This was a serious project and not everyone will commit to laying-down that amount of whisky at that age, let alone finishing it for that amount of time in those casks. It was a hugely expensive process.”

When it came to selecting the perfect sherry for the finish, it is no surprise that after a great deal of research and testing, the final decision was PX. “I’d tasted a lot of samples of PX sherry before and that had given me a burning ambition to do something with PX. I thought this was a huge opportunity and perfectly paired with Royal Salute’s rich and opulent flavour.

"I needed something that was exactly the same to finish in the cask, so Oloroso or fino sherry just wasn’t going to hit the mark. You’ve got something that has been matured in a cask for 27 years, it’s got amazing flavours already, so to complement that and add an extra dimension it has to be something that is pretty spectacular.

At 28 years old we monitored the finishing process every four weeks, I would have a sample come into the lab to make sure that everything was on track

“To give you an example, if I’d put that in Oloroso casks, it probably would have taken about seven to nine years to finish and even then, it wouldn’t have been what I wanted as it would have been too dry.”

There is always the difficulty with a limited-edition that it will run short of the recognisable palate of the brand, however, keeping that at the front and centre of the whisky was paramount to Sandy.

“You get that DNA running through all of the whiskies and I absolutely didn’t want someone who drinks Royal Salute 21 Years Old Signature Blend on a regular basis to then make a special purchase, drink this and say what’s happened here? I could have easily left it for longer and the PX would have overpowered the whisky and it would have been too much.

“At 28 years old we monitored the finishing process every four weeks, I would have a sample come into the lab to make sure that everything was on track. This wasn’t just with one cask, we were sampling multiple casks to make sure that it was linear across all of the casks to get the desired finish.”

From start to finish, the creation of this product was all about opulence and building something with an aspirational feel. It is safe to say that it has been achieved across the age-statement and the hand-selecting of the casks. The launch itself was similarly opulent, with a tasting in a private restaurant and a personal tour of the Real Alcazar de Sevilla. It is safe to say that the picture painted by this particular whisky will be engrained in my mind and making my mouth water for many more years to come.
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