Earlier this year, Drinks Retailing travelled to Scotland for the launch of Ardray – a new blended Scotch from Beam Suntory – made using the company’s whisky experts in both Scotland and Japan. Here, Lucy Britner catches up with chief blender for Scotch, Calum Fraser
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO COLLABORATE ON THE ARDRAY PROJECT WITH THE TEAM IN JAPAN?
I came in about halfway through. They were almost creating a fresh perspective on how a blended Scotch whisky can be made, with the different flavours that make it up. There were probably over 100 iterations by that point. They almost had the style they saw as being perfect and I worked with them to refine the final Ardray blend.
WHAT DID THE TWO TEAMS BRING TO THE PROJECT?
We’re very lucky to have Shinji Fukuyo, the master blender for the Japanese portfolio, who has almost 40 years’ experience. The Japanese blenders are very precise in what they do. From a Scottish point of view, obviously I have an in-depth knowledge across my 12 years in Scotch, from the various styles of grain whiskies that we use within Ardray and also the different styles of malt whiskies that we use – fresh fruits, orchard fruits, spice characters and all the way through to the richer, peatier styles.
ARDRAY HAS A ‘DIGITAL HOME’, RATHER THAN A BRAND HOME AT A DISTILLERY. CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH WHY YOU DON’T NAME THE DISTILLERIES USED IN THE BLEND?
For me as a blender, the most important thing is the flavours and characters of the whisky itself. It goes over and above needing to name distilleries, or indeed age. It’s about getting the optimal flavour. We were primarily sampling from thousands of casks across Scotland, looking for whiskies that have the optimal characters across fruit, spice, peat and slight nutty-type characters, to give consumers the optimal flavour experience. We mainly drew from Beam Suntory and Edrington’s portfolio because these distilleries offer sustainability of supply, and they offer the characteristics we were looking for.
YOU SAID THIS WHISKY HARKS BACK TO TECHNIQUES USED 100 YEARS AGO – CAN YOU ELABORATE?
There are elements of how whisky used to be made that we have used within the ethos of Ardray – one is the idea of component blending, whereby we create solera systems of the different key flavour blocks of the blend. For example, a blended grain whisky building block, a delicate American oak barrel matured blended malt component, a heavier, ex-oloroso sherry seasoned matured blended malt building block, and a peated blended malt whisky component. The use of a solera technique means we never exhaust our supply of building blocks or final blend, providing an opportunity to offer further complexity within Ardray as time progresses.
WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR ARDRAY?
I want to be associated with a brand people link with high quality, and every time they open a bottle, they have the same enjoyable experience. It’s all about consistency.