Meet the man behind the first Naked Whisky who brought a long-lost family blend back to life
- Years ago Rupert had a wild idea to start his own whisky business. He knew he needed to gain experience in the industry first, so he set off to travel the world selling scotch and made contacts all over Scotland.
- A chance discovery in 2016 gave him the nudge to go it alone. He came across the whisky ledgers of his great great grandfather, James Eadie. They revealed the secrets behind a once highly-regarded family blend, and Rupert knew he had to revive it.
- He persuaded one of Scotland’s most experienced and distinguished Master Blenders, Norman Mathison, to come out of retirement and the pair have worked tirelessly ever since. Norman’s skill, Rupert’s dedication and Angels' support has brought this blend back to life... and it stands out from the crowd today, just as it did 170 years ago.
Map of the Vineyard
A little more about Norman, the Master Blender...
ALL ON THE NOSE
On the outside, there is nothing remarkable about Norman Mathison’s nose. It sits in the
middle of his face, is equipped with a pair of nostrils and could happily support a pair of
specs. Where it differs is on the inside. This remarkably well-tuned organ kept Norman
gainfully employed as a whisky blender for over fifty years, and it still keeps him busy now.
“I retired eight years ago,” he says. “But that lasted three weeks when someone phoned up
and asked me to look at some samples.” He has been a whisky consultant ever since.
“A lot of people say ‘you must have a very good nose?’ I think it was just that I was trained
from an early age,” he says. Having left school at fifteen, much to his parents’ alarm, an
uncle had explained that he could get a job as an office boy “either in alcohol or shipping,”
the uncle explained. “We’re an island so we’ll always have ships and people will always
drink.” He joined MacLauchlan’s, a Glasgow brewer that owned the Auchentoshan distillery
and had its own whisky for its pubs. In next to no time, he was nosing casks in the warehouse
under the watchful eye of the firm’s boss and blender. “The first time, he said ‘get a glass and
follow me’,” says Norman. “And that was it. I learned on the job.”
“I honestly don’t think my sense of smell is better than anyone else’s,” he continues. “I
always tell people that once you get something in your head, as long as you remember it, you
can build up your own library of smells. They’re very difficult to describe and no two people
will pick up the same smell. I might get ‘apples’ and you’ll get ‘grapefruit’, but the trick is to
try and pick up the same thing every time.” After a few years at Maclachan’s, Norman moved
to Invergordon Distillers where he was mentored by the legendary blender - Charles ‘the
This obsession with smell rather than taste might seem strange, but they are virtually one and
the same if you stop and think about it. You only have to have a blocked nose and a stinking
cold to realise just how little you can actually taste with your tongue. Norman’s nose is not
insured for a six figure sum and he laughs at the very idea, but perhaps it should be. Then
again, maybe the real value lies in the years of experience and that vast memory bank.
Invergordon produced blended whiskies for supermarkets all over the world, and scooped
many awards along the way. Each blend would start with a meeting with the buyers and a
blank sheet of paper. “You would sit down and discuss what style they were looking for - did
they want something heavy, light or smoky? And you would go from there,” he says, before explaining that a typical blend would contain around five grain whiskies and at least thirty- five malts.
You could liken the job of blending to a complex jigsaw puzzle, but it becomes a whole lot
more complicated when you consider all the different casks involved in ageing the whiskies.
There is their age, their size, their previous contents such as sherry, Bourbon or port, how
often they have been used, and the fact that they all come from an oak tree as individual as
you or I. “If you fill a hundred casks, in five years you will have a hundred different flavours
and a hundred different degrees of maturation,” says Norman. Suddenly, blending begins to
sound more like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle.
Having sketched out the idea on paper, the process then moves to the sample room and
blending whiskies by hand. “You have a rough idea that if you mix three, four, five, six or
more malts together in a certain ratio, you should go in a certain direction. It’s hard to
describe. It’s just pure experience really,” he says, adding that the prototype from the sample
room “is a good guide, but we would always do a full blending operation before bottling
anything.” Invergordon owned a number of malt distilleries including Bruichladdich and
Jura, but nothing like the 30 or more needed in its blends. The same was true for the other
whisky firms and this explains the enormous trade in casks that goes on every year behind the
scenes. “On the production side of Scotch whisky everyone’s very friendly because we all
need each other,” says Norman.
While adjusting to his new life as a consultant, others were engaged in a fascinating piece of
whisky detective work that he was to become involved in. The brewer James Eadie had
bottled a blend that he sold in his pubs in the Midlands. It was big, smoky, sherried whisky
and immensely popular by all accounts. Unfortunately it disappeared off the scene in 1942,
but his great great grandson, who works in the industry, was keen to resurrect it. He had
unearthed the ledgers detailing everything in Eadie’s warehouse and had found a couple of
bottles of the original blend. Now all he needed a blender skilful enough to bring it back to
Norman was immediately taken by the story and agreed to help. “We tasted the original, and
we had the records of what whiskies Eadie owned,” he says. “But we didn’t know the recipe
so I tried to work out the proportion of malts in the blend.” They had access to all the
distilleries involved, but production methods have changed somewhat over time as have the
casks used to mature the whisky. Nevertheless, when he starts saying that “it was more luck
than judgement,” Norman is being much too modest. You would imagine that James Eadie
and the regulars who drank in his pubs would have been mighty impressed by the new blend
as much for its quality as the craft and skill that have gone into it.
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