Back to where it all began… reverting to his career origins in blends, Billy Walker is going against the grain with our premium blends to change the perception once and for all.

It’s no surprise that Master Blender Billy Walker has been in the whisky game for over 50 years, with iconic status and a multitude of awards behind him. His journey began in 1972 when he joined the team developing blends at Hiram Walker & Sons in Dumbarton – the company behind Ballantine’s at the time. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Billy developed his skills and built a strong reputation as Master Blender at Inverhouse Distilleries and Burn Stewart Company, before moving into ownership of several distilleries in the 2000s. This exciting new chapter saw Billy and the team revive several big-name brands, most notably BenRiach, GlenGlassaugh and GlenDronach which, despite providing great opportunities, limited his scope to that of single malts. Driven by his experimental spirit and desire to have more creative freedom, Billy’s next step led him to acquire The GlenAllachie Distillery, bringing with it MacNair’s Blended Malt and White Heather Blended Scotch Whisky brands, which is where our story begins…

White Heather Blended Scotch Against the Grain Blog Post Billy Walker

Starting with the basics, there are five distinct types of Scotch whisky: single malt, blended malt, single grain, blended grain and blended scotch. The word ‘single’ refers to the singular distillery where the malt or grain whisky has been distilled, whilst ‘blended’ refers to a combination of spirit from more than one distillery. As a blended scotch, this means White Heather contains both malt and grain whiskies sourced from more than one distillery across Scotland.

Let’s take a brief look back at the history of blended scotch. A long and chequered tale, the first mention of whisky distillation in Scotland appears in records dating back to 1494. After centuries of unregulated production and illicit distilling of the then-called ‘uisge beatha’ (Gaelic for ‘the water of life’), the Excise Act was passed in 1823 which made it profitable to produce whisky legally. Until then, the spirit had been malt whisky produced from barley, but that all changed after the invention of the Patent Still by Aeneas Coffey in 1831. This enabled a continuous process of distillation to take place, leading to the production of grain whisky from wheat or corn. It was soon discovered that its lighter flavours helped to balance the bolder malts, which were often perceived to be too fiery and thus, blended scotch was born which for over 100 years remained the whisky of choice.

Fast forward to the early 1980s, when a shift in market preference saw a growing appreciation for single malts, a trend which has continued to go from strength to strength. Whilst single malt grew in popularity, blends became viewed as more commercial and mass-produced, with little heritage or provenance. As grain whisky is often cheaper to produce than malts and less frequently consumed on its own, its reputation has unfortunately suffered throughout the years. That all being said, attitudes are changing and with consumers becoming more educated on the inner workings of the whisky world, appreciation of blending is having a renaissance – this time for all the right reasons.

White Heather Blended Scotch

First appearing in the market in the 1940s, White Heather Blended Scotch was a brand that was popular across the globe, notably in France and Australia. It was in fact a whisky that Billy himself enjoyed back in the ’70s and so when the opportunity arose to reimagine this nostalgic blend, it was an all too easy decision. Returning to his roots in the industry, Master Blender Billy Walker is using White Heather to disrupt the category and go against the grain by presenting a premium, small-batch blended scotch.

The art of blending is one which is no easy feat and is a skill required for the creation of all whiskies (except in the case of single casks). The majority of single malts are a vatting, or marrying together, of several casks to create the desired flavour profile – albeit from spirit distilled at a single distillery. In the case of a blended scotch, the maker’s task is to combine different malt and grain whiskies from multiple distilleries, to create a blend in which the sum is greater than its parts – showcasing the best qualities of each. Of course, any blend is only going to be as good as the quality of what you put into it. Careful consideration of the recipe, and selection of the finest quality oak casks have been at the fore of our philosophy to craft the highest quality whiskies.

White Heather Blended Scotch Against the Grain Blog Post Billy Walker

The key to blending is balance. Our grain whiskies are carefully sourced from two Lowland distilleries, selected for their ability to harmonise with the range of malts from Speyside, the Highlands and Islay. Both our award-winning 15-year-old and 21-year-old iterations have an unusually high malt content because Master Blender Billy Walker has determined that this recipe creates cohesion between each element of the composition.

The reinvention of White Heather is one which is a real passion project for our Master Blender. The process is one which is instinctively creative, underpinned by decades of knowledge. Each spirit brings with it distinctive characteristics, requiring a skilful blender to create a final product which is well-balanced yet complex. For us, the process doesn’t stop there… Keen to further finesse and add his own stamp, Billy then selected the finest casks to lay the blend to rest for a further three years, before the final spirit selection was made and ultimately bottled as White Heather. Watch this space for our next blog post, which delves deeper into this dual-maturation process…

White Heather Blended Scotch Against the Grain Blog Post Billy Walker

To gain further insight into the art of blending, we posed some questions to the master himself, Billy Walker…

Q. Typically, blended whiskies have a considerably high grain to malt ratio however, with White Heather you have included a notably high proportion of malt. How did you decide on the malt to grain ratio, and what was the process in discovering the right balance?

A. The opportunity to create a blend from scratch is one of the most truly exciting projects for a Blender. While there is an apparent belief that blended whiskies will contain a high percentage of grain, this is not carved in stone. Experience and instinct guides you to the ratios of grain to malt in the ideal blend, and our target was 53% grain / 47% malt.

Q. What advantages does sourcing grain and malt from several different distilleries present when looking to create the White Heather blend?

A. The spirit selection for the blend is driven by experience and on-going availability. It is important to choose grains which do not overpower the malt presence, and indeed act as a platform to deliver the flavour and organoleptic experience that the Blender is trying to create. In this case, we focused upon two Lowland distilleries who provide grain spirit that allows the malts freedom to take ownership of the personality of the blend. The malts are a mix of Highland and Speyside, of course including GlenAllachie, with a gentle presence of a Highland and Islay peated malt.