Simon Wittenberg talks to Sandy Hyslop, the man responsible for creating the first Royal Salute whisky fully finished in Malbec wine casks from Argentina.
LM: Congratulations on the launch of the new Royal Salute 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition. Has this latest expression been in the making since the Snow Polo Edition’s arrival in 2019?
Sandy Hyslop: Thank you very much Simon, and I am so pleased that we were finally able to unveil the Royal Salute 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition to whisky lovers around the globe.
I can’t really say how long this was in development before unveiling it, but I always keep busy in the blending room, and this project has been in the works for quite a while – it takes time to produce a blend as fine as this one, sourcing the right casks, knowing when the time to bottle is right etc., and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result!
LM: Who came up with the idea to draw inspiration from Argentina’s “estancias” for the fourth addition to the Polo Collection?
Sandy: It was a team effort. The Polo Collection celebrates our longstanding affinity with polo and the luxury lifestyle that it accompanies, and, whilst the first three expressions in the collection shone a light on the different environments that polo can be played in, with the launch of the all-new Polo Estancia Edition, we wanted to kickstart a line of inspiration for the range that celebrates iconic polo destinations.
The 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition pays tribute to one of the most emblematic polo destinations and the acclaimed home of modern polo: Argentina. The new blend embodies the warming sunsets and convivial atmosphere of an Argentinian polo Estancia whilst paying tribute to the incredible terroir through our Malbec wine cask finish.
LM: After having crafted three very successful Polo Editions, were they a hard act to follow?
Sandy: I always like a challenge and, though we are immensely proud of all our expressions, creating such distinctive blends is no small feat. Each must display unique properties and qualities inherent to the polo environment it represents while exuding Royal Salute’s signature style and heritage. Each new expression needs to stand out in its own right, and the Polo Estancia Edition was no exception.
LM: Are high-quality Malbec casks difficult to source?
Sandy: The Malbec wine casks we used to create this expression are of great quality and come from a very unique winemaking region – Cafayate, Salta in Argentina, an extreme altitude terroir located at 1,750 metres above sea level.
Each cask was carefully selected to make the Royal Salute 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition blend – a time consuming and meticulous process, from start to finish.
The casks were also freshly emptied and shipped to Scotland very promptly, then filled with whisky within a couple of days of arriving. We sampled the Malbec casks weekly to monitor the flavour pick up and to ensure the balance of cask maturation and Malbec wine finish was in perfect harmony.
LM: What distinct flavours are brought to this blended expression by the Malbec casks?
Sandy: Just like for any other of the Royal Salute expressions, it’s key for the signature house style to be central to the taste. Working with Malbec wine casks required time, testing, constant care and attention to give the whisky a contemporary twist in order for a fine balance to be achieved.
This special finish allowed the whisky flavours to be further enhanced without overpowering the Royal Salute house style. The result is a full-bodied and velvety-smooth blend, with a rich and fruity nose overlaid with notes of raspberries and blackberries, and delicate cinnamon spice in the background.
LM: How much involvement did Malcolm Borwick have in the Polo Estancia Edition and the design of the gift box, which bears his signature?
Sandy: Malcolm has been key to the creation of each expression in the Polo Collection since the launch of the first expression. His unprecedented knowledge of the sport, what it stands for, and the luxury lifestyle it embodies, combined with his passion for whisky, has been crucial to the creation of each blend in the range.
Malcolm has played countless polo seasons in Buenos Aires and neighbouring lands, so his knowledge and experience were key to the development of the blend and the story.
LM: Which is your favourite expression so far in the Polo Collection?
Sandy: Ah, what a tough question to ask! I really do love them all as they are unique in their own way, each bringing something different and inspiring to the table.
From the Polo Edition to the Beach Polo Edition and the Snow Polo Edition, we made sure each blend told a specific and distinctive story, offering a variety of enchanting experiences to whisky aficionados everywhere. Therefore, it would be far too hard for me to choose just one, but I am really enjoying the fruits of my labour at the moment, and I have a bottle of the Polo Estancia Edition opened at home.
LM: Have you ever had the chance to visit Argentina or play polo?
Sandy: Unfortunately, not just yet, but it is very much in my plans. I am fascinated by Malcolm’s tales of polo matches and Estancias in Argentina, and it was such a pleasure to research the history of the country and its polo heritage, as well as sourcing the Malbec casks from such iconic locations and terroirs. It’s on my bucket list!
LM: Can we ask what’s coming up next in the Polo Collection, or is this firmly under wraps?
Sandy: I won’t reveal any secrets just yet – but what I can say is I have been working on the next release for some time now.
Watch this space as there are some exciting things in the works that you won’t want to miss!
LM: Thank you for your time Sandy, and it has been a pleasure speaking to you.
Royal Salute – Where and How?
For more information on Royal Salute and the latest whisky expressions, visit www.royalsalute.com.