Royal Salute master blender Sandy Hyslop and polo star Malcolm Borwick on their latest collaboration, Polo Estancia Edition
The 21 Year Old Polo Estancia blended whisky pays tribute to Argentinian equestrian heritage, using Malbec casks for a unique finish
Despite having a storied history stretching back over 200 years, Royal Salute - a product of iconic distillers Chivas Brothers - has been busier than usual in recent years; in 2017 the brand launched the first release of its Polo series, a group of whiskies which it says "pays tribute to the sport and its birthplace".
Following the release of the Polo Edition, Snow Polo Edition and Beach Polo Edition, Royal Salute has now turned its attention in the direction of South America for its newest offering, the Polo Estancia Edition, masterminded by director of blending Sandy Hyslop and Malcolm Borwick, a polo star who has also served as Royal Salute World Polo Ambassador since 2011.
Hyslop first began blending whisky in 1983 on the east coast of Scotland, and his expertise has seen him become one of the foremost master blenders in the country. But the Estancia marks a unique departure from the norm for Hyslop, as it is the first Scotch whisky in the entire Royal Salute portfolio to be fully finished in Malbec wine casks, which came directly from Argentina. Borwick, meanwhile, has spent multiple seasons playing in Argentina and has said the country is home to "a rich equestrian history and some of the world’s most esteemed polo players and tournaments".
Here, both men explain to Tempus how the 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition came to be.
Tempus: What differentiates the 21-Year-Old Polo Estancia Edition from other Royal Salute blends, particularly in the Polo Collection?
Hyslop: "The 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition is truly special and unique in more ways than one. As the fourth release within the Polo Collection, the expression is kick-starting a new line of inspiration for the range, which pays homage to iconic locations where polo is played, and it was right to celebrate Argentina – the emblematic home of modern polo – and use it as the inspiration for this new expression. What I am really excited about as Master Blender is that the 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition is also the first Scotch whisky in the entire Royal Salute portfolio to be fully finished in Malbec wine casks, which came directly from Argentina. Working with Malbec casks requires constant care and attention, as we didn’t want the wine finish to overpower the Royal Salute signature house style, and I have to say that the finished blend, with its full-bodied and luxuriously velvety finish, is delightful."
Borwick: "Polo truly resonates with Argentine culture, and the tantalising blend that is the Polo Estancia Edition captures the essence of this heritage perfectly. When I first heard about the idea, I got very excited! Sandy has managed to effortlessly capture the essence of Argentina in this fine whisky: when sipping this blend, it takes me it straight to the windswept pampas and the warming sunsets of a polo Estancia."
How did you go about paying tribute to Argentina within the blend?
Hyslop: "When creating the 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition, it was extremely important that we captured the essence of Argentina, the warming sunsets and the convivial atmosphere of an Argentinian polo Estancia. Whether with the whisky itself, the flagon or the outer box, all elements of the blend have been carefully crafted to truly bring this inspiration to life, but perhaps the most significant was using the finest Malbec casks coming straight from Argentina to finish the product in. Malbec is synonymous with Argentinean terroir, so this felt like the perfect opportunity to push the boundaries of whisky blending while using our inspiration for this product fully.
"We dressed the flagon in a deep terracotta glaze with gold details to help capture the warmth of the Argentinian sunsets that overlook a polo field and, of course, the design of the outer gift box is a lovely tribute to the atmosphere on an Argentinian Estancia representing a polo match on the vast stretches of open land, largely known as pampas."
This is the first Scotch whisky in your portfolio to be finished in Argentinian Malbec casks. How has this affected the taste?
Hyslop: "The unique and meticulous process that went into finishing our whisky in Malbec casks resulted in a full-bodied blend that perfectly marries Royal Salute’s signature house style with a contemporary finish. It took some time, testing, constant care and attention to get to this expression, in order for a fine balance to be achieved, without the finish overpowering the Royal Salute signature house style. This special finish allowed the whisky flavours to be further enhanced by the Malbec casks, and resulted in a full-bodied and velvety-smooth blend, with a rich and fruity nose, with notes of raspberries and blackberries and delicate cinnamon spice in the background."
Malcolm, what makes Argentina such a special place to compete? Could you share some favourite moments?
Borwick: "Argentina has such a rich equestrian history and is home to some of the world’s most esteemed polo players and tournaments - this legacy can be felt every time you step onto the field, it immediately makes for a unique experience. It is an honour to be playing alongside, and against, the best players from across the globe in such iconic surroundings.
"I wouldn’t say there are differences between Argentinian Polo and British Polo as there might be between Snow Polo or Beach Polo, but there is a certain splendour and uniqueness in Argentinian polo that is undeniable. The sport in Argentina is played mainly as an amateur pastime, even the world’s best players compete in the Argentine Open on a non-professional basis. This is the true version of the sport where we get to measure ourselves. The country is vast and fertile with naturally formed lowland grass plains, the perfect environment to play the sport and for polo ponies to thrive. Polo is incredibly popular in the country and attracts large knowledgeable crowds, creating a distinctive buzzing atmosphere that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere. I remember walking across the hollowed turf of Palermo aged 14 and promising myself: 'One day, I’ll play for England on this field'. That dream came true many years later and for me that was the ultimate achievement of my career."