Through our annual September Scotch series, we aim to chronicle noteworthy new additions (that we’ve tasted ourselves) to the ever-expanding and highly competitive whisky world. From a modern “lighthouse” and its limited release liquid to an 80-year-old single malt, this year provided many milestone expressions from Scotland’s distilleries. And one of the most flavorful of them all happens to be the first edition of Royal Salute‘s 21-year-old Polo Estancia—a delectable blend that’s been finished in premium Malbec barrels as an ode to Argentina and its contributions to the prestigious horseback sport.
Royal Salute has nurtured a relationship with polo for a long time now. This new and nuanced liquid is a natural and ideological extension of that. “The Royal Salute 21 Year Old Polo Estancia is the fourth release within the Polo Collection and it kick-starts a new line of inspiration for the range which pays homage to the incredible locations that polo is played,” Sandy Hyslop, director of blending and inventory at Royal Salute, explains.
Argentina is a nation that’s supported many polo players within estancias (private plots of land that were once farms), and one that’s helped bolster and develop the reputation of the Malbec grape. Hyslop understood that these were attributes that could transform a story into a scotch. Ultimately, Malbec wine casks from the high-altitude “boutique terroir” in the Argentinian town of Cafayate were hand-selected to tell the tale. They were used to finish (but not overpower) a meticulous blend of 21-year-old Royal Salute spirit.
Though the story may be unlike any other in the scotch whisky category thus far, it wouldn’t matter if the resulting flavor profile wasn’t equally compelling. Fans of Royal Salute will not be disappointed; neither will spirits consumers desirous of something bold. Not only does the liquid offer up a nose of tart berries, it also tastes of luscious jam. Baking spice notes (with a pronounced cinnamon inflection) give way to chocolate-covered ginger. The lengthy finish imparts a dry, elegant sweetness.
“My ambition with the Royal Salute 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition was to embody the warming sunsets and convivial atmosphere of an Argentinian Polo Estancia and I’m really pleased that we could achieve that within the final flavor profile,” Hyslop says. “It is full-bodied and velvety smooth, with a characteristically rich and fruity nose overlaid with notes of raspberries and blackberries and delicate cinnamon spice in the background.”
Hyslop made sure that Polo Estancia adhered to expectations of the brand’s portfolio signatures even as it defied them with vibrant new flavors. “I’ve been really trusted in my role as master blender for Royal Salute to experiment, play with different techniques and push the art of blending into new, creative and ambitious forms,” he says. “I think this has in turn allowed Royal Salute to surprise and delight consumers through innovative new blends, that maintain a benchmark of quality. Through the Polo Collection we have been able to deliver just that, and so I’d hope that the flavor profile of the new 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition is received as another magnificent one-off expression, built from a unique source of inspiration.”
“I’m also very aware that each new expression released under my guidance comes with the expectation of quality that is signature to all Royal Salute blends,” he continues. “There is a unique DNA that runs through the portfolio, born from its royal lineage having been created to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the 21 gun salute that honored her. Just like with other releases in the Royal Salute portfolio, I’ve been careful to marry the signature house style of Royal Salute, but with the Polo Estancia Edition, adding a layer of contemporaneity with a brand new finish. It is important for each new expression to stand out in its own right, and I am very pleased to say the Polo Estancia Edition was no exception.”
Although it’s a refined sipper that can be enjoyed neat, or on the rocks, Hyslop encourages consumers to try any number of Polo Estancia cocktails, as well. “You need a whisky with lots of flavor to stand up in a cocktail and deliver an enjoyable depth to the cocktail’s taste experience and this edition is perfect for that,” he says. “Similarly, it’s because of the unique flavor profile of this new blend, elevated by the influence from the Malbec cask finish, that makes it such an enjoyable whisky to sip and taste neat.” Hyslop always recommends nosing and tasting neat before adding ice or water, or putting whisky into a cocktail.
This isn’t Royal Salute’s only significant scotch debut this year. In fact, during London Fashion Week this September, the brand released the first whisky in their Couture Collection—a collaborative, collectable line of whiskies that celebrate creativity in fashion. Couture designer Richard Quinn is the first partner, and the 21 Year Old Richard Quinn Edition incorporates 31 malts to craft a lightly floral spirit that alludes to Quinn’s expressive prints composed of flowery interpretations. It’s another inspired release from a brand full of harmonious ideas.
“I’ve been working in the whisky industry for coming up to 40 years and my passion for the art of blending has multiplied every day,” Hyslop says. “I’m so lucky in my role, that I’m actively trusted to go and explore new ways to craft whisky, and it’s this art that keeps me busy every day. I can find myself with around 50 new development projects on the go at any one time, supported by the luxury of a seriously impressive inventory, and a brilliant blending team who understand the blending process inside out. It’s a complex balancing act that must be refined and honed over many years of learning. I visit and quality check our inventory—which covers 365 warehouses across Scotland and know it inside out so that once it comes to creating a new and innovative expression, I am already brimming full of ideas and possibilities.”
Images courtesy of Royal Salute