Chivas Regal’s new ultra-prestige whisky is a blend above the usual.
With new whiskies popping up from unexpected territories every year – think Taiwan and, recently, India – connoisseurs are spoilt for fresh choices. And the upstarts are even threatening to steal the rarity limelight from traditional sources. But the Scots, for one, are fighting back. In early December last year, Chivas Regal rolled out the red carpet in Hong Kong, jetting selected Singapore journalists there and treating them and local journos to an afternoon of whisky discoveries.
The renowned Scotch whisky maker turned a “speakeasy” in Central – think an English gentleman’s club-style setting – into a Chivas showcase, from displays of advertisements and bottles from different decades to fascinating archives, whisky tastings and a gourmet lunch.
The occasion: The Asia launch of its top-of-the-line whisky, The Icon. The brand’s master blender, Colin Scott, calls it “the pinnacle of the Chivas Regal family, a wonderful orchestra of flavours”, yet with the signature “style” of its whiskies – rich, fruity and floral. What’s unique about The Icon isn’t just its decanter, etched and finished with crafted metalwork in hand-blown green crystal – a nod to the original green bottle that launched Chivas Regal as the world’s first luxury whisky brand in 1909.
It’s also the fact that the “crafted blend” boasts whiskies sourced from more than 20 distilleries across Scotland, including some rare whiskies made by distilleries that have closed down. “Little nuggets of flavour you’ll never experience again,” says Scott. Oh, and its price tag is $5,025 a bottle.
At its heart lie rare single malts from Strathisla in Speyside, the oldest continuously operating distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Described as “bold and balanced”, The Icon is accented with hand-selected single malts from Longmorn and Glen Keith. Among its tastes are rich notes of honey, vanilla and dark chocolate, balanced by subtle hazelnut flavours from the casks in which it is aged.
Scott describes it as “perfectly smooth, with an intense concentration of flavours and a long, luscious finish”. Adding to its rarity is the limited release – just 1,500 to 1,800 bottles a year. The whiskies in the blend may change from year to year, because those from the “lost” distilleries will run out, but The Icon’s “character” will remain the same, he adds.
Recent years have seen the rise of rare, luxury blends like The Icon, notes whisky expert and blogger Steven Notman. In fact, today’s whisky output worldwide is 90 per cent blends and just 10 per cent single malts. Single malts may have style, individuality and a “thumbprint”, but they can be self-limiting because they are produced by single distilleries. With blended whiskies, you can find different nuances because of the combination of whiskies. “There’s more tradition behind blends, too,” he adds.
Chivas traces its history back to 1801, when it opened as a grocer’s shop in Aberdeen in Scotland. It found out early on that ageing changed a whisky from an aggressive spirit to one with softer, more intense and deep flavours. Ageing also means that a percentage of the whisky evaporates, creating a rarity value.
Flavours are also added by the casks that the whiskies are aged in. For example, casks formerly used by bodegas to age sherry impart a sweet, fruity and nutty flavour to whiskies, with background notes of sweet clover and meadow flowers. Scotch whisky is still tightly controlled by law in all of its aspects – from production to bottling to labelling – to guarantee its quality.
For instance, it must be made in Scotland from natural cereals, water and yeast, and it must be matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks and bottled at a minimum of 40 per cent alcohol. When a Scotch whisky label states an age, such as Chivas Regal 25, it means every drop of whisky has been aged for a minimum of 25 years. It is a smooth, balanced tipple, with aromas of sweet orange and peach, and notes of marzipan, hazelnuts and milk chocolate.
BEST WITH BURGER?
The other whiskies in the Chivas stable are Extra, a no-age expression; Chivas Regal 12, smooth, rich and fruity with delicate floral flavours; and Chivas Regal 18, rich with multi-layered aromas of dry fruit, buttery toffee and dark chocolate – its tagline is “85 flavours in every drop”.
But don’t just chug Chivas on its own. Drink it as a mixer or pair it with food, urges Darren Hosie, Chivas Regal’s Hong Kong-based brand ambassador, who conducts tastings, food pairings and educational programmes around Asia. For instance, a lot of Japanese food, like sushi or any seafood, goes great with Chivas 12, which has “lots of smooth, complex flavours and is easy drinking”, he adds. But spicy cuisines are “more challenging”.
The constant barrage of spiciness can alter the way we taste and affect our ability to detect subtleties in flavour. When it comes to food-whisky pairings, rather than just pair and hope for the best, Hosie suggests working with a chef on pairings that won’t overpower the flavour of the whiskies or the food. So, which Chivas goes best with that universal favourite, the hamburger? The Chivas 18, he says. “You need a whisky to match the burger’s depth of flavour, a more intense one so the flavour of the whisky is not lost. And the 18 is perfect!”
WHAT’S IN A SIP? The blend combines whiskies from more than 20 distilleries in Scotland.
SPIRIT TAMER Chivas master blender Colin Scott oversees the consistency of The Icon’s flavour.
HOW TO REALLY TASTE A WHISKY
Here’s what to do, says Chivas Regal brand ambassador, Darren Hosie.
01 Use a tulipshaped glass with a narrower upper rim to “focus” the aroma.
02 Pour in the whisky, then add still (not carbonated) water at room temperature of about the same amount as the whisky. That dulls the kick of the alcohol and “brings the whisky to life”, he explains. “It releases more gentle aromas that are masked by the strength of the alcohol, and you get the real ‘style’ and flavour of the whisky.”
03 “Nose” or sniff the whisky to suss out its various aromas, and they’ll get you thinking about what flavours you’ll discover.
04 Take a little sip and roll it over your tongue for about five seconds
to suss out the flavours and texture of the whisky. Common flavours
include sweet vanilla, dark chocolate, fruit and secondary flavours of
05 Swallow, then try to taste how long the flavours linger in the
back of your mouth, called the “finish”. The longer the finish, the