I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Stephanie Jerzy of NOVA Marketing asking if I’d like to participate in a Chivas Regal tasting event taking place in NYC on October 5th. Leading the tasting would be Chivas Brothers Ambassador Alex Robertson. The 2,500 miles between myself and the event were not to be a problem, as they would send me a set of samples and hook me up to the event live via chat room. The price was right, too ($0.00). Sold!
The samples they sent included four 50ml bottles of non-commercial whiskies: “Islay 18″, “Grain 18″, Longmorn 18, and Strathisla 18. These are described as being some of the “key components” that make up the Chivas Regal 18 blend, which I previously reviewed here. They also included 200ml bottles of Chivas Regal 18 and Johnnie Walker Blue. I don’t find the Chivas/JW comparison particularly meaningful, as they’re very different taste profiles, but I’m not going to turn down a free 200ml bottle of JW BLue. I do love having the ability to break down a blend into its components. This is what Johnnie Walker did last year with their Art of Blending webcast. I think this is by far the most intriguing and satisfying way to hold a blended whisk(e)y tasting.
There were about 20 bloggers participating in the event remotely. We were able to chat with each other, and Stephanie tuned us into the live action via webcam right there in the chat room. It was nice to be able to compare notes with the other bloggers and ask each other questions. As we went through the tasting, Stephanie served as our proxy, reading some of our questions out loud at the event, and making sure we heard the answer. Prior to starting the actual tasting, the participants in NYC were given a cocktail named “The Crooner Fizz”. I haven’t tried making it yet, but here is the recipe:
“Crooner Fizz” ingredients
- 2 oz Chivas Regal 12
- .5 oz Chairman’s Reserve Rum
- .5 oz lemon juice
- .5 oz raisin syrup
- [Raisin syrup recipe: 1 cup muddled raisins boiled in 2 cups water]
- Topped with Perrier Jouet Champagne
A couple of interesting facts came out from the Q&A.
- The Islay and Grain 18 samples are blends from different distilleries.
- Chivas Brothers sources the spirit, but then takes control of the maturation process themselves.
We worked through the samples in the following order:
- Strathisla 18 - I was really excited about being able to try this, as the only standard Strathisla distillery bottling is a 12 year (which I haven’t tried either). It seemed like more of a treat than the Longmorn 18 vs. the standard 16 year. :-) The Strathisla is very nice, with an apparent sherry cask influence providing pleasing red grape and dried fruit notes. There’s also a clean maltiness that carries through to the finish. In fact, everything about it is very clean. It’s not very spicy, but has a nice full body. Maybe a hint of smoke at the end? If they bottled this, preferably at 43% to 48%, and sold it for a reasonable price (closer to The Glenlivet 18 than Glenmorangie 18), I’d keep a bottle on the shelf. Many of the participants seemed to feel the same way.
- “Grain 18″ – Pretty much all I got out of this one was toffee sweetness and fresh oak. It’s ridiculously easy to drink, but doesn’t offer any real satisfaction unless your goal is just to get drunk. However, what really impressed me was the lack of aftertaste. This is a very clean base for the blend, allowing the single malts to shine through.
- “Islay 18″ - On the nose, I was hit immediately with a combination of sherry and iodine. Then I noticed a toffee sweetness and some smoke. It’s actually kind of easy going and fruity on the early palate, then headed into the finish I get big sweet smoke in the nostrils and another medicinal kick. The finish lasts a while and is quite drying on the tongue. I’d put money on there being a fair amount of Lagavulin in this based on the particular smoke/iodine combination presented. At first, I thought this would make a great “beginner” Islay whisky, but now I’m thinking the medicinal properties are a little over the top. Still, I enjoyed it very much.
- Longmorn 18 – Hmm…not excited about this one. I much prefer my 2009 bottle of Longmorn 16. The 18 year provides similar fruity notes (more on the apple side than dried/red fruits) to the 16 year, but the 18 year has kind of a stale maltiness that i don’t care for. It seems a little “dirty” compared to the lovely Strathisla 18.
- Chivas Regal 18 – I commented on Twitter that I thought another name for this could be “Strathisla 18 and friends.” The nose especially really brings out the same kind of fruits and clean malt that the Strathisla provides. The oak/vanilla/spices and sweetness from the Grain 18 is there, and a little extra apple kick from the Longmorn. Islay 18? I tried to find it in here somewhere, but at best, I’m getting a hint of peat smoke on the finish. I don’t think there’s much Islay 18 at all in the mix. The finish is medium in length and overall good, with maybe a hint of that “stale” malt from the Longmorn 18. In the end, it’s a very nice whisky that manages to keep most of the best traits of the Strathisla and Longmorn, adding some additional spices. It’s not going to blow your mind, but I found it quite enjoyable. The $55-$60 price tag seems very reasonable. Well done!
- Johnnie Walker Blue - I won’t really get into the JW Blue here. I posted my thoughts on it recently. It’s a very good blend and fits right into some of my malt profile preferences. Especially with the increased Island/Islay influence relative to the Chivas 18. Granted, it costs upwards of $200.
We closed out with a return to Chivas Regal 18 and a toast. As for the “challenge” part of The Chivas Challenge Live…a few people voiced opinions favoring Chivas or Johnnie Walker, but I think the overriding opinion was that they’re both good in different ways. The Chivas folks didn’t really need anybody to come out and say Chivas 18 was better. Just presenting them as “equals” and getting people to debate the merits of each is a victory for Chivas Brothers, given the 3x price premium for JW Blue.
For me, this event was all about gaining insight into the components involved in creating the Chivas Regal 18 blend. It was interesting to see how smooth the individual components were. This probably has something to do with the manner in which they matured the whiskies. I had figured the smoothness of the blend was purely based on the recipe, but clearly their control over the maturation of the malts and grains plays into the final outcome. I was most impressed with the Strathisla 18 single malt and the Islay 18 blended malt. You can’t buy either, but if you try Chivas Regal 18, you’ll get a pretty good insight into the profile of the Strathisla 18.
Many thanks to Stephanie, Alex Robertson and the rest of the Chivas/NOVA teams for putting together this enlightening and entertaining event.Cheers, Jeff