Tag Archives: Chivas Regal

Stocking up for spring – part 1

The new serving standard

First published in Prestige Magazine (September 2012 Edition).

As it appeared – page 1

As it appeared – page 2

Premium.  It’s the watchword of our times.  The online Oxford defines it as: “relating to or denoting a commodity of superior quality and therefore a higher price”.  I’ve simplified it to: “relatively extra” – specifications, quality, prestige…any or all of that good stuff.  Everybody wants premium.  And why not?  Life is too short to settle for less.

Whisky is no exception; in fact it’s the epitome of this phenomenon.  In the whisky world expensive, lavishly-packaged variants are being introduced on a weekly basis.  Older, better, more!  It’s exciting but also a little bit intimidating, because the bar (yes, I like my puns) is being set progressively higher.  For instance, it no longer seems enough, in a well-to-do home, to serve visitors the regular fare – a 12YO blended Scotch, the first step to premium, is the new minimum standard.

To properly appreciate this new game, and to make the most of it, one needs become familiar with the players.  This may be particularly relevant right now as we come out of winter hibernation, look to refill our liquor cabinets, and start entertaining afresh.  In the not-so-distant South African past, although there were others lurking about, the choice invariably came down to a straight contest between Johnnie Walker Black Label and Chivas Regal 12YO.  One either preferred the huskiness of the former or the honeyed flavour of the latter (or, in many cases I’m sure, one just bought premium for premium’s sake).  No longer.  Whilst these two stalwarts still dominate the market, the repertoire of easily accessible options has expanded quite delightfully.

I recently sought out a few of Cape Town’s whisky luminaries and prompted them to gather at the Bascule, the city’s whisky HQ, to review the local pool of 12YO blended Scotch.  In the midst of some typical whisky-fuelled R&R (repartee and revelry) we somehow managed to string together a few coherent observations, précised below for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy, and may the dram be with you!

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker is the world’s best-selling whisky.  Diageo, its owner, is much maligned in the whisky world, but one thing is clear enough: it takes nothing less than high-quality, highly consistent whisky to attain and maintain such lofty heights.  I found the nose somewhat brash, but if subtlety’s not the result then it’s not the objective either.  Rather, this is a bold and tasty mainstream whisky that hits each and every place on the Scotch trifecta – malt, peat, and sherry – and hits it hard.  And if you’re a young turk with a big swinging dick looking to make your mark in the world then there’s still no better way to announce your intent than by walking into a bar and calling for a Johnnie Black, yeah baby!

Chivas Regal

If Johnnie Walker is Scotch then Chivas is Speyside…in all of its debonair elegance.  In very broad terms the region has become known for the fruit and honey flavours which happen to be prominent in Chivas Regal.  The whisky’s official tasting notes also claim a slight smokiness, but this was beyond my ability to identify.  Perhaps it comes from char as opposed to peat.  Regardless, it’s not important.  Chivas is not about smoke, or anything so robust.  It is understated refinement personified.  Interestingly one of our party noted that this is not a distinctively whiskied whisky – apparance of its cereal origins is restrained, and dominated by sherry notes.  Indeed to a novice it might be difficult to distinguish from a similarly aged cognac or rum.  I’d perhaps venture to suggest that this is a whisky for all seasons.

Grant’s 12YO

This new kid on the block comes from a pedigreed background.  It’s a blend in which we can assume the famous Glenfiddich and Balvenie malts, emanating from the same hallowed stable, to be at the forefront.   Sadly for this fine whisky my attention was diverted by a claim which seems rather forced: “Grant’s 12 Year Old is the only blended Scotch whisky to ‘marry’ the finest 12 Year Old grain and single malt whiskies for six months after blending in bourbon casks”.  Technically this may be true, but it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds.  Dewar’s (and W&M) has a long tradition of marrying whisky, albeit in sherry casks, and one of the variants of the local Three Ships, albeit not a Scotch, is married in bourbon casks.  The good news – for peat freaks in particular – is that Grant’s is the smokiest whisky in this category.  Phenol-menal!  Kudos too on the best packaging amongst the lot.

Ballantine’s 12YO

The regular Ballantine’s is my favourite blended Scotch in its price category.  It reminds me of my time in Rome when I spent many an evening pondering the spectacular sights, glass in hand.  And big brother does not disappoint.  A flavoursome and interesting all-rounder – my personal runner-up.

J&B Jet

Jet’s mild flavours won’t start a party in your mouth; rather this is a whisky that’s ideal for newer initiates, and for occasions when fuller flavours might be distracting.  Fresh but not vivid – perfect as an aperitif on a spring evening.

Dewar’s 12YO

I’ve kept the best for last – and that’s not just my opinion.  Each of the heavyweights at our gathering concurred, with no hesitation whatsoever.  This whisky is magnificently integrated – it displays superb balance not only amongst it complex flavours, but also between nose, palate and finish – and is completed by a smooth, silky mouth-feel.  Hugely underrated.

Big thanks to Hector McBeth, Marsh Middleton and Bernard Gutman.

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Liquid gifts

A spirit of generosity

First published in Prestige Magazine (June 2012 edition).

As it appeared – page 1.

As it appeared – page 2.

I’ve walked into the umpteenth shop only to leave again, short on ideas, long on frustration.  I’d set aside an hour of my busy day, and so far it’s taken three and counting.  It might be Father’s Day, a birthday, Christmas, or any number of other gift-giving occasions.  I just can’t seem to find that appropriate gift without a struggle.  I could resort to a voucher, or just compromise and settle on any old thing, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  It seems so callous; a gift should indicate that one cares enough to invest both money and thought (even if it’s not the case) otherwise it’s all a bit pointless.  This has been an unfortunate recurring episode in my life.  Sound familiar?  Fear not, help, such as it is, is at hand.  There is a genre of gifts that is ubiquitous and generic enough to be expedient, and yet varied and personal enough to convey a fulfilling sense of consideration.  I’m talking about fine spirits of course, the doyens of which are whisky and cognac.   I did a bit of shopping recently (sadly only of the window variety) and identified a few highlights.

Chivas Regal

Royal in both name and stature, Chivas Regal is quite likely the world’s most gifted spirit.  This iconic brand, now well over a double century in existence, has carved for itself an enviable reputation as a supreme purveyor of deluxe whisky.  Millions of people can’t be too far wrong; as a gift Chivas (pronounced shivers without the r) hits all the right notes.  It is flavoursome and interesting to the connoisseur – at the heart of the blend is Strathisla, a single malt from what is said to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland.  And it is accessible to the novice – its mild, fruity flavour is easily acquired and its pricing, at least for the entry level 12 year old (a smidgen over R200), is entirely reasonable within the premium whisky bracket.

Chivas Regal is available on our shelves as either a 12, 18 and 25 year old.  The former is being offered in a package with two complimentary whisky tumblers during special gifting occasions, and the latter two are available year-round in attractive, top-end presentation boxes.

Remy Martin Louis XIII

If cognacs were stones, this one would be a diamond.  There are some that are more expensive, others that are more popular, and others still that are decked with a brighter glitter, but nothing else possesses the same cachet, shines with the same aura, or enjoys the same acclaim as Remy Martin Louis XIII.  Verbalised by the cognoscenti as “Louis Treize” (French for 13), this brand is an enduring classic.  I’ve seen advertisers gratuitously use the term “a mark of distinction” to peddle their wares.  Remy doesn’t need do this for Louis XIII (and Remy certainly doesn’t peddle).  If ever there was a product that was a mark of distinction then this is it…but it’s an unspoken fact, simply understood where that understanding is required.

Cognac is known for its excessive, some would say over-the-top, packaging.  The Louis Treize was one of the products that blazed this trail.  It has since 1937 been bottled in a Baccarat crystal decanter that itself probably costs more than most other cognacs.  Decadent as this may seem, given that some components in the blend are over a hundred years old, it’s somehow elegantly appropriate.

Pricing is steep – expect to pay in excess of R17 000.  I would perhaps suggest that this a gift to be reserved for those held in the very highest esteem…or for those needing to be convincingly impressed.  The latter might explain why the Remy Treize, along with cognac as a whole, has become so popular in the East, where there is an entrenched gift-giving (and favour currying) culture in the working environment.

Richelieu XO Cognac

Isn’t Richelieu a brandy?  Well, as of last year, the brandy in the age-old French tradition is now offering us an age-old French tradition – cognac.    I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Richelieu XO, and I can report that it is magnificent, demonstrating complex flavours of fruit and spices and a full-bodied, silky mouth-feel.  The liquid is supplied by Richelieu’s stablemate Bisquit, but unlike their VSOP, which I find too cloying, this product manages to be both bold and restrained, each in the right place.

At circa R1600 it’s worth highlighting that it represents good value for an XO cognac.  It might just be the perfect gift for a new father – to accompany the obligatory cigars.

Michel Couvreur 1983

Here’s something one doesn’t see everyday.  Michel Couvreur has launched one of world’s only truly unique whiskies:  a 1983 vintage single cask…which is individually bottled on request.  The bottle comes inscribed with the name of the purchaser, and with the date and time of bottling.  It’s also accompanied by a certificate verifying its authenticity.  The individual bottling process means that each and every bottle will spend a different period of time in wood, and, as a result, will in theory be a different and unique whisky.

Couvreur is a whisky artisan of long standing, based in Burgundy in France, and known in particular for his highly cultivated maturation process, in which he ages Scottish new-make spirit in individually selected Solera sherry casks.  He and his small team are the remnants of an almost-forgotten golden era of whisky craftsmanship.

The Couvreur range of whiskies was launched in South Africa last year and is available in strictly limited quantities.  The 1983 retails for R4999.

Glenmorangie

Glenmorangie is one of the “maisons” in the LVMH group – the world’s largest single owner of luxury brands, and home to epic labels such Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Bulgari.  One would thus expect the guys at Glenmorangie to exhibit a swaggering command when it comes to gifting.  And indeed they don’t disappoint – every year bringing out gift offers that set a benchmark for the industry.  Their latest gift-pack whilst not their best is compelling nonetheless.  It’s a beautifully designed carton containing a bottle of Glenmorangie Original, and a complimentary dinky bottle of Nectar D’Or, an expression from the brand’s pioneering extra matured range (this one specifically was finished in Sauternes casks).

Pricing is at around the R400 mark.

12YO blended Scotch preview

Whisky – if you’ll excuse this statement of the obvious – has been premiumising steadily in recent years.  New, expensive, lavishly packaged variants are being introduced on a weekly basis.  Older, better, more!  It’s exciting but also a little bit intimidating.  The bar is being set higher and higher, with direct impact on our daily lives.  As an example – it no longer seems enough to offer one’s guests the regular stuff.  Perhaps this is just my peculiar point of view, but I suspect that it rings true for many of us.  A 12YO blend seems to be the new minimum standard.

For this reason I’m embarking on a review of the major 12YO blended Scotches available on the South African market.  If this is the new game then I reckon someone should be carefully checking out the players and sizing them up against each other.

I’m kicking off the review with a tasting – for which I’ve enlisted some of Cape Town’s whisky luminaries to assist.  Marsh Middleton, Bernard Gutman, and Hector MacBeth will be joining me at the Bascule tonight to sample the following whiskies:

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Chivas Regal

Ballantine’s 12YO

Dewar’s 12YO

J&B Jet

Grant’s 12YO

One of the whiskies we’ll be tasting.

If you happen to be in the area please join us for a dram and a chat.  There’s nothing better than whisky and good company – generally but particularly on a miserable, stormy day like this one.

The review will be published in the September issue of Prestige Magazine, and then on this blog later in September.

May the dram be with you!

This is the Chivas life

After my recent tasting of Pride I began to see myself as a bit of a whisky hero.  I’d ripped back that dram with what I was coming to believe was a practiced hand.  Yes, it’s true that I drive around on a scooter, but such realities fade after a few drinks.  From now on when it comes to whisky the sky would be the limit.  In a field of barley when I called it they would come!

Ok, who am I kidding?  That delusion died quickly. In the real world I embrace thrifty efficiency as a way of life…although I’ve heard others describe my philosophy in somewhat less glowing terms – water off a duck’s back.  Anyhow, it was thus somewhat out of character when I made the decision to break the seal on a bottle of Chivas Brothers 30yo that I’d been hoarding for some time.

Out into the light

My thought process was as follows:

–        The Whisky Exchange sells this bottle for £425 ≈ R5100.

–        Further, mine just happened to be signed by Master Distiller Colin Scott – making it a limited edition of a limited edition and adding I’d hazard about 20% to its value.  So let’s call it at R6k, or just over.

–        Cue in the delicious Glenmorangie Lasanta, going for R469.99 a pop on WHISKYdotcoza.

–        The opportunity cost?  13 bottles of sherry barrelled bliss.

You’ve now probably guessed that I didn’t buy this bottle myself, and you’d be correct.  It was a gift from my erstwhile employer, Seagram, given to certain staff on the event of Chivas Brothers’ 200th anniversary (2001).   The special occasions for which I’d been saving it had come and gone, the bottle either forgotten or the opening thereof deferred.  My major remaining milestone is the arrival of my first-born, but I reckon I’ll need my wits about me if and when that happens.

So, sometime last year, I thought #u%& @t, I’m going to crack this bad boy.  Perhaps it was a remnant of Pride-induced grandeur, perhaps it was a stupor induced by who-knows-what, or perhaps, just perhaps, it was a glimmer of good sense.  Whatever it was I don’t regret it for an instant.  You should look back on life as a collection of the greater moments, and this one was epic.

How was I to go about executing this brave decision though?  I quite enjoy the expression “to cast pearls before swine”.  It tickles my fancy…I can almost hear the crunching noises.  Needless to say it’s a situation best avoided.  This whisky had to be properly appreciated.  It was a MUST.  The answer was simple enough – I would share it with some of Cape Town’s pre-eminent whisky personalities, most of whom I’ve come to know as both fellow travellers and friends.  We would also quest for the glory of documenting what I believe is this whisky’s first set of tasting notes, although I can’t 100% verify that this would be either glorious or true.

In attendance at the cathedral (the Bascule) were Candice Baker and Niel Hendriksz, the charming ambassadors for Glenmorangie, Macallan and other esteemed whisky brands, Bernard Gutman, that local whisky legend of prolific extent, Marsh/Miles/Mash Middleton, Whisky Magazine’s editor of the ether, and, of course, yours truly.  A quick aside: big thanks George for allowing me to bring in the bottle so that we could enjoy it in appropriately ‘Grace-ful’ surroundings.

And so it was that on a picture perfect Cape Town afternoon, the five of us seated ourselves adjacent to some luxury yachts – owned by people who probably drink this dram daily, curse them.  Things started badly.  The cork broke eliciting some momentary panic.  This though was quickly resolved with a fine sieve.  Disaster averted we cascaded the golden liquid into our glasses and sat back to ponder this whisky, whisky in general, and just about everything else.

Close call

I’m not really a tasting notes kind of guy.  So despite coming up with this quest I didn’t have the diligence to actually make any notes.  Luckily some of the others were more conscientious so I have some fairly reliable information to add to the flotsam left in my memory.

Packaging:

Elegant, dark bottle with dodgy cork closure.  Simple board box with silk-like fabric covering the interior.  Adequate in 2001.  Somewhat below par in the current era of decadent over-the-top presentation.

Appearance:

Dark burnished gold, betraying a substantial sherry provenance.

Nose:

Wonderful  treacle marzipan nose, delicate hint of espresso.  Dusty dates baked under the Sahara sun.  Caramel.  Toffee.  Sherry, and lots of it.

Palate:

Caramelised tropical fruits, slight bitterness.  Dryish cigar smoke.  Comes to life with water.  The grain component ostensibly lends a wonderful oily-textured mouthfeel.

Finish:

Long lingering, flavoursome, well-balanced finish.

Conclusion:

A classic heavy-hitting blend.  Luxuriant, but stops short of mind-blowing.

Drinking the fair share that I appropriated for myself I felt like a bear drizzling honey down its throat.  I was lightly toasted by the time I left and I couldn’t help but reflect that I was on whisky buzz that could best be described as premium.  There would be no ill-effects.

A gift from the gods. Ok, actually from Seagram – more bootleggers than gods. You get the idea.

It was an afternoon to be savoured for a long while.  The chaps made some noises about regular gatherings to enjoy fine whisky of the same ilk, so I wait with bated breath to see with what they’ll come up.

From me on this fine February evening – may the dram be with you!

Photos courtesy of Marsh Middleton.

Fireside chat with Highland Park

One of my most picture perfect whisky memories dates to some 10 years ago. The setting was Shamwari at sunset, the awe of bushveld at its most inspiring. I wish I could claim to be a regular visitor to this magnificent game reserve, but alas my sheckles are too few in number, and my distribution thereof too retrained. I was there on the company dime, and alert to the knowledge that I might not be returning in a hurry, so I was particularly intent on savouring the experience. We had finished a game drive, and had stopped in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, surrounded by big sky, bush to the horizons, the quiet noise of the wild, and the biting cold of the veld at evening. I sipped on a dram of Chivas next to a roaring fire, contemplated Africa, and wondered if this was how Livingstone must have felt. Ok, admittedly the adjacent Land Rovers and the proximity of a 5-star lodge probably separated our perspectives somewhat. Some may also contend that the Eastern Cape hardly qualifies – can an area so close to Slummies really be considered to be genuine African bushveld? But still, the moment felt huge, and the whisky tasted sweeter than ever.

Shamwari sunset

I’m reminded of it whenever I enjoy a whisky by the fire, which is a bit of a stretch I grant you, but that’s just how the mind works…well mine anyhow. Recently, on a glacial peninsula evening, having put my fireplace to good use, I decided to unleash a bottle of Highland Park 12yo. This wasn’t done lightly, not because it’s expensive or rare, but rather because it’s a whisky that deserves to be shown respect. In my opinion it should only be drunk in the right setting, and if you’re in the right frame of mind – unrushed, relaxed – to appreciate it fully, otherwise it would be a waste. I sat myself down, the toasty glow of the fire at my back and the spirit of the bush in my heart, and I put the golden liquid to my lips.

HP next to the fire - a winning combination

I should declare at this point that I’m a big fan of the Edrington Group, owners of Highland Park and also of Macallan and Famous Grouse. I like their whisky making ethic – I’m particularly partial to a strong sherry wood influence and these guys are the doyens of sherried whisky. I also fondly remember tasting Highland Park for the first time with good friends in London some 5 years ago, so the brand has a certain sentimental value for me. My review as a result may be somewhat emotive, and so it should be I think. Whisky is beyond the purely clinical.

Highland Park is a bit of an iconic brand of whisky, holding the somewhat romantic status of being the northern-most distillery in Scotland. It is located on the Orkney Islands, and the local peat has a pronounced influence on the flavour of this whisky. I’ve mentioned before that whilst I can appreciate an Islay malt I’m not peat-freak. The gentler, honeyed smoke of the Orkney variety as evidenced in Highland Park is more to my taste. Intermingled with the smoke are elements of wispy heather, oaky malt, sweet honey, and, whilst I believe recent bottlings have been upweighted with American wood, a prevailing dense, dried fruit, sherry presence nonetheless. These elements are all beautifully balanced – picture identical twins on a see-saw, one giving way to the other but returning in between to a perfect equilibrium (btw, for best effect imagine twins that look like Scarlett Johanssen, that’s what I’m doing).

I don’t believe in quantitative ratings, and I’ll never make claim to a “favourite” whisky, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out, nay emphasise, that this is one damned good whisky. As Jim Morrisson said (sort of) – get some and it’ll do the rest.

Breaking news

Queen Elizabeth II today withdrew the royal warrant granted to Chivas Brothers in 1843. By virtue of a special provision in British law guiding the use of these warrants their marquee whisky will now no longer legally have the right to be called Chivas Regal.  A new name has not yet been announced, but industry insiders are speculating that it will be Chivas Gowkin, “gowkin” being an ancient Scottish word with similar meaning to royal or regal.  You read it first at Words on Whisky.

Regal no more?