Less Than the Sum of Its Parts: A night with Chivas Regal

Music: Alanis Morissette, “Hands Clean”

I was recently a plus one at a much-hyped “Chivas 1801” event, and by the kindness of organizers, found myself with free drams of the middle and top end of the Chivas Regal core range.

Chivas Regal 18yo

Nose: Sweetness and malted barley. Cask wood. A little nippy at the nose, despite the dangerously low ABV. Chocolate and nutmeg.

Palate: Light and watery. Similar nippyness, grainy, sweet and candied. Rather indiscernable sweetness, maybe a little chocolate. This souring end note, that really ruins the experience.

Finish: Medium.

Grade: B-

For $100 at the LCBO, this is one I’d pass up on. It doesn’t give you much to go on, and this sour note is a real turn-off. Almost a good waste of 18yo Longmorn and Strathisla. Probably a serious waste of what ever the “Islay 18yo” is.

Chivas Regal 25yo

Nose: If a nose could ever come on “thick and rich”, this does it. For 25 years in the cask, I’d expect it. It’s a “dark” nose, with nuts and chocolate, malted barley and some orange notes.

Palate:  Mouth-coating and rich at 40%–again, something I’d expect at 25 years. Instead of an “orange cream chocolate”, it’s chocolate with a splash of Cointreau. Not much grain to this one, but not much to write home about, either. Oaky, but again that sour note.

Finish: Long, slightly tart, and sugary.

Grade: B-

Better than the 18yo, but that’s a given. Strangely, not much better. I’m not a blend hater, but this doesn’t give me much to cheer about, and it’s kind of saddening, really, to think that a distillery takes 25yo Longmorn, waters it down to 40%, blends the magic away, and then sells it at $328 per bottle. If someone put this glass in my hand, and didn’t tell me what was in it, I’d peg it at 15-17 years, and say that it was a reasonable dram that I may pay $80 a bottle for. Of course, I have the luxury of reviewing such a whisky for free by the kindness of the marketing team of Chivas, and for that I am grateful. But, by tasting such a dram, free of the bias of wanting to enjoy something you spent over $300 on, the review lends itself to being uniquely honest, in my opinion. Of course, many other reviewers would give a kinder opinion, and the beautiful thing about Scotch is that it leads to this heterogeneity of opinions. Maybe the bottle was corked. Maybe the conditions were wrong. Maybe they watered it down when I wasn’t looking. Maybe I’m an old curmudgeon that loves his single malts, and nothing can be done about it. You never know.

In any case, to check my disbelief, I went home and spent some time the following night with a dram of Highland Park’s new 10yo (also @ 40% ABV). I was astonished what brilliance a 10yo can bring at 40% (a review will follow shortly), and it makes me wonder what they’re doing wrong at Chivas. Of course, their market capitalization would suggest, “nothing at all”.

“If it weren’t for your maturity, none of this would have happened.”

Scotch Night with the Lads

Spent a recent mid-week evening reuniting with a couple of old friends from my undergrad over a collection of slivers from different bottles. A great night to share some old favourites, and to try some new ones. Because we’d intended this to be a rather peaty occasion, a couple of the latter drams didn’t get the most unbiased palate I had to offer. I did, however, get to save a little of the Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition for another night, so that review is more honest than the Select Oak.

No. 1: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

Nose: Toffee. Butterscotch. Slightly winey.
Palate: Smooth, sweet and nose-confirming.
Finish: Medium-long.

Grade: B+

All the best parts of the Lasanta without any of the off-notes. This is Glenmorangie getting finishing right.

No. 2: Laphroaig Triple Wood

Nose: Typical Laphroaig tobacco, but where the Cairdeas is like an unlit cigar, the TW is more unlit cigarette. Tar and iodine. Sweet red wine, and almost Speyside-esque. 
Palate: Peat and tobacco smoke, honey, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Long and smoky.

Grade: B+

So, we had a whole flight of Laphroaig (10yo, TW, QC and Cairdeas) and this one came in 3rd. The QC is still so much for so little, and the Cairdeas blows me a way. That said, the TW is a nice, sweeter Laphroaig than the QC, and would make a great choice for a winter dram on the nights when you can’t decide between a sweet Speyside and a beasty Islay.

No. 3: Springbank 12 Cask Strength

Nose: Cookies, vanilla, leather and dried apircots. Toffee pudding.
Palate: Cherry, apricot and wheat, vanilla and a hint of chocolate. This one is superbly complex for something so young, and it really knocks the socks off the 10yo. Springbank, we are friends again.
Long, warming and smoky.

Grade: A-

Of the ones I hadn’t tried, this Springbank was the best. Everything the 10yo wants to be, but isn’t. Makes me think that the 18yo must be truly amazing.

No. 4: The Macallan Select Oak

Nose: Vanilla, Toffee and raisins.
Palate: Floral, vanilla, and toffee

Grade: B-

My least favourite of the night. Not bad, but a rather plain Macallan. Smooth, easy drinking, and a great daily dram, but for something that would probably be in the $90 range in Canada, you’d expect more. Drams like this make me want to guard my discontinued Macallan Cask Strength carefully.

No. 5: The Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition

Nose: Honeycomb, butter and toffee. Hints of mushrooms and a bit of sulphur.
Palate: Cherry, strawberry and chocolate. Some of the mushroom scent. Medium viscosity (not watery, but less viscous than the the 12yo).
Finish: Medium, slightly smoky.

Grade: B

Good, easy drinking whisky. Not my favourite of the night, but not my least favourite! Similar sentiments to #4, but this one is more of that classic rich cherry-like Macallan than the select oak. Another case of a good nose, but a weak palate. Not as elegant as the 12yo, though.

Review Stub: Compass Box Great King Street

Music: Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters”

Had the opportunity to try this at a Halloween party yesterday via the kindness of strangers. Not all I’d hoped it to be, unfortunately, but not bad by any means. Do keep in mind that this was at a party, and so my senses may have been… distracted.

Nose: Oddly, tequila. Cereals, buttercream, vanilla and apple. My “tequila” sense might be the citrus note others talk about.

Palate: Rougher than I’d like it to be. A creamy whisky, full of vanilla, citrus and cereals. Much of what the nose promises, albeit rougher than I’d like. The odd smoky note here and there.

Finish: Medium.

Grade: B-

A good whisky, and one of the first blends to get a rating above C+. I will say that I did like JW’s Spice Road better.

“If there’s something strange in the neighbourhood, who you gonna call?”

Berry, Berry Nice: Macallan Cask Strength

Music: Bloodhound Gang, “Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss”

Update: I hate you, Macallan! Why, oh why, did you discontinue this great dram?

One of the last bottles at the LCBO before being discontinued, I picked this one up after having great luck with the other widely-available NAS sherry bombs offered by the other big boys. It breaks my heart to think that this may be the last Macallan I might ever buy, as they have gone the way of weak 40%-43% NAS offerings with their 1824 series, and anything worth trying seems to be prohibitively expensive. A true shame, as I do like anything sherried that Macallan does.

Nose: Molasses, salted caramel and figs. Vanilla. Any sherry in the nose is very subtle. There is also this cinnamon sugar oatmeal scent, like one of those instant quaker packets.

Palate: Sweet sherry and cherry one-two punch, with smoke and leather on the uppercut. Chocolately, and all sorts of berry flavours (blackberries and red grapes). You’d think the alcohol would hit you like a ton of bricks at 60.1% ABV, but this one is pure elegance. With only half a teaspoon of water, this one is intensely warming, but not biting. Aberlour’s a’Bunadh fails that test.

Finish: Sherry, chocolate and cherry. Not as immediately drying, which is nice for something so sugary sweet.

Having to review stellar whiskies that are the last of their kind is so depressing. Delicious, to be sure, but depressing.

“Just jot me down on your to-do list under, ‘put out like a fire’.”