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.”

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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?”

Review Stub: Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve

Just some quick notes on a whisky I had a chance to try last night.

Being afforded the chance to try JWGR last night, I thought that I would finally see why JW produces whiskies that so many people seem to enjoy for their smoothness despite the lack of complexity. Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to be further puzzled as to the unyielding popularity of this rather dull brand.

Nose: Sweet fudge notes, but very subdued, and almost non-existant. There are probably other notes here, but I’m really straining to find them. Grain alcohol, yes, but that’s not worth hunting for…

Palate: Surprisingly rough and jagged. Grainy fudge, sweetness, a little like a toffee candy, but with that unfortunate alcoholic tinge that I haven’t been able to shake with blends and other run-of-the-mill malts at low ABV. Somewhat waxy as many reviews have promised, but not really all that superb in that respect. If there is anything Clynelish in this dram, it’s been buried under whatever other additives are in the glass.

Finish: Medium long. Sweetness, vaguely fruity and lightly smoky, but I’m really straining to notice those notes.

Grade: C

For less money, you can pull the same complexity out of the Macallan Fine Oak 10yo, but I wouldn’t suggest it. For the roughly same palate, but with that extra coastal sea salt freshness, the Laddie Ten has the JWGR beat on all fronts. Not only that, but you would still save ~$25 to boot (keep in mind that it’s 50cl less, but at 46%).

This reaffirms that, until a really good blend accidently happens my way, I’m sticking to exploring single malts.

“Should’ve Grabbed the JWB”: Grant’s Family Reserve

As an all-important first admission, I am not a fan of blends. However, this is not to say I dislike all blends, but rather that I haven’t met a blend thus far that I have truly enjoyed. Admittedly, I haven’t tried any of the Compass Box blends, and I hear they are very good, so I am clearly missing out. I have also heard great things about Douglas Laing’s “Big Peat”.  This review is on a blend that I didn’t particularly like, which is done, in part, to show the reader that there are whiskies I don’t like. Recently, the evidence has been strongly against such a statement, and that is because, when spending what little of my good, hard-earned money that I can actually set aside for Scotch, I tend to research each purchase thoroughly, and usually end up with something B or higher. With the holiday season approaching, however, I am likely to get a gift bottle here and there, so in those cases, we may get something I don’t particularly enjoy. On to “Grant’s”.

I purchased a 20cl bottle of this whisky when heading off to a party about a year ago. I scribbled some notes throughout the evening, and found them this week. With my recollection of the event, I concur with my past self.

Nose: (undiluted) Alcohol. Maybe some cinnamon or nutmeg, but for the most part, malt, grain and alcohol. Dilution cuts the alcohol a bit, and the cinnamon and nutmeg come through some more, but not much. Really nothing here.

Palate: Just malt and alcohol, with sprinkles of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. Those kind of christmas spices, but if you really want to taste those on a budget, buy your self some Aberlour 10.

Finish: Nothing but blech.

Grade: D

Well, this is a mixer if I’ve ever tasted one. Of course, that’s not to say it would make a particularly good mixed drink, but that pairing it with something else would make it more tolerable. In this price-range and volume (20-37.5cl) Johnnie Walker Black all the way. Heck, I’d even take Ballantine’s Finest. You may wonder why this doesn’t get an F. An F is reserved for a whisky that is not just unremarkable water and alcohol, but is actually offensive. Adam and Chris @ LAWS have noted some whiskies that actually smell and taste like soap, varnish, garbage, rotting food, and yes, vomit. We must reserve a grade specifically for those abominations.