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.”