As someone who spends more of their time at the smaller end of the drinks industry scale, you have to take a step back when thinking about the big players. Chivas Regal is the fourth biggest-selling Scotch brand in the world, and producing at that volume is mind-boggling. At four and half million cases a year, they’re making about enough to sling a bottle at every individual in the UK. The logistics alone are beyond me, even before thinking about how to maintain your targeted consistency and quality. Then again, when you’re a brand big enough that you can just give away $1m a year to social entrepreneurs and partner up with Man U, it probably stands to reason that you can take the odd risk, or at least diverge from the straight and narrow. So, while I can’t tell if this Chivas Extra 13 collection is more than a stretching of the blending muscles and an excuse for some exciting limited-release packaging, I’m not going to turn down a look-see at a new angle on a trusty blended scotch like this.
The new set comprises four variants, each finished or matured in a different cask – Oloroso, Rum, American Rye and, the most immediately notable, Tequila. As is often the way with the workings of large outfits, there is a certain lack of detail as to the process, which is a shame, but the nature of the beast. They were due to be rolled out worldwide from March, but I’m not entirely clear how the current Coronavirus situation is affecting that plan.
The first, the Oloroso, is described as being selectively matured in sherry casks. It does roughly what you’d expect, placing an extra layer of dried and stewed fruit, caramel, vanilla, light warm spicing and a hint of tobacco on top of a balanced profile that all says “sherried Speyside” to me. It has the lightness of touch you’d hope for from a good blend, with enough in there to maintain interest.
The second, the Rum, is “selectively finished” in rum casks and, from the nose, is building off a recognisable Chivas foundation, but with hints of orange and stone fruit. They continue into the tasting, with more cinnamon spice and a backdrop of almost drying dark sugar/molasses. There’s perhaps less subtlety, but everything is smooth and harmonious and it bridges to the rum influence happily.
The third, the American Rye, is also finished, rather than matured, this time in rye casks and was the one that intrigued me the most when I heard about the release. Rye is a spirit I love, so always happy to see it about. The nose is dryer, with lots of spice and a hint of cocoa. On the palate, it’s a little less obvious than the other two, a touch more spirit warmth, but there’s some orange in there and the cocoa resolves into a lightly dry finish. I wouldn’t have guessed rye in a blind test, but it certainly gives a new perspective to Chivas.
Lastly, the Tequila finish. Given that it isn’t clear whether it would have been legal to call spirit finished in tequila casks Scotch whisky until last year, the brains behind this endeavour must have either moved very quickly, given the whisky the briefest of whistle-stop tours of the tequila casks, or known in advance that the guidance was due to change. Any which way, having been very impressed by JJ Corry’s The Battalion (Irish whiskey having more latitude on these things), this was the potential surprise package. The nose is warm, with fruit hinting at ripe pineapple, a touch of white pepper and grassy/waxy twinges. There’s a slightly fuller, oilier mouthfeel and unlike the rye, the tequila influence comes through clearly. It’s not overpowering – none of the four finishes are – but there’s more of that white pepper, and a warm, sweet finish that flows into Chivas’ dried banana notes well.
So there you have it, four well-executed variations on a theme, none of which shame the progenitor. Blended whiskies tend not to get the same degree of critical attention as single malts, but if Chivas is a bottle you’d normally pick up, these are different enough to be interesting. At £35 RRP a pop, these aren’t out of line with a lot of current scotch prices, either.