Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Asking For Extra – Chivas Extra

Chivas Extra and Colin Scott Master Blender
There are some brands that spark more interest above others when it comes to something new. Chivas Brothers is one such brand commanding such interest. With one bottle of Chivas being opened every second somewhere in the world it is no surprise that the announcement of Chivas Extra topped out as one the the biggest hits we have seen in the last 2 months. It seems everyone likes to know about what Chivas is up to.

With a launch of Chivas Extra looming, Chivas Brothers Master Blender, Colin Scott was out in Australia to promote its release. Not just any release, be it the global release. I had the opportunity to attend a afternoons tasting, Thursday the 9th of October 2014, with Colin Scott at Sydney's legendary bar Eau De Vie Sydney. Colin, a tall man in his senior years, holds himself as proud custodian to the Chivas Regal family. Since becoming Master Blender in 1989, Colin oversees a hand full of blenders in the continuous production of Chivas to meet world demands. Clearly passionate about his job, Collin mentions though these days he is doing more and more PR touring world wide but he still gets his hands dirty in the blending rooms so to speak. In 1997 Collin developed the iconic Chivas Regal 18yo and then in 2007 topped it by developing the aclaimed Chivas Regal 25yo. Collin had commented that on average between 30 to 50 types of whisky at any one time go into batting a blended expression. He continued on to say the technique of blending requires a keen nose to continually tweak the blend as you never ever know what barrels are coming in from all over Scotland so sometimes it is more of this and less of that. He noted of course the importance Strathisla plays in the Chivas blends but said it is only one of many whiskies overall.

Dr Phil and the Silver Fox Fizz
On arrival I had to figure just where exactly Eau Di Vie was as Sydney bars currently still have this terrible habit of just not giving specifics on how to find them. What once past as unique now qualifies for just downright annoying. So after asking several shops that literally were next door I received answers along the lines of “not sure but we have heard of it” to “I think it is across the road and down the road”. Once finally figuring out where it was I walked in to discover many faces had already arrived sipping cocktails, running interviews, and have a jolly old time. hhhmmm if only I had not wasted 20min trying to find the bar and how did all these people get in the door without me seeing? Trade secrets I guess.

Manning the bar was Dr Phil, champion of the newly detached sibling business come alchemists workshop Eau De Vie Apothecary (at the time closed off as I entered but certainly something I made use of later in the afternoon). Dr Phil was working up a light and refreshing Silver Fox Fizz followed by a more palate saturating Gentleman’s Agreement. Made on a Chivas Extra base the Silver Fox Fizz was a great cleansing starter delivering a lemon sherbet punch laced with lime and sugar.

Another Silver Fox Fizz? Don't mind if I do... and what's this? A Sunset Boulevardier. 
The Gentleman's Agreement on the other hand tended to be a bit on the heavy side. A blending amongst other ingredients was Chivas Extra, vermouth, mescal, pineapple and ginger ale. Complex but too saturated prior to a tasting for my preference with the ginger giving a uninvited heat.

A very fine indulgence of canapés of oysters, salmon, duck liver, and blue cheese made the rounds also to compliment the cocktails. I was very fond of the oysters but then when am I not? They went down very well with a couple more Silver Fox Fizz's. During the tasting the oysters made another appearance and complimented the Chivas Extra extremely well. Later on we also saw the appearance of a Sunset Boulevardier tipping the hat to the classic Rob Roy.

Canapé's, cocktails, sliders and more
Introducing the night was Pernod Ricard brand ambassador’s Ben Davidson followed by the ever bubbly Chivas Brothers Brand Ambassador Laura Hay. Both charming people, it was great to have a chat and find out more about what they thought about the new release. Last time I had seen Ben was at the Chivas and QT collaboration launch back in early February 2014: Chivas and a Hair Cut - Chivas Brothers meets QT Sydney. Ben holds a voice you should listen to at least once in your lifetime and be sure your holding a gin martini or glass of whisky while your doing it.

Taking our seats Colin began by introducing not just himself but also the brand that is Chivas Brothers. He spoke about his time working within the company and how being a Master Blender now has him traveling the world promoting a brand he has helped create and maintain. Colin likes to always water his whisky down by 50% as this is the method required for nosing and testing when blending. Though this watering down is a requirement when on the job, he says any other time this is how he likes to have his whiskies anyway. By reducing the whisky down that far the alcohol is effectively neutralised from the senses allowing the finer elements of the whisky to shine through. Colin also mentioned about how he also tends to leave a whisky for a good 20min after adding so much water so that the whisky returns back to room temperature, another important fact when nosing and tasting during the blending process.

The animated Colin Scott and baratone tenor Ben Davidson 
Laid out in front of us during collins presentation was a fine selection of Chivas Brothers expressions to taste: Chivas Regal 12yo; Chivas Extra; Chivas Regal 18yo. Chivas Extra has been positioned as the middle man between the 12yo and 18yo. Knowing this don't think for a second that Chivas Extra is aged somewhere between the two nor is its completely characteristically similar. Though the Chivas Extra is a NAS (No Age Statement) and priced similar to the 18yo, it is its own beast in many ways delivering a clear alternative for those wanting something extra. Sherry barrels feature strongly within the Chivas Extra if you have not guessed it from the red packaging. While sherry finishes may be a catch phrase at the moment for many distillers, the development of chivas Extra has been going on since the early to mid 2000’s.

Chivas Extra
Distiller/ Blender: Chivas Brothers
Location / Region: Scotland
Alcohol / ABV: 40%

Nose: Sweet sherry creams, butter, floral fruits and nut chocolate with dry wood notes.

Taste: Creamy on the first sip a fresh ripe fruitiness appears that is complimented by spicy ginger tannins that give a prickle on the lips and tongue. Soon the palate becomes much more saturated and a cinnamon sticky date pudding effect develops

Finish: Long, drying and spicy but not too hot. Floral notes with ripe fruits do also tend to return to the palate.

Overall: The dryness will put anyone off that is hard set on how they like their Chivas Regal but then, as I said earlier, this is its own beast to contend with. The sherry is not overpowering nor is the wood and all the hallmarks are there of a Chivas but just with something extra to deliver intriguing uniqueness. If I was to give a dram 5 3/4 out of 7. It is good value, well rounded and sure to impress anyone wanting to diverge from the traditional Chivas routes. When someone ask do you feel like a Chivas Regal why not ask for something extra and ask for a Chivas Extra.

Colin signing that bottle. Why do they all have awesome signatures?
Following the presentation while everyone retired to the bar I hung back to grab something extra. I have tried to make a habit of having these unique people involved in the whisky production to get a bottle signed as a memento of the occasion. It would seem I was not the only one with this intent and though I had my own bottle marker in hand the Cav Con girls quickly drew their own weapons and it was a signaturefest for Collin all afternoon.

Thanks to Colin Scott, Chivas Brothers, and Cav Con for the opportunity to sit down and listen to such an influential individual to one of the worlds biggest blended whisky brands.

The Baron