Chivas Blending Masterclass

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I recently attended a blending masterclass hosted by Chivas brand ambassador Matthew Cordiner, in Usquabae Bar, Edinburgh. I was invited along by my cousin, for what was one of the best whisky events I have been to, we were talked through the history of the industry, blended our own whiskies and even got to take away a 150ml decanter of the blend we created – as well as enjoying plenty of great drams in the process.

The night started with a sample of the Chivas 12yo blend as we were told and discussed the history of the industry, and how it has changed over the last 500 years or so. I must confess here that this was my first time ever trying any of Chivas’ blends and I must say I was pretty impressed; a very light, well rounded and fruity blend for a great price too.

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After we had sampled the Chivas 12yo and discussed the history we then moved on towards making our blends. The first thing we had to do was to sample the whiskies that it would be we were creating our blends from. We were given 5 bottles of whisky, each marked with a different whisky producing region, each representing the style of whisky produced in that region. This sparked a discussion as to the relevance of regionalising whiskies in modern times though we were all too excited about creating our own blends to get too hung up on it. The regions stamped on the bottles and my basic notes I took for each are shown below, as well as a guess as to what it might be.

Grain – as with any blended Scotch a component of it has to be grain whisky to be named as such, I don’t have a huge amount of experience in grain whisky but I must say that this one was very nice indeed. Lots of peaches, toffee apples and lemon peel with rich oak and vanilla. This turned out to be a Strathclyde 12yo single grain and to be honest this whisky blew me away, for a 12yo grain whisky it is really fantastic, I will definitely need to see if I can get my hands on a bottle of this.

Lowland – Lowland whiskies were generally renowned for being lighter and more floral in style. As soon as I put this to my nose I knew immediately which distillery this came from. I had that classic almondy/marzipan-like nose that I associate with Auchentoshan. It was also very floral and fruity, mostly dried fruits which made me think that this was their three wood bottling, which is what it turned out to be.

Speyside – the Speyside whisky – we were told before we tried this – was the Chivas owned Strathisla, which is used as the heart malt for the Chivas blends. Possibly the most picturesque distillery this whisky was very interesting. Notes here included berry pastries, caramel dairy milk and loads of sweet fruitiness and malt, with a subtle menthol undertone.

Highland – the highland whisky was rife with heather, honey and drying woodspice, as well as lots of malt. My guess for this one was Old Pulteney 12yo, and I wasn’t the only person to guess that. It was in fact Dalwhinnie 15yo, which I was quite surprised by.

Islay – the final component that we could use for making our blends was a nice smoky whisky from Islay. The Islay whisky was very heavy and full bodied with a massive earthy character, burning seaweed, bonfire ash and citrus it was a bit confusing to me. Initially I thought Laphroaig because burning seaweed is just something that I associate with their smoke, though the citrus put me in mind of Bowmore. In the end I went for Laphroaig as my guess which is what it turned out to be, the 10yo.

Once we had sampled and acquainted ourselves with our possible ingredients it was then time to start blending. I knew from the start that I wanted at least half of my blend to be made up from Grain whisky as this is what pulls all of the character of the malts together. Matthew put it brilliantly when he said that it’s like building a wall. The malts play the role of the bricks, while the grain whisky acts as the mortar; it’s what holds it all together.

I was feeling in a smoky mood on the night that we were doing this blending session and so I decided that I wanted to create something with a smoky edge to it. As I found out very quickly, a little smoke, goes a long way, it doesn’t take much to have a big effect on the blends character. Similar can be said for sherried whiskies, it doesn’t require much to add a big fruity and spicy suggestion. After a bit of playing around – and plenty more sampling – I came up with the following recipe.

Grain Strathclyde 12yo 50%
Lowland Auchentoshan Three Wood 7.5%
Speyside Strathisla 12yo 12.5%
Highland Dalwhinnie 15yo 17.5%
Islay Laphroaig 10yo 12.5%

After having came up with what will surely be the next world-beating blend, we then had to come up with a name for it. I decided to call my blend ‘Who the f*ck is peat’ on account of the high phenolic character and in homage to the genius that is Ken Loach and his film, the Angels Share. Keeps your eyes peeled as I’m sure you will see some Who the f*ck is peat in a shop near you soon!

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I would like to thank Usquabae for holding the event and Matthew from Chivas for hosting. It was a great night and a very fun experience.

Sláinte

Gary

SMWS 48.70

For this review we will be trying something a bit different from the norm, an independent bottling. There are many independent bottlers of Scotch malt whisky out there, there are pros and cons obviously but possibly the best thing about these bottlers is that you can get some very old rare whiskies for a fraction of what you would pay for the official releases. Probably my favourite and best known of the independent bottlers is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), and it is one of their bottlings that I will be reviewing today.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was started in the late 70’s when a group of friends secured a cask from a certain Speyside distillery; they enjoyed it so much that they went back for more, this time with more people wanting to join them. As time went by more and more people became interesting in sampling these unique single cask offerings and so the society was founded in 1983, from where it has grown into one of the largest independent bottlers on the market.

The SMWS are known for not providing the distillery name on their bottling; instead they assign the bottle a number which represents that distillery and a number for the number of casks bottled from that distillery. So for example the bottle we are tasting today is 48.70, a quick search online and you can find out that distillery 48 is Balmenach, and this is the 70th cask that they have bottled from that distillery. I will do a write up in the future further explaining all this but it is actually quite simple( which can now be found here – SMWS – Cracking the code).

So facts and figures before we get down to the tasting:

Cask No. 48.70 – Balmenach
Bottle Name Divas Do Disco   (a nice manly sounding dram!)
Age 13yo
Cask Type 1st Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel
Alcoholic Strength 62.5% ABV.
Number of Bottles 198
Tasting Notes Sandalwood and heavy oak danced with tropical baked banana and carrot cake. Slick with saffron scented shaving cream and Ambre Solaire oil. Rum and raisin ice cream and white Russian. Creamy milkshake sprinkled with nutmeg and liqueur chocolates. Go tiger!

 

I did my tasting for this bottling blind so it will be interesting to see how my notes compare to those created by the SMWS panel, let’s get to it!

Nose

The first thing that I must say about this dram is that it is hard to believe that this is at 62.5% ABV. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very strong whisky, but it is very soft on the nose even still. For being matured solely in a former bourbon cask there are a lot of European oak noes coming through unusually, lots of spice and dried fruits. There is a big woodiness upfront with this whisky, surprisingly so for a 13yo whisky. Sweet spices with vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon, as well as a fiery ginger aroma that prickles on the nose, and a good dose of white pepper. Lots of fruits and nuts battle for attention; coconut, walnuts, sultanas, candied orange peel, honey dew melon and dried banana, all backed up with a slight menthol note. With time vanilla slice pastry and rum and raisin ice-cream comes through served with over brewed breakfast tea.

Palate

Wow, ok, there’s the alcohol punch! A big blasting of alcohol backed up with loads of fizzy sweetness and spice. A few drops of water takes the edge off hugely and make it a far more open and palatable dram. Fiery candied stem ginger, cinnamon and allspice, it’s like raiding the spice cabinet. Stewed apples and cereal notes combine with the spice suggesting a nice cinnamon and apple crumble, with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream on top. A cinder toffee/slightly burnt caramel sweetness lifts the palate through the development, detracting from the intense alcohol and spice.

Finish

Lots of drying woodiness comes through in the finish which is quite nice after the sweetness. It has a lovely long finish; it just keeps going, likely due to the strength. As well as the woodiness there is an almost tequila-like taste which – for someone who isn’t a big fan of tequila – is actually really quite nice. This tequila like taste caries through the finish with a slight amount of cask char and again more sweet spices.

Well, in comparison to the official notes I think I did not too bad. I must confess I have never had saffron scented shaving cream before and I have no idea what so ever as to what Ambre Solaire is, but I am sure that this whisky is simply rife with them! I must congratulate the SMWS on their ‘creative’ tasting notes; it’s always interesting reading them, and a pleasure enjoying their bottlings which are always of such a high standard. I will definitely being reviewing some more of their bottlings in the future.

Sláinte

Gary