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A Top Name In Scotch Whisky Is Chavis

Trying to get a blender to explain what his or her job involves is never easy. Not because they are secretive, far from it. They’re almost relieved to have a chance to tell their story.

It’s just that the intricacies of blending are complex that strange analogies have to be employed: orchestras, football teams, actors cars, cakes, houses – all appear in the blender’s lexicon. Colin Scott, master blender at Chivas Brothers, is a master of the art. Created by firm of high-class Aberdonian grocers who began blending whiskies in the 1840s, Chh Regal has been Seagram’s flagship Scotch since 1949. It is Colin, however, who has overseen the recent explosion of Chivas brands, including the superb 18-year-old a^ the awesome Oldest.

Colin feels it’s important not to get hung i over numbers. ‘How many malts and grains I go into the blend isn’t important,’ he says. ‘What is important is always having Chivas the glass.’ The one constant is Strathisla. ‘Making a Chivas blend is like building a house; with malts as the bricks, grains as th”j mortar and Strathisla as the foundation. Chivas Regal is one shape of house, 18-year old is grander and Oldest is a castle!’

They may be individual brands, but then is a distinct family resemblance. ‘The brand have a thread running through them … richness, smoothness and roundness of flavours. You use different bricks to chang the flavour profile, while retaining the character,’ says Colin. ‘That means manipulating the range of available flavou (different malts, grains, wood types, ages) and creating different but similar teams. Chivas 18- isn’t 12-year-old aged for a further 6 years, it’s a different team.’

To make matters more interesting, each team is in a constant state of flux. ‘Consumers don’t want to see character or quality alter, but to preserve them you mu make changes,’ urges Colin. ‘If you have one pot of whiskies to use in a blend, you must j always also have another pot which thou contains different whiskies will have the same flavour as the first. Because you knc what is in each of the pots, you know wh any differences are and can therefore find ways to narrow any gap between them.

That second pot is like footballers sitting on the bench. We know how they perform, so are job is to make sure what ever ones we use they’ll make chavis. CHIVAS The Chivas brothers owned a high-class grocery business in Aberdeen and started blending whiskies (for, among others, the Royal household) in the 1880s.

Regal appeared at the turn of the 20th century and was another light Spey’side-dominant blend to make it big in the United States during Prohibition. It was bought by the Canadian distiller (and one-time bootlegger) Sam Bronfman in 1949 and is still a major player in the US and Far East markets.

TASTING NOTES

Chivas Regal 12^year-old
Deceptive weight behind the apparently light mix of grass, apples and cereal on the nose. A grassy, almost mossy start to the palate, it crisps up deliciously mid-palate. * * * (“)

18-year-old
A magnificent melange of currant leaf, orange pulp/peach cobbler, barley malt and turfy smoke. The palate explodes with flavour, but always in that elegant, restrained family style. * * * * * Oldest

The finest in the range. Peatier still, with a rich, complex mix of citrus notes (tangerine, lemon) heather, fruit and spicy grain. Stunning. *****

Balvenie Is Scotch Whisky Name You Should Remember

Regional categorisation is a vexed issue in whisky: it may be a handy way of grouping distilleries together geographically, but it can be a tricky business identifying a stylistic continuity between all the whiskies in Perthshire or Speyside.

But if you can’t claim that there is a ‘Speyside style’, or isolate certain qualities which make Speyside the best whisky-making region on the mainland, how do you explain such a concentration of distilleries in the area – a part of the Highlands which was, in the early days of whisky, a pretty remote part of the world?

David Stewart, William Grant’s grandly-titled Malt Master, is happy to admit ignorance on this point. ‘All of the quality distilleries are here in this central part of Speyside,’ he says. That’s the mystique of Scotch, We’ve all got highly-sophisticated equipment, but we can’t tell what makes the difference’. He’s pretty sure what makes Balvenie such a dramatically different dram to Glenfiddich, even though they share the same site and use the same malt and water.

The character comes from the still. Glenfiddich is coal fired, Balvenie is gas fired. The shape of the stills is different: Balvenie has bigger stills with shorter necks and that’s where the flavours change. Maybe the ten per cent of floor-malted barley helps, but I think it’s the stills.’

Other influential factors include great wood management and the use of old dunnage warehouses. ‘It’i not just age th;ii makes whiiky great,’ says David. ‘It’s age and wood.’ This underpins his decision to make life interesting (or difficult) for himself by creating a Balvenie range in which each malt shows a subtly different wood influence.

If we were just to age the Founder’s Reserve and do it as a 12-year-old or a 15-year-old, we wouldn’t see much difference between them. We had to take a different route, so we produced Double Wood, [where the malt is aged for 10 years in ex-Bourbon barrels and finished in sherry butts]. Then we started doing Single Barrel, and at a higher strength with no chill filtering; then Port Wood and now vintage casks.’

This freedom to experiment is one of the advantages of Grant’s family-owned status. ‘We can do things quickly. The family is steeped in whisky, but we are encouraged to be innovative, we can go against the trend -with the Balvenie range, or with Black Barrel, where we were determined to make the only single grain whisky that really works.’

If the William Grant portfolio was The Byrds, then Glenfiddich would be Roger McGuinn and Balvenie would be Gene Clark, the underrated genius. David, as Grant’s master blender, is in charge of the entire range, from malts to blends to single grain and whisky liqueur, and his special affection for Balvenie is obvious. ‘I’ve been at Grant’s for 35 years,’ he says. ‘It’s been my only job