Chivas Regal Extra

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Score: 91/100

Reaction:  :)

ABV: 40%

Origin: Scotland

Price: $73 (Australian RRP, but seen for $54.95 at Dan Murphy’s)

Chivas Regal is perhaps the world’s second most famous whisky, behind Johnnie Walker. For many years people were happy to wet their palates with Johnnie Walker Red Label or Chivas Regal 12 year old, and the more premium whisky blends and single malts seem to have catered for a small niche of the market. Then things started to change. A couple of years ago, at least here in Australia, a “whisky rush” started – people began to buy whisky for drinking or collecting and this continues to this very day, reflected in particular by the explosion of different whiskies now on bottle shop shelves and the number of whisky bars that have popped up in cities that only a few years ago had none. Whatever the cause, it is clear people want whisky. They want good whisky, and they are happy to pay for it. Sometimes in my opinion people pay far too much for good whisky – Scotch Malt Whisky Society (“SMWS”) bottlings were my first glimpse into overpriced and overhyped whisky, which are in my view unworthy of their excessive price tags. Chivas Regal have answered the call of consumers for good whisky, however, with great integrity and have released a new expression on the market this month at the affordable price of $73 (RRP) (Australia) – the Chivas Regal Extra.

Australia is the first country in the world to meet Chivas Regal’s newest family member, the Chivas Regal Extra. The Chivas Regal Extra is different to other Chivas expressions because it includes in its blend a higher proportion of sherry matured whisky.  It is designed to sit in between Chivas Regal 12 year old and Chivas Regal 18 year old in the Chivas family, and in my opinion it is a worthy and welcome addition – it is rich, balanced, flavoursome and the yet another example of a throw the cap in the fire kind of whisky! It is difficult to choose which Chivas Regal I prefer, but if my taste buds ever whisper for an easy drinking but flavourful sherry matured whisky I just might reach for the Chivas Regal Extra.

On the nose sherry, chocolate, cherries, vanilla, caramel, ginger nut biscuit, unlit cigarettes, honey coated cashew nuts and menthol weave together into a sticky sugary blanket that sits over what seems to be very clean whisky. On the palate the whisky is immediately soft and creamy, and then it ignites – it is first quite bitter with a proceeding dryness (astringent, similar to very under-ripe pineapple) that brightens with herbal notes and then, at death’s knock, sweetens into a sugary glow of caramel, vanilla and brandy sautéed cherries with cinnamon and dark chocolate. The finish offers lingering bright herbal notes, with crystalline sugary cherry liquor chocolates remaining alongside soft hints of creamy vanilla and shaved almonds over a caramel coffee frappe.

Overall, Chivas Regal Extra is an extremely drinkable blended Scotch whisky that showcases more pronounced sherry notes than Chivas Regal 12 year old, but with the same famous level of balance and poise. It is an impressive addition to the Chivas Regal core range, and at its current price of $54.95 at Dan Murphy’s, it is a must try whisky for fans of Chivas Regal or sherry matured whisky. It also holds up nicely in cocktails and mixed drinks.

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Starward

Score: 78/100

Reaction:  :(

ABV: 43%

Origin: Melbourne, Australia

Price: $78.99 (Aus)

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to review Starward single malt whisky. I didn’t much like it – its flavour profile seemed to be dominated by wood, rather than being integrated and balanced with the other components in the whisky. Following my post, I received correspondence from Starward which on my reading sought to explain why Starward whisky is very good and that it is meant to be woody.  Having recently just re-tasted Starward, the wood tannins did nip away at my palate and beneath the splinters of wood sat the glow of Apera and orchard fruit. I still don’t much like it, which pains me to say because I am a Melbourne boy! It is by no means a bad whisky, it is just that when compared with the many hundreds of whiskies available on the market it would sit at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of my enjoyment.

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Old St Andrews “Nightcap” 15 year old

OSA Nightcap

Score: 91/100

Reaction: :)

ABV: 40%

Origin: Scotland

Price: £37

Old St Andrews, purveyors of blended Scotch whisky in fancy golf ball inspired bottles, produce the Old St Andrews “Nightcap” 15 year old. Old St Andrews “Nightcap” is a blended malt Scotch whisky that contains malt whiskies that have been aged in European oak casks for at least 15 years. A number of Old St Andrews bottles have sat collecting dust in many liquor cabinets I have seen, never to be opened. The bottle design, which admittedly looks pretty spectacular when the light catches it the right way, means that Old St Andrews has always had a reputation – at least in Australia – as a “display bottle”. Many people buy Old St Andrews for the bottle, not the whisky. That is a real shame, because having just tasted it I can say that the Old St Andrews “Nightcap” 15 year old is one of the better blends I have tasted.

The nose is rich, aromatic and vibrant – a fusion of vanilla, honey, flaky baklava, crushed nuts, preserved cherries, icing sugar, brown vinegar preserved plums with raw sugar and fruit pie fills the glass with undertones of anise alongside piercing spices and the warming burn of fresh chili and drying yellow plum. As the whisky rests, more pronounced coffee notes emerge with raw sugar and chocolate milk splashed over honeycomb, fennel fronds and increasingly denser chocolate. What a fascinating bouquet on this dram! On the palate the whisky is sweet and sugary with reduced brown pear in syrup, browned toffee, cracked cinnamon and heavy layers of rich Navy style rum with sticky molasses, counterbalanced by drying and astringent fruits such as damson plums. The finish offers brown sugar and aged rum notes, as the crystalline sugars emerge with maraschino cherries, coffee drops and the aftertaste of chocolate cake.

Overall, Old St Andrews “Nightcap” 15 year old is a whisky that belongs in your belly, not on display. Its smoothness is accompanied by a flavourful malty punch that offers a very distinctive rummy style, crystalline and almost sticky, that is balanced by undertones of drying fruit notes and enhanced by the European oak.  At its price, it is great value for a blend of whiskies that have aged for at least 15 years.

Old St Andrews have hit this one right on the green. A job well done. Fore!

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Rocky Patel Decades Torpedo (Honduras)

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Hellyer’s Road 12 year old

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Score: 85/100 (neat); 93/100 (matched with a cigar/food)

Reaction (neat): :/ (overwhelmed)

Reaction (matched): :D (delighted)

ABV: 46.2%

Origin: Tasmania, Australia

Price: $99.50 (Aus)

Match with: This is an intense and flavourful whisky with lots of love from the wood in which it matured, I found it absolutely delicious with a medium-full strength cigar offering woody notes (Arturo Fuente Hemingway), blue cheese, cheddar, goats cheese and zesty grilled red meats (lamb marinated with lemon and rosemary).

Australian whisky has always struck me as overpriced, the only exception being whisky from Hellyer’s Road. With most of its whiskies priced between $80 to $90, Hellyer’s Road produce what is in my opinion the best value Australian whisky on the market. Its newest release is a 12 year old single malt and that currently sells for $99.50, an eye catching price for an Australian whisky that has been aged in wood for 12 years (good luck finding a quality Aussie whisky for less than $100, especially one that has an age statement of 12 years!).

The Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is matured in American oak casks and vatted in timber. It is bottled at 46.2% alcohol volume after it has matured for 12 years. This is a long time; despite the fact that most commercially available single malt Scotch whiskies are, at their youngest, 12 years old. Whisky matured in Tasmania tends to draw out more wood flavours more quickly than whisky that has matured in Scotland, and this is thought to occur because Tasmania tends to have warmer and more volatile weather than Scotland and so the pores in oak casks holding whisky are more prone to expand and contract (thereby soaking up and spitting out more whisky more often, and as a result giving the whisky more flavour more quickly). This is not necessarily a good thing, because a whisky can become overly woody by spending too much time in oak. As the Godfather of Australian whisky Bill Lark once told me during a chat in Melbourne’s Southbank, Australian whisky does not tend to be matured decades on end because the wood might take over the whisky.

Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is definitely very woody. The first time I tried this whisky, it simply tasted too woody – almost immediately the tannins pierced my taste buds with a strong woody twang, and in all honesty it gave me a lemon face.  My palate then adjusted and with each sip the whisky became more palatable and enjoyable. It soon become blatantly obvious that this whisky would beautifully match a cigar, so an Arturo Fuente Hemingway (natural wrapper) was taken from my humidor and lit after being carefully cut. A few puffs of the cigar followed, and then as the smooth cedar notes of the cigar sat on my palate I sipped the Hellyer’s Road 12 year old – magic. It is one of the best whiskies I’ve had matched with a cigar. Then, my next love after whisky and cigars came to mind – cheese!

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It may seem quite cliche but this whisky – which is produced by a distiller that is owned by a milk farm – goes remarkably well with rich cheeses. From Gorgonzola to Bavarian Blu, or perhaps more appropriately a nice creamy Tasmanian brie with blue vein or an Australian cheddar. Now we’re talking.  It offers a spice and a woody kick that rivals some food friendly wines, and in my view it is a shining example of an Australian whisky that might just compete with the iconic Shiraz for a place by the cheese board.

The nose immediately presents with vanilla and chocolate notes underlying cherry cough syrup over wood, as an unlit floral scented candle develops into more natural floral notes – Dandelion, sunflower, freshly cut flowers, dewy stalks and the sourness of a chewed yellow wood sorrel. There is also a muddy smell, similar to a Melbourne football pitch in summer, with bone dry yellowed grass as well as sour lollies, hints of dusty cocoa, nutmeg, fresh bunched oregano and rosemary, undertones of sharp citrus peel and gluey wood chipboard stained with old wine. On the palate the whisky offers a strong woody twang with notes of citrus and lavender, dried herbs with undertones of honey and the astringent but tangy taste of an old cork infused wine and vinegar that proceeds into the finish. The finish is peppery and spicy with some hints of sourness, as potpourri lingers on the tip of the tongue with tobacco and hints of dark chocolate with ground coffee.

On its own Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is quite good once you get to know it, but matched with the right cigar or food it takes on a whole new level – its heavy woody twang is softened by the matched cigar or food, but necessary so the whisky does not get lost in the food or smoke.  Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is now one of the first whiskies that comes to my mind when a nice rich creamy block of cheese calls my name, or a good quality cigar whispers ‘smoke me’. This is a whisky that makes life’s other pleasure’s (especially cheese and cigars) even better – now that is a great achievement, especially by a distillery that is owned by a milk farm!

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Chivas Brothers commences production at new Dalmunach distillery

Chivas Imperial_160714_0125Chivas Brothers has now constructed its new Speyside malt whisky distillery, Dalmunach, with production commenting this month in October 2014. Capable of producing up to 10 million litres of spirit per year, Dalmunach is expected to support growing global demand for Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s and Royal Salute.

Dalmunach is Chivas Brothers’ 14th operating malt whisky distillery and it sits on the banks of the River Spey, being aptly named after a nearby pool in the river. It houses eight copper pot stills, with a tulip shape used for the wash stills and an onion shape used for the spirit stills. These replicate those from the Imperial distillery, which was situated on the site until 2012.

Laurent Lacassagne, Chairman and CEO of Chivas Brothers, comments:

“As global demand for Scotch whisky increases year on year, our confidence in the long-term growth prospects for the category remains strong. The construction of the new Dalmunach distillery is a clear demonstration of our confidence and also of our commitment to invest to meet the significant growth potential.

With their reputation for crafted excellence, our blended whiskies form a key part of the Chivas Brothers portfolio in both emerging economies and mature markets, so we believe the increased capacity which the new distillery will provide will help to drive the business forward in the years to come.”

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Gran Patron Platinum

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Score: 86/100

ABV: 40%

Origin: Mexico

Price: $450 (Aus), $195 (USA)

Match with: A mild to medium maduro cigar, lime tart, acidic citrus based desserts

Patron are known for picking Agave plants with a higher sugar content, which, when fermented and then distilled, are said to produce a very distinct flavour profile. For Gran Patron Platinum, Patron take the Blue Agave selection  a step further by removing leftover sprouts from any Agave before that Agave is baked. This is believed to remove bitterness while ensuring the highest sugar content possible. The tequila is then triple distilled, aged for a select period and placed in beautiful crystal bottles.

On the nose the tequila releases rose petals, Turkish delight and very clean agave with notes of caramel, pepper, Chinese five spice, lemon and tangy citrus. On the palate the tequila is very smooth and light, with a bite of cinnamon and pepper that recedes into agave with undertones of earthy honey progressively sweetening into the finish, increasingly becoming sugary and crystalline with lingering zest, floral notes and sweet clean ethanol evapourating from the base of the tongue. The finish offers lingering clean ethanol and earthy notes with pepper and agave.

Overall, Gran Patron Platinum is a super smooth tequila with an underlying sweetness that softens the agave and spice. The alcohol itself is very clean and, in my opinion, it seems to have been masterfully distilled.  Having been distilled three times, some of the agave flavour seems to have been stripped away and the ethanol in the tequila dominates towards the finish, releasing vodka-like notes. The flavours are there, but very astringent and it almost tastes similar to inhaling hand running alcohol at times. I am not sure this is what I had expected of an ultra-premium tequila, especially one that sells in Australia for $450. I would not pay even a quarter of that price for this tequila, but the crystal bottle will make a beautiful decanter! Make no mistake, this is nice tequila – it is just overpriced, over-hyped and, to be frank, nothing special in my humble opinion.

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