With a belly full of Scottish breakfast, I was physically and mentally prepared for a full day of sampling cask strength whisky straight from casks at a couple of Scottish distilleries.
The first stop of my cask strength extravaganza was the picturesque Strathisla distillery, the home of the blended whisky Chivas Regal.
The Strathisla distillery is located in the town of Keith within the Speyside whisky region of Scotland. Although the distillery produces single malt, the vast majority of its production is used to make Chivas Regal blended whisky. This is why it is known as the home of Chivas Regal.
On Sunday 10 June 2018 I was very fortunate to go on a Chivas Cellar Tasting at the Strathisla distillery.
At the distillery we were greeted by our guide, Bao, for our personal one-on-one tour. Bao took us through to the distillery’s securely locked duty free warehouse. Once we arrived at its yellow doors the warehouse was carefully unlocked and opened, and its secrets were revealed.
The cold stone warehouse was full of casks of whisky – ex-sherry casks, ex-bourbon casks and mizunara casks were all on display. We were taken through the warehouse to a locked iron cage area that resembled some kind of medieval dungeon. That cage was the “Chivas Regal Cellar”. No photography was permitted in the warehouse or the cellar.
Bao unlocked a padlock from the door of the Chivas Regal Cellar, and the creaking sound of the iron door opening was music to my ears. When we entered the cellar, five casks sat before us and the room smelled of oak wood, toffee and soft sherry.
Each cask contained a whisky from the Chivas Regal core range. This whisky, however, had not yet been cut with water so it was at cask strength. The idea of the tasting was to taste each Chivas Regal whisky straight from a cask at its cask strength before it is diluted with water. Chivas Regal is diluted down to 40% abv before it is released to be sold, and the Strathisla distillery is the only place in the world where you can try Chivas Regal whisky at cask strength.
Bao took the bung out of the first cask and extracted a sample of Chivas Regal 12 year old at a cask strength of 58.5% abv. The whisky tasted of apples, caramel, honey and vanilla, and it had a light and fruity foundation.
Next, it was time to try Chivas Regal “Extra” at a cask strength of 61.5% abv. The whisky had toffee flavours, a noticeable sherry influence and a spicy kick led by cinnamon and ginger.
After the 12 year old and “Extra”, we were given a sample of Chivas Regal 18 year old at a cask strength of 56.8% abv. The age of this whisky is much more noticeable when it is tasted at cask strength. Oak wood, dark chocolate and vanilla are the most prominent flavours in the cask strength 18 year old.
Bao then handed me a healthy dram of Chivas Regal 25 year old at a cask strength of 50.8%. The whisky smelled of leather, cashews, dried berries, licorice and orange peel. On the palate this 25 year old was herbal with citrus peel, dark fruits, the sweetest golden honey and, as on the nose, soft licorice. The finish is both sweet and spicy, led by oak spices and toffee that fade into a grippy drying finish. It is the type of dram that made my taste buds tingle after each sip, and the only problem was that one large dram was simply not enough!
Finally, I was handed a dram of Chivas Regal Ultis at a cask strength of 53.5%. Unlike the other four whiskies I tasted (being the 12 year old, the Extra, the 18 year old and the 25 year old) the Ultis is a “blended malt” not a “blend”. In case you are wondering, a “blended malt” is made up of a blend of single malt from different distilleries whereas a “blend” is made up of a blend of grain whisky and single malt from different distilleries. The Ultis is a blend of single malts from five different distilleries. The Ultis had a characterful malty bite and it was much more full-bodied than the other whiskies, boasting a greater depth of character and an oilier mouth-feel that seems well placed to appease single malt drinkers looking for oodles of flavour. It tastes of apricots, cinnamon, nougat and dark chocolate, with a fiery spicy kick that warmed the cockles of the heart as I sipped on it in Strathisla’s cold stone warehouse no. 3 (sorry to rub it in).
The Chivas Cellar Tasting was exclusively focused on tasting whisky, and disappointingly there was no real insight into how Chivas is blended and made. It simply involved tasting whisky from five different casks as the guide provided information about each whisky that is, for the most part, available publicly. This is a must try experience for anyone who wants to try the Chivas core range at cask strength straight from casks sitting in a stone warehouse within one of Scotland’s prettiest distilleries. The tour is more about tasting than learning, but no doubt one for the bucket list of any Chivas fan!
Thank you to Pernod Ricard for arranging this tour.