Friday 20 November 2015

Australian launch of Chivas Regal "The Icon" with Colin Scott and the Art of Blending (Tasted #227)

The launch of Chivas Regal "The Icon" in the Australian market follows the launch of the Chivas "Extra", this time last year. Despite belonging to the same Chivas family, these two expressions are markedly different, with The Icon being an exclusive travel retail bottling targeted at the ultra-premium end of the market, contrasting with the Extra which is now available across bars and liquor retailers nationally. The difference between the two expressions does not instantly mean a difference in quality - in fact I am a fan of the Extra with its inherent richness and depth derived from a portion of Oloroso sherry cask matured whiskies.

The Icon launch was held at the Ivy Penthouse, an exquisite establishment overlooking Ivy Pool Club, and featuring a spa on the balcony (though the spa did not feature as part of the launch). The venue may well have been selected by the folks at Pernod Ricard as a a suitable match for the perceived exquisiteness of The Icon. As Colin Scott, the Chivas Regal Master Blender noted at the launch, The Icon shows of Chivas' past to resemble an Icon of the future. Clichéd as it may sound, The Icon does inherently carry some unique 'iconic' features which may (or may not) explain its place at the premium end of the market, including:
  • The blend of whiskies, which feature rare, extremely well-aged whiskies from mothballed distilleries (though Colin was careful to not reveal the name of those distilleries)
  • The whisky itself is housed in a specially hand-blown crystal decanter crafted by the guys at Dartington Crystal in Devon, United Kingdom. 
  • A signature "luckenbooth" symbol stopper which represents the traditional Celtic symbol of love - featured as a seal for the bottle.


Before presenting The Icon for tasting, Colin suggested a brief whisky blending masterclass to explain the blending process and exemplify the variation in notes that can be derived from different blends. Colin spoke to the beauty of blending and how having a large amount of different whiskies and flavour notes can be advantageous and quite a blessing to blenders. Having been a fan of single malt and extremities from one single malt to another over the years, I was intrigued at the idea.

Two whiskies were presented for blending. The first whisky presented was an aged Strathisla, the core malt in any Chivas blend. The particular whisky presented was matured in ex-oloroso sherry casks for over 25 years. It carried a gold appearance and was fruity and sweet on the nose, with fruit cake, honey, raisins and sticky date notes all around. The palate of this particular whisky was soft - apple and dried spices were prominent with some meringue and chilli chocolate notes. It finished long and gentle with a hint of lingering peppermint.

The second whisky, a blended grain, matured in an ex-Bourbon barrel provided typical ex-Bourbon matured Scotch notes including honey and orange/citrus. Grain whisky plays a pivotal role in the composition of blends, often used as a base. This particular grain whisky was quite volatile on the palate, there were Christmas cake, clove, black pepper and cherry notes. The finish was soft and peppery though rather short.

Mixing the Strathisla with the grain whisky, various notes from both whiskies amalgamated with the blend becoming less volatile and the raisins and fruitcake notes from the Strathisla becoming more dominant. Depending on the ratio of Strathisla and the grain, we could balance between the dominant notes of the ex-oloroso and the dominant notes of the ex-bourbon. It was certainly an interesting experiment and adding a splash of water further transformed the blend.

The art of blending is no easy feat and Master Blenders can spend hours on end experimenting with different permutations of anywhere between two to over fifty different whiskies to try and maintain consistency with their blended whiskies.

Following our brief masterclass on the art of blending, it was onto the main highlight, The Icon. The Icon encompasses "nuggets of flavours from lost distilleries", Colin described as he passed the remarkably heavy and dense green-hued crystal decanter around the room.

Colin explained how, each year, only a limited number of bottles will be released to the market, potentially making it a limited edition, collectors item for whisky fans (though that is in contrast to the beliefs of many that whisky should be enjoyed rather than collected). Only 1,500 bottles will be released globally this year with an increase to around 1,800 bottles in 2016 and in 2017. 

Despite the total global allocation, Australia will only receive 30 bottles for its duty free market. With the small number of international airports and duty free stores across those airports, and the significant price point ($4,699AUD), the allocation may well be appropriate - clearly The Icon sits deep into the high ultra-premium whisky end of the market.

So how do all the unique features and exclusivity of the Icon stack up with the whisky that it represents?

Chivas Regal Icon (40% ABV, NAS, Scotland, $4,699AUD)
A premium limited edition blended whisky that features some of the rarest, oldest whiskies from mothballed distilleries in its blend. Collect it or drink it, personally, The Icon is an enjoyable whisky and presents a level of complexity on the nose and palate. 

Colour: Copper

Nose: The nose is rich and fruity; oranges, honey syrup are prominent during the initial whiff followed by a layer of spice, perhaps cloves. The nose then mellows into a more grassier note

Palate: The palate is soft, gentle almost creamy. The orange citrus appeared on the palate as it did on the nose, peach, vanilla cake and (gummy bears) notes followed. There's a hint of peat on the finish.

Finish: The finish is rather sweet initially before presenting a long lingering, white pepper spices

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100

Chivas Regal The Icon is an ultra-premium travel retail offering and one that has been crafted with a mixture of new and old. Overall, The Icon is a complex blend and showcases the output of the art of blending, especially the art of blending with old whiskies from mothballed distilleries. Look out for The Icon next time you pass through duty free, and take the time to appreciate the finer details The Icon displays.


Time for Whisky would like to thank Pernod Ricard Australia and Cav Con for having us as part of the Chivas Regal 'The Icon' launch.

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