Thursday 3 March 2016

Tasted #260 - #263: Chivas Regal "The Icon" (and Strathisla, Glen Keith and Longmorn single casks)

Back in December last year we attended the Hong Kong launch of Chivas Regal "The Icon", which launched in Australia and Hong Kong last year and is shortly to launch in the UK.

The launch event was incredible, but the real treat came after lunch, when ourselves and 7 lucky other individuals were treated to a tasting of The Icon with Master Blender Colin Scott. Held in one of Foxglove's many stunning private rooms, the tasting was opened by Stephen Notman (IWSC judge and founder of Whisky Live Shanghai / Taipei and "Whisky L") who took us back 100 years, describing the origins of Scotch whisky as we know it (and the 3 year minimum aging rule set by the Immature Spirits Act), the rise of Scotch throughout the 1900s, and the more recent rise of "ultra premium blends".

Colin then took the stage, to talk us through the origins of "The Icon" (the idea of which was first hatched in 2014, designed to feature "nuggets" of mothballed / closed distilleries), an overview of Chivas Brothers' immense selection of casks, which total over 6 million, and left us with a quote that, whilst simple, we thought neatly summed up the difference in character between blends and single malts:

"A blend is looking at a person, a single malt is looking at a distillery"

Simple, but true.

It was then time to dive into our tasting of "The Icon", but not before the rare opportunity to taste three unique single cask expressions of Strathisla, Glen Keith and Longmorn - malt whiskies which all help to make up Chivas Regal blends.

Glen Keith 1990 single cask - 1st fill ex-Bourbon barrel (40% ABV, 26yo, Speyside, Scotland, not commercially available)
Colour: Bright yellow gold.
Nose: A real "summertime whisky". Passionfruit, vanilla cream. Lots of peaches, some strawberry, and even some pine needles.
Palate: Oranges, nuttiness (peanuts). Slight hint of smoke. More peaches. Orange taffy. Very smooth and easy drinking (being cut to 40% no doubt helps).
Finish: Long, whole oranges, with hints of asparagus at the very end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A fairly complex yet easy drinking, light whisky.

Longmorn 1987 - 2nd fill ex-Oloroso Sherry butt (40% ABV, 29yo, Speyside, Scotland, not commercially available)
Colour: Copper.
Nose: There are plenty of traditional sherry notes here - rich christmas pudding, cherries, raisins, but there's a freshness too. Fresh laundry(!), with some strawberry hubba bubba.
Palate: Honey, noticeable oak, spice, cinnamon, Sriracha sauce. A few drops of water adds a slightly fruitier, strawberry note.
Finish: Earthy and slightly metallic.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Nice but in comparison to the amazing 20-30 year old Oloroso-matured whiskies we've tried before, it didn't quite reach the same lofty heights.

Strathisla 1980 - 3rd fill American Oak hogshead (40% ABV, 36yo, Speyside, Scotland, not commercially available)
Colour: Orange gold-copper.
Nose: Citrus zest - orange peel, and almonds.
Palate: Banana, toffee, caramel and passionfruit.
Finish: Long, tropical, creamy. Passionfruit and whipped cream.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. A real dessert whisky.

Chivas Regal "The Icon" (43% ABV, NAS, Blend, Scotland, $4,699AUD / $28,800HKD / £2000GBP)
Colour: Golden-copper.
Nose: Stewed pairs, toffee, oranges. Terry's Chocolate orange (loads of it). A honey sweetness.
Palate: Quite sweet, velvety, creamy. Smooth swiss milk chocolate, with a slight nuttiness. A hint of confectionary too - boiled lollies, Allen's Fantales.
Finish: Long and sweet, sherberty, with residual hints of milk chocolate.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Not quite what I'd expected at first - much sweeter. There's complexity here, sure, and it's an extremely enjoyable dram, but out of this lineup, I'd take another glass of that Strathisla first. I'd love to try the The Icon at a higher ABV though, perhaps 46 or 48%.


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