Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Snake in the Grass
You know the phrase. What does it mean? Someone who betrays your trust. That's how I feel about Chivas Regal 18 years. Please, let me explain.
I like Chivas Regal 12 years. I am a fan. I also like Royal Salute, the 21 year old blended scotch whisky offering from Chivas Brothers. So naturally, I assumed Chivas Regal 18 years would be pretty good. Ahh no! No, it is not.
Reasons? It's sweet, smooth to the point of being boring and worst of all: a tad bit grainy on the finish! Yes, I used the 'g' word, the most cutting of descriptors of an amateur scotch reviewer.
I reviewed Chivas Regal 18 years about nine months ago (read that review for a precise description of the flavor profile). I thought maybe I had been a little harsh. So, I picked up another bottle. Have been sipping and am still not impressed. What really ticks me off is the high price. At the price of Chivas Regal 18, you could buy excellent single malts at the same price or less. For example, I could have bought: Cragganmore 12, Dalwhinnie 15, Highland Park 18, Highland Park 15, Glenlivet 18 and Glenfiddich 15 years to name but a few fine bottles. Naturally, if a blended scotch whisky commands such a high price you expect to taste great quality and complexity of taste. Not so!
Some readers may say that it is unfair to compare an 18 year old blended scotch to single malts. It's like comparing apples and oranges one might say. And I say: "Rubbish!" If Chivas wants to charge the same price as single malts then it is only logical that consumers will compare their product to other products in the same price range. Nevertheless, if we turn to 18 year old blended scotch whiskies like Johnnie Walker Gold 18 yrs and Famous Grouse 18 years, both of those competitors deliver more nuanced, complex and frankly all-round superior flavor profiles. Move outside Scotland and other whiskies deliver more powerful and intriguing flavors like Jameson 18 (Irish whiskey), Yamazaki 18 (Japanese), and Gibson's Finest 18 (Canadian).
For the high price, Chivas Regal 18 years delivers disappointment at every sip. How so? Let me count the ways:
Smooth: People who do not drink a lot of scotch, namely Dads and Grandads (ok maybe Aunt May too) at holiday time, tend to place a premium on smoothness of the spirit they drink. If you drink scotch three times a year, you will like Chivas Regal 18. If you drink more frequently than that then smoothness can easily move from a positive to a negative feature. The trouble with this blend is that it is so smooth that it renders the tasting experience boring, flat, about as interesting as watching paint dry on a barnyard door. Of course none of us want to drink sharp, bitter whisky that produces welts on our tongues. But, hey! I like a little challenge. Not here.
Sweet: Novice scotch fans love sweet whiskies. Why? Again, they do not offend, especially when you imbide only a couple of times a year. Scotch for the person who hardly drinks is a challenge at the best of times and so a sweet one makes it enormously more palatable. The challenge of every scotch and whisky is to deliver an interesting interplay of sweet yet dry or tart flavors. That's not easy. Typically, quality whiskies may start sweet but finish dry. Not easy to do. Chivas Regal 18 is sweet like Barbara Walters like her smiles and opening questions in one of her soft ball, made for TV, celebrity interviews. It's also as sweet as Lionel Richie crooning: ""I'm easy like Sunday morning . . ." Ugh!
Near Total Absence of Peat: Scotch newbies generally shy away from peat and smoke flavors. Especially Islay weighted blends. No worries here. Chivas Regal 18 is sweet honey with hardly any peat. I mean hardly any! Did I say hardly any? Just in case you didn't hear: Hardly any peat! Take a big slug of Chivas 18 and there will be the flashing glimpse of peat like a meteorite unexpectedly coming into view for a few seconds on a summer night sky.
Grainy Finish: Blended scotch uses grain whiskies in order to soften the strong personality of single malts that are blended to give a core or distinct flavor profile. Grain whiskies have no flavor. Well, not entirely true. They taste like raw onions to me at their worst and at their best like carmelized onions you fry to add to your barbecued t-bone. Chivas Regal 18 has a grainy finish. Not good. Not acceptable at the price point you have to pay. If this blended scotch was 50% less than the current asking price I wouldn't complain.
When I drink Chivas Regal 18 I really get the sense that I am being duped. I've been tricked into trading my hard earned cash for an inferior product that comes with flashy, social climbing, snobby, elitist packaging. To make my point abundantly clear, consider the following: One of the core single malts making up Chivas Regal 18yrs is Strathisla single malt. You can buy Strathisla 12 years for nearly half the price of Chivas 18. No heavy marketing of this decent highland malt takes place. I bet you have never heard of it. Guess what? It is a helluva lot better than the blended scotch it goes into. I suspect that the profit margin on Chivas Regal 18 (that is filled in part with grain whiskies) is far greater than Strathisla 12 yrs.
Ouch! What just bit my ankle? This is getting biblical. I gotta go . . . until next time.
Photo Credits: Chivas 18 in the Grass - Jason Debly; Barbara Walters photo - http://www.thehealthyeverythingtarian.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/barbara-walters-affair.jpg ; Barn Door - by Steffe at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/steffe/16532764/sizes/l/in/photostream/
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