Sunday, 1 February 2015

Chivas - The Art of Blending

Chivas Regal 12 and 18 Year Old, Whisky Discoveries 506 and 663 respectively
Recently the whisky fairy spread her wings to Bedfordshire. It was the first time we had seen a whisky event in Bedford advertised that hadn't been organised by Whisky Discovery, and for non-city folks who live in a whisky drought area, this was amazing news!

Rachel MacDonald
We were part of a 22 strong group of whisky lovers we have never met before, sat around a long table in the Library room of d’Pary’s Hotel, waiting for Rachel MacDonald, the recently recruited Chivas brand ambassador, to talk us through the Art of Blending. 

Dave wasn't supposed to be with me as he was due to be in London at an event launching a new release, but due to work commitments ended up in Wolverhampton that afternoon and wasn't able to get into London in time. Fortunately I had an extra ticket due to my friend pulling out last minute, so all worked out well in the end. Dave was still a little late home for this home town event and we were one of the last to arrive, however everyone was relaxed as all had been greeted with whisky sour cocktail featuring Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

d'Parys Hotel
If you ever find your way into Bedford, d’Pary’s Hotel is situated within a 5 – 10 minute walk from the town centre. The hotel is a wonderful Victorian building which was completely renovated to a very high standard last year. At present I would have to say it’s one of the most beautifully decorated placed in Bedford that has manage to perfectly combined class, sophistication with homely comforts. I'd certainly recommend a visit if you are in this neck of the woods. 

Here's a link to a video of the newly refurbished d’Pary’s Hotel from February last year.

Blending School
Whisky sours on arrival
Before we started, and while we were sipping our cocktails and introducing ourselves to each other, we were presented with a blending kit and 5 different whiskies which we were to use to make our blends. Four of the bottles were plainly labelled: Highland, Lowland, Islay, and Grain. Then there was the Strathisla 12 year old representing Speyside. Both Chivas and Strathisla are owned by Pernod Richard, with Strathisla being one of the whiskies that goes into the Chivas blend. I remember Rachel advising us that the Chivas blend consisted of circa 30 different whiskies and that Strathisla was the key Single Malt in the 12 Year Old Chivas and Longmorn in the 18 Year Old

Strathisla 12 Year Old
The Strathisla 12 Year Old - the heart of Chivas Regal 12 Year Old
On a side note, The Strathisla 12 Year Old (Whisky Discovery #840) is a great whisky in its own right and we'd recommend you try this whisky at the next opportunity you get. It’s gentle on the pocket too at circa £30 per 70cl bottle. I took some notes this time and wrote: Smooth creamy honey and caramel notes which reminded me of the Werther's Originals sweets.

The Lesson Begins
Whilst we were told that all of the whiskies were 12 Years Old, we weren't told any of the distillery names of the malts we were using although started guessing them amongst ourselves. There aren't too many Lowland whiskies available these days, so it was either Auchentoshan or Glenkinchie, our money was on the former but no one was paying out. In our minds the Islay was a choice of three, Laphroaig, Caol Ila or a peated Bunnahabhain and our money was on the Caol Ila, but again Rachel was saying nothing and refused to play our game!
Nothing given away on these labels (spot the deliberate mistake!)
We were then given instructions on the recommended quantities of each whisky that should go into our blend, and the hard task of tasting each whisky before we started blending them. I must admit I was free styling, the only thing I remember Rachel saying was it required at least 50% of grain whisky. My aim was something smooth, vanilla/honey notes, full bodied and spicy so my logic was to go heavier on the Highland and Strathisla. My blend consisted of the following (loosely measured) which needed to total 250ml which was a very generous sample to take home.
  • 50 ml Grain whisky
  • 75 ml Speyside (Strathisla)
  • 45 ml Lowland Whisky
  • 75 ml Highland Whisky
  • 5 ml Islay Whisky
I named it 'Spice Delight' and it came out similar to what I had hoped for but am currently waiting for the blend to mature, letting everything, well blend together! 
My blending laboratory at d'Parys. I can do science me!
Dave, having been on a few of these blending classes over the years had decided his percentages before even committing whisky to the blending beaker. He's an engineer by trade an all his numbers have got to a). add up to the right answer exactly. and b). be easily achievable with the equipment to hand! He created his recipe and then measured out his blend, precisely, only stopping to sip once it had all been assembled. To be fair Rachel did come along after the prizes had been awarded and said that it really was quite good, but I bet she says that to all the guys! 
  • 120 ml Grain Whisky
  • 60 ml Speyside (Strathisla)
  • 30 ml Lowland
  • 30 ml Highland
  • 10 ml Islay
Rachel tasted the blends that met the strict criteria of the percentage ranges for each of the whiskies in the blend, all five needed to be used in the creation and not all followed this instruction. Sadly my blend did not meet these requirements because frankly I don’t always follow orders! On the other hand, Dave being Dave, had read the instructions to the letter but either didn't meet all the criteria or sat down out of the taste judging. He'd also simply labelled his bottled 'Dave'.
Meet 'Dave' or should it have been 'Dave's not here man!'
There were two prizes awarded on the evening, a bottle of the Chivas 18 Year Old for the best tasting blend and a bottle of Chivas 12 Year Old for the best named blend, both judged by Rachel . There were some great names created, but the winning blend name went to 'The Dram Buster'. The evening was finished by everyone getting to sample the Chivas 12 and 18 Year Old blend, with the room split roughly 50/50 on which one they preferred. 
The winning name 'The Dram Busters' walked away with a bottle of 12 Year Old Chivas
It was a cracking evening so if you see one advertised in your town secure your place! Rachel was a fabulous host and managed to keep everyone engaged throughout the evening. We'll be revealing our blends at the next Bedford Whisky Club night which is on Thursday 5th February, for everyone to judge. (Check out the 'Meetup Page' here). We're going head to head, winner takes all! I'm prepared for a Marmite moment.

More photos can be found on our Facebook page here: Chivas Blending School

Sláinte! Kat

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