Before it launches Ultis, its first ever blended malt whisky, Chivas Regal has opened a Pop Up near the City of London that extols the virtues of blending. Paying punters can take part in this immersive experience so we sent along Philip Hunter to see what all the fuss is about and get under the skin of Chivas Regal’s strategy.
The fine art of blending five single malt whiskies, curated by Chivas Regal at The Blend Pop Up
Chivas Regal might not sound like your typical Pop Up but then these are strange times in the world of blended whisky.
The big blended brands are under pressure to innovate and follow the single malts upmarket to maintain healthy balance sheets like never before. The challenge is to convince more people that blended whisky can really be a premium product worth paying upwards of £100 a bottle for, while still fishing for the avowed connoisseurs with new upmarket brands.
Chivas Regal has adopted such a double barrelled strategy in a novel way by launching a Pop Up called The Blend near the famous Truman Brewery in the trendy area of London’s Brick Lane at the edge of the City in the same month as launching its latest Ultis brand.
Ultis itself is a novelty for Chivas Regal by being the first blended malt in its history, made by vatting five Speyside single malts. The malting process – converting starch into fermentable sugars – tends to instil stronger flavours which to some palates can be overbearing.
That is why traditional blended whiskies as made by Chivas Regal to date have a base of grain whisky made from some unmalted cereal such as wheat or rye, which is more neutral in taste, indeed some might say a little dull.
Johnnie Walker set a new precedent by eschewing grain whisky altogether in a blend comprising purely malts. Chivas Regal has now followed suit, aiming to perfect the process and produce a thoroughly rounded whisky which is rich and yet delicate in flavour, although at time of writing is yet to launch.
Suffice to say that at the Pop Up, which incidentally should appeal just as much to connoisseurs as to commoners, grain whisky is still very much on the menu.
For the eminently reasonable price of £15 visitors are given an hour’s workshop on the hitherto arcane art of whisky blending, mixing their own 200 ml sampler bottle as they like from the five candidates. Pipettes are available for precise extraction of the constituents but I found one could dispense whisky from the source bottles accurately enough just by careful pouring.
It is truly an evangelising act for blended whisky as participants are led through the history of single malt and grain whiskies before sampling the five options for their own version – four malts from Speyside, Islay, the Highlands and Lowlands, plus the compulsory grain Scotch base.
They are then taught how to sample for blending and if they wish create the Chivas Regal house style, before making their unique take home version.
Slightly reluctantly I obeyed the instruction to include a good measure of grain as a substrate but did eliminate the Lowland malt which was too nebulous for my taste. I went predominantly for the peaty power of the Highland, modulated by the light fruitiness of the Speyside and a little of the strong flavoured Islay.
I can confirm that my own blend is highly satisfying and has won plaudits from some serious whisky aficionados.
It is early days but the event looks like handsomely repaying the investment given the interest it has drawn, with the objective being, as Chivas Regal brand ambassador Phil Huckle put it, to challenge the unjustified reputation blended whisky has as an inferior product.
No doubt Chivas Regal would like to gain market share but the higher objective is to move its leading blended whiskies up the price scale to the sunny highlands of high margins enjoyed by the leading single malts.