Chivas Brothers' Global Brand Ambassador, Max Warner, recently sat down with JustLuxe to guide us through a Master Whisky Tasting class at Chivas House during the Cannes Film Festival.
Warner (seen at left in photo with Rich Varga, Chivas Regal's California-based brand ambassador) is one of the world's leading experts on fine Scotch whisky. He joined Chivas Brothers in 2004, boasts sixteen years of experience in the hospitality industry and travels around the world teaching master classes to the trade.
As anyone who has taken a wine class given by a sommelier or winemaker can attest, there's no better way to appreciate what you are tasting than by doing so under the guidance of a pro. Likewise, Warner showed us how to taste and appreciate Chivas Regal 18, which is the world's number one super premium blend Scotch whisky.
First, Warner points out the powerful aroma of the whisky as he swirls it around in a glass. We learn that the whisky, which is a dark amber in color, is a blend of single malts and grain whiskies from twenty of the rarest distilleries in Scotland - the most prominent of which are 18 year old malts from Strathisla Distillery (the oldest operating distillery in Scotland) which are exclusively blended with 18 year old malts from the Longhorn Distillery.
The flavor profile on the nose for most people is an intense aroma of whisky, which is due to the alcohol coming up into the nasal passageway. "There is a pepperiness on the top of the nose," says Warner as he brings the glass to his face.
In order to release some of the aromas of the whisky, Warner suggests adding some water. He doesn't use ordinary water, however. The water Warner has flown in to Cannes especially for this occasion is from Glenlivet in Scotland. We learn that the softness of the water, which has a high mineral content of calcium and magnesium, helps allow a person to appreciate the sweetness and the softness of the whisky.
Warner brings the glass to his nose and takes a deep sniff. "On the nose now, it is dramatically different," he says. "We don't have that alcohol anymore. We have some chocolate and some dried fruit aromas, which are coming from the sherry cask in which this was matured. And unusually, one of the base notes here is a buttery toffee."
Chocolate? Buttery toffee? Warner makes it look so easy, but not everyone is capable of smelling whisky like a connoisseur. To help a layman understand all the different flavor profiles that exist in a glass of fine whisky, Chivas commissioned a port pipe, which is an ingenious device made of glass. Hand-blown in Scotland, each port pipe is unique. Layered inside the port pipe are different flavored liquids which help with the power of suggestion.
The bottom layer consists of a nectar made from dried fruits, while the middle layer consists of a liquid version of buttery toffee. The top layer is made with rich velvety chocolate. "So when we tell people about this Scotch whisky, there is a power of suggestion there as well, so they can appreciate each flavor," Warner explains as he holds the pipe glass as if he were going to smoke it.
"We place our lips over the end and we don't tilt the glass in any way," he explains as he takes a sip and swirls it around his mouth. We learn that the dried prunes, apricots, dates and raisins in the first layer had been simmered with a little bit of alcohol, water and alkaloids to create a balance. After tasting the fruity layer, Warner picks up the glass of Chivas Regal and tastes it.
"You roll it around the palette and allow all your taste buds to sense it," he says. "You can now pick out the dried fruit." Warner returns to the port pipe, this time to taste the layer that consists of buttery toffee with a hint of vanilla essence. He follows that by tasting the Chivas and is easily able to notice the similarities. "I can taste the buttery toffee, but also taste a bit of the dried fruit and that lovely rich, lingering flavor," he says.
Finally, the last layer to taste in the port pipe is the chocolate concoction made of a combination of rich dark chocolate with milk chocolate, which are flavors easily detected when tasting the Chivas Regal immediately afterward. We now understand that such an exercise makes it possible to notice the different characteristics of the whisky.
Before we parted ways, Warner led JustLuxe through our own port pipe tasting. Just as he promised, we were able to detect the same notes in the Chivas 18 that he experienced - from the dried prunes and apricots to the hints of buttery toffee and rich velvety chocolate.
Indeed, thanks to Warner, we learned firsthand how to comprehend the many complexities that comprise this premium whisky and ultimately gained a greater appreciation for this exceptional spirit.
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