I’m going to tell you a bit of a disconcerting thing, which I’m not sure how it happened. My dog ate my earphones. It took me a while to figure it out. I missed it on Sunday, but I thought I had left it in some improbable place, and that I would soon find it. But over the next few days, I began to find clues to his real whereabouts – my pet’s digestive system. First, one of those little balls that gets in your ear. Then a piece of black cable. And the definitive and incriminating evidence – a P2 plug, all destroyed on the porch of the house.
I don’t know what made Sazerac eat earphones. It didn’t surprise me at all – he had already eaten weird things, like a slipper and a piece of the wall. But, the earphones struck me as especially weird. Because of its length and texture, it takes a lot of effort to eat earphones. I decided to search the internet. And I discovered something even more surprising: there are a lot of people with a similar compulsion.
I learned that the syndrome has the curious name of pica. But, to avoid any jokes with the make reproductive organ in Portuguese, I will call you by the more technical names. Allotriophagy or allotriogeusia. Defined, perhaps in wonderful simplicity, as “the habit of eating substances with no nutritional value”. There are even well-known cases, such as a woman who gorged herself on dirty baby diapers, a lady who ate an entire room and a madman who consumed five thousand filament lamps throughout his gastrically painful existence. There’s even a movie about it – Swallow, starring Haley Bennett.
I wondered, afterwards, if we whisky enthusiasts aren’t a bit like that. There is a strange compulsion to try something we’ve never tasted. It’s unnatural, even, because as animals, we’re supposed to preserve our health and there are few things riskier than ingesting something we don’t know about. And there’s also the business of playing it safe. If something is already tasty and known, this force that makes us leave the comfort zone just to have a slightly (or quite) different experience is somewhat inexplicable.
But it was precisely in this tune that I tried Chivas Extra 13 years, recently launched by the brand in Brazil. Once a NAS blended whisky, the label has been re-launched on world markets now with an age statment and new composition. Something that gave me the proverbial chills. I’ve always had a special affection for Chivas Extra – partly for an emotional reason, and partly because I really like whisky. For me, any change was unjustifiable. However, when I tried the new version, I felt safe again.
Even more so because the tasting was done in a virtual tasting, conducted by none other than Sandy Hyslop, master blender of the Chivas Regal group, and by ambassadors Rhys Wilson and Ken Lindsay. During the event, Hyslop explained that the 13 year old Chivas Extra takes a generous portion of single malts aged in European oak barrels that previously contained Oloroso sherry wine – especially Longmorn. This gives a peppery note, of ginger, and a certain dry fruitiness, which sometimes resembles figs, sometimes raisins.
When asked about the origin of the sherry wine, Hyslop stated, “We don’t buy any empty sherry casks and sent it to Scotland. We go way beyond that. We buy Spanish oak, which is seasoned for eighteen months in Spain. The casks are then assembled and we specify the exact oloroso that will go into the casks for another year. And then they are emptied and shipped to Scotland. Everything has to be fast – they have to arrive in Scotland in 7 days and be filled with whisky in 10 days. And all of this happens in winter. We don’t do it in the summer to prevent the sherry from spoiling” and continues “we are investing at the very beginning of the process to guarantee the quality of our sherry casks“.
Hyslop explained that Chivas Extra 13 follows a very unusual production process. “The influence of sherry comes from thirteen years of maturation in Spanish oak sherry casks. We created a special thirteen year old blend, then took some first-fill casks of European Oak Longomorn Single Malt and incorporated it into the blend. The idea is to elevate the flavor of this thirteen years“. According to the master blender, creating balance is a fine adjustment – the Extra must maintain the credentials of the Chivas house.
I succumbed to the temptation to ask about the old Chivas Extra and its label changes. First “oloroso”, then sherry, and finally “oloroso” again. “All expressions use oloroso sherry. The description in the new expression comes from the consumers’ desire to know more about the product. The change in label was just our marketing playing with things. The formula remains exactly the same, I can assure you of the guy who makes the whisky“
Sensorially, the new Chivas Rega Extra 13 years has important similarities with its predecessor. But it’s also remarkably different. The old whisky was more aggressive and intense. The new one, with age, looks sweeter and more polished. The influence of the oloroso sherry wine is also more evident – let the two doses rest in the glass for a few minutes and this difference will be even clearer. Chivas Regal Extra 13 years evolves into a pleasantly sweet and winey whisky.
Perhaps, indeed, we have a share of allotriophagy. A very mild version of the habit, in which we deprive ourselves of drinking what we know just for the thrill of tasting something new. It may seem a little inexplicable, but it’s actually crystal clear. It is products like the new Chivas Regal Extra 13 years that justify this impulse. I feel that, more and more, I understand my beloved canine.
CHIVAS REGAL EXTRA 13 YEARS
Type: Blended Whisky (13 years old)
Brand: Chivas Regal
Aroma: floral aroma, marzipan and candied fruit.
Palate: candied fruit and plum, with marzipan, ginger and milk chocolate. Long and sweet finish, more winey and smooth than the NAS expression.