Scotch has never really been my cup of tea. It doesn’t exactly come naturally, being Irish. When I do pick up a bottle of whiskey, which generally only happens when the weather turns and there’s a threat of flu on the horizon, it’s always Jameson. And even then, it’s hot, with ginger or not at all.
“The distillation is a science. The blend is an art.”
I rarely drink whiskey straight, and when I do, I generally regret it – flashback, if you will, to a rather raucous wedding in Donegal earlier this year when, arriving back to the family-run B&B at 2am, we discovered a bottle of Bushmills and a couple of glasses awaiting us. I still maintain that it was that solitary glass of Bushmills in bed which really did the damage.
With all that in mind, the prospect of an evening drinking Scotch straight might not sound like my ideal Friday night but after the week I’d had, The Blend event at the Royal Institution in Liverpool was the perfect wind down.
Amid the noise and lights of Friday night hubbub in Liverpool City Centre, it’s easy to pass by the grand columns and heavy door of the Royal Institution, darkly reserved against the discarded pineapples and neon of Colquitt Street. But beyond its quiet exterior, the Royal Institution is pure lavish grandeur. Rich upholstery, warm burnt orange walls decked in the framed illustrations of Regency nature-lovers, green glass lampshades, a marble-topped bar – a whole world, and yet only one floor, away from the tropical, sweaty, basement bar we were more familiar with downstairs.
Welcomed with a Chivas Regal Whiskey Sour – my new drink of choice by the way – I was already over my aversion to Scotch by the time we took our seats in Whiskey Business, a makeshift laboratory spread before us atop the pool table. There Paul, our host for the evening, bid us try a glass of the 12 Year Old Blend straight.
Not being all that familiar with Scotch I have none of the Single Malt snobberies which are apparently rife in Britain. But if like me, your impressions of Scotch involve a harsh kick to the back of the throat and a sense of your stomach lining being stripped, Chivas Regal is the spoonful of sugar you need to restore your faith in whiskey. Smooth, sweet, with a lingering warmth, the Chivas Regal 12 instantly claimed a future place in the upturned Blue Moon crate we call a drinks cabinet in Booky Towers.
While the science behind the distillation process and the evolution of whiskey stills might have washed over me, I’m a sucker for a good history lesson. Paul told us the tale of the Chivas brothers’ humble beginnings, their rise of fortune and Royal approval, and ultimately, the culmination of historical events which ensured their success – the British Empire, the Merchant Navy and the failure of vineyard crops which made whiskey the drink of choice among wealthy classes worldwide. More impressive, their success continued despite the culmination of historical events which could have crippled Chivas Regal – the outbreak of war, Prohibition in America, the Wall Street Clash.
If my endeavour with Sapiens earlier this year has brought me anything it’s a renewed appreciation for the elusive hand history plays in our day-to-day lives. Listening to the history of Chivas Regal, the humble beginnings of a global brand, all the while holding a glass of what is in essence water, grain and yeast turned into gold, it’s grounding. Because when you pour a whiskey, that’s a glass of history, a product of poverty and the raw ingredients which thrive in harsh agricultural climates like Scotland and Ireland. Places where you need something warming to hold and to sip on cold nights.
Though I don’t drink a lot of whiskey, I love its romance – a bottle brought out among friends at the tail-end of an evening when no one is quite ready to say goodnight. It’s the moment of returning home after a grand night out or having just closed the door on departing guests after an evening in, still with so much of the day to digest and to share with those you hold dearest, someone suggests “Whiskey?”
And rather than plodding off to bed, you seek out the comfort of a heavy glass and perhaps the light tinkle of ice. A slice of cheese or whatever leftovers are there to be picked at. You kick off your shoes and pull out a chair at the kitchen table or preferably, stir the embers in the hearth. For me, whenever possible, whiskey should be served by the fireside.
Perhaps that’s why when it came to mixing our own blends, mine came out so smoky. Sipping at each of the five flavours before you, tasting them both alone and with water, getting familiar with their unique characters and savouring their charms, you can learn much more than you might imagine just by trial and error. Of course, you’re not going to magically become a master blender after a relaxed hour’s instruction, but it does give you a new deference for the fine balancing act and expertise that goes into a good bottle of whiskey.
As for my own take-home bottle of whiskey from The Blend event, it may not be up there with the great blends from Chivas Regal, but there’s a certain satisfaction to be had from pouring a glass of your own making. And after such an enjoyable evening, it was the perfect nightcap.
Thanks to Chivas Regal UK for inviting us along to experience The Blend at the Royal Institution in Liverpool.
If you’d like to have a go at your own #MyChivasBlend, check out the upcoming events with Chivas Regal.