The Chivas Regal Extra 13 series is an intriguing one, because it explores the influence of different cask types on this classic Scotch blended whisky. I’ve previously tasted the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Rye Cask, but I’ve mostly been looking forward to the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask, which I’ll be reviewing today.
About a year after tequila casks became legal for Scotch whisky companies to use, I spoke to Chivas master blender Sandy Hyslop about the blending process specifically for the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask. I included some of his thoughts in my article on the Rye Cask, but now that I’m finally trying the actual whisky I interviewed Hyslop about, it gives me a chance to share even more of his insights.
According to Hyslop there are all sorts of challenges when it comes to working with the tequila casks for the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask. Some are general challenges, other specific to the cask type. “There’s always a risk of leakage when bringing casks all the way round the world in a container”, he explains. “You also need to make sure that the cask you have coming are in good condition. I always stipulate that I want the casks to be freshly emptied. I don’t want tequila casks that’ve been lying outside for three years and are tequila by name but not by flavor.
“It’s about building up really good robust relationships with your suppliers. At Pernod-Ricard and Chivas Brothers we’re really lucky because we’ve got tequila within the portfolio. So, we were able to tag in with some of our affiliates to get certain types of casks to experiment with.”
Whenever the casks for the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask would arrive from Mexico, Hyslop and a member of his team went out and nose all the individual casks to make sure they were of a required standard. “There’s nothing worse than maturing whisky for many years and then putting it into casks that do something despicable to the whisky. We’re making sure they haven’t gone sour, or if there are any sulphury notes or strange creamy off-notes. But we were pleased with what we found. They were freshly emptied and were able to get some sweet tropical notes of them, which was just perfect.”
According to the Sandy Hyslop, the tequila casks brought a tangy pineapple to the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask. “We already have that orchard fruit, sweet pear flavor in Chivas. But because of that level of pineapple it has become more concentrated. You know when you get a carton of concentrated pineapple juice? You smell that and it smells thick. You get that really intense flavor. It layers on top of that pear flavor just perfectly. We’re genuinely delighted with it.”
Hyslop mentions the tequila casks have had an influence on the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask he hasn’t seen before. “It is important to recognize as well that it wasn’t even a full finish. We had a double control over the flavor that tequila was bringing. We controlled the samples, but I also had the flexibility to say: We’ll only use so much of that finish with our standard blend to get the balance just perfect. I’m completely obsessed with making sure that people who drink and enjoy Chivas still get that DNA. It has that foundation of Chivas but with an extra dimension.”
While Hyslop is undeniable pleased with the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask, he doesn’t see a full tequila cask finish in Chivas Regal’s future. “At the end of the day the Scotch Whisky Association guidelines say that if you finish in another type of cask, you must be able to still have the original characteristics of Scotch whisky in the product. We wouldn’t want to completely swamp it. If I was maybe going to do something like that, I might use a different kind of cask and send them out to Mexico to have tequila put in them. But I think a selective finish is more sophisticated.”
Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask (40%, OB, 2021)
Nose: Creamy with plenty of vanilla custard, honey and a tinge of Digestive biscuits, followed by an undeniable herbal edge, pineapple and damp oak. Taste: Gentle with a good amount of juicy pears as well as some apricots, but then there is some sweet ginger as well, followed by orange liqueur from the grain elements. Finish: Short with some fudge and pineapple.
Certainly softer and more gentle than its Rye sibling, the Chivas Regal Extra 13 Tequila Cask will likely entice some tequila drinkers to the Scotch category. Will it be able to keep them there? Difficult to say, but probably not. It doesn't have any outspoken tequila aromas or flavours, but then again, that's probably for the better. You wouldn't want this to no longer resemble Chivas Regal.