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Friday 13 December 2019



Chivas Brothers Holdings, officially on record as Chivas Brothers Ltd., manages the Chivas Regal brand of Blended Scotch Whiskies, has its headquarters at Keith, near Glasgow, and operates 13 Scottish malt distilleries, all located in the Speyside area – apart from Scapa on Orkney – along with Strathclyde grain distillery in the Gorbals District of Glasgow.

Its Chivas Regal 12 YO premium Blended Scotch Whisky was at the second spot globally among premium 12 YO Blended Scotch Whiskies behind Johnnie Walker Black Label in terms of volume sold till 2014, but has been moving up and down the table, losing ground to other brands, was sixth last year and now lies fifth. Judging by giant German budget supermarkets Aldi and Lidl Scotch Whisky standards, the brand is rather expensive, but invariably very close to the eponymous Black Label. That said, the Black Label is always on some kind of promotion across the globe, with Chivas Regal matching it stride for stride. A 75Cl bottle at 43% ABV is available in India at $20, lower than most Duty-Free prices at Sea and Airports across the globe.

What is not generally known is that the Chivas Brothers company came into being only in 1857, when John Chivas joined his elder brother James in his grocery, wine shop and luxury goods emporium in Aberdeen. John, who had been working at a footwear and apparel wholesale company, DL Shirres and Co. Aberdeen since 1838 had risen in status to become a partner there. His Chivas entry, again as a partner, came about after the exit of James’ hitherto partner, Charles Stewart, who left after a tiff over blending malt and grain whiskies covertly and illegally when holding a Royal Warrant. Chivas' records blandly state that the split took place because Charles was unhappy with James' domineering attitude and sold off his half to join another company in the same business. This is strange, because James was well known and popular for his 'can do, will do' approach to all customers, no matter how odd the demand. The company known as Chivas Brothers officially appeared for the first time in the 1858–1859  Aberdeen Directory. It would appear there for over a century. John died early at only 48, in 1862 and James at 75 in 1886.

In 1854, at age 44, James met and married Joyce Clapperton. They had four children, Julia Abercrombie, Alexander James, Williamina Joyce and Charles James. When James died, his Will stipulated that his wife and all four children be given £ 5,000 each. To their horror, they found this impossible due to lack of money and settled instead for a monthly packet of £ 100 each for five years, overcoming stiff resistance by their shiftless brother Charles James who had married one Emma Grosskopf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

The last actively connected Chivas family member, James' son Alexander Chivas, died in 1893, and control was handed over to two temporary directors, Messrs Smith and Taylor, while matters were resolved in the incredibly haphazard, dishonest and unscrupulous market of Scottish/ Scotch whisky. For example, there was no statute on the age factor of Blended Whisky, forcing customers to rely entirely on the vendor’s statement. The first ever law on such age statements started as The Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, which required the ageing of both grain and malt-based alcohol in barrels for at least 2 years in a Bonded Warehouse, quickly extended to 3 years later that same year, while charging holding taxes on a quarterly basis.

The statement on both the carton and bottle 'From 1801' is without foundation. The Chivas brothers in question, James and John, weren’t even born then. James Chivas’ first sniff of whisky came when he was 28 years old, in 1838, when he joined William Edward, fine grocer and wine seller, in his first job as a full-time hired employee. This fine grocery business, which was destined for fame under another name, had been founded in 1801 by John Forrest at 47 Castle Street, Aberdeen. Forrest died in 1828 and Edward, his manager, bought the company from the bereaved family and registered himself as a grocer, wine, and spirits purveyor and provision merchant, one of 209 others in Aberdeen, besides 193 vintners. Edward soon bought the cellar, 46 Castle Street as he expanded. He then added a portfolio as a “total service merchant” for Aberdeen’s thriving wealthy citizens, acting as an employment agency for domestic help, which type of work was his forte and something the dashing James would later revel in and establish numerous contacts.

The business continued to expand with time, and 49 Castle Street replaced the smaller premises at 47 Castle Street. In 1837, Edward, seeking even larger quarters to house his newly added retail and service placement businesses, moved uptown to a fashionable location at 13, King's Street. James Chivas, hired in 1838, rose to minor partner that very year, with almost total control over the wines and spirits department, as Edward was struck with a 'palsy' and died overseas just three years later in Madeira in March '41. As Edward had died intestate, his legacy went under judicial probate. In this indistinct period for business out of those premises, James left and joined a similar victuals provender, Charles Stewart as junior partner, registering themselves as Stewart and Chivas, 39 Woolmanhill Street. They quickly bought off the vacant 13, King Street property available post-probate later that year, and relocated there as a “One-stop-shop.”

James Chivas remained the sole common partner/owner till his death. The company, when known as Edward and Chivas (1838-41) and later Stewart and Chivas (1841-57), had furthered the ex-Forrest company's reputation for excellence from the extravagant shop at 13 King Street and obtained a Royal Warrant to supply luxury goods to Queen Victoria in 1843. Between 1843-51, they expanded further and added 9,11 and 23 King Street. James purchased 21 King Street as his residence.

The Forbes-Mackenzie Act permitting vatting of whiskies when in a bonded warehouse was passed in 1853, with a proviso that the bonded warehouse would be no further than one-quarter mile from a town. A larger variety of blended malts were now available to vendors to sell. Initially open to selling outsourced Blended Malt whiskies that met their stringent quality standards, they moved up to blending, ageing and selling proprietary deluxe malt whiskies starting in 1854.

Privy then through Andrew Usher—a major brewer but small-time distiller and sales agent for George Smith's The Drumin Glenlivat (sic) of King George IV's 1822 demand fame, who had outreach into the corridors of power—to PM Henry J Temple’s tacit approval of his Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone's plan to permit the blending of malt and grain whisky in bond by 1860 under the Spirits Act (often called the Scotch Whisky Act of 1860), James started to secretly blend malt and grain whisky as suggested by Usher and requested by his customers, aiming to create a proprietary aged blend by 1860. This Act, when published, was surprisingly limited to distillers and brewers only, benefiting Usher but not James. It took a further three years till grocers could carry out the blending of such "spirituous liquors" in Bond on-premises and sale under their own label legally, under an Extension to the tariff-related Anglo-French Cobden-Chevalier Treaty of 1860. In this period, many other grocers and wines & spirits merchants got set to enter the business full-time—John Walker, George Ballantine, Peter Thomson of Beneagles, William Teacher and the Berry brothers are good examples. Matthew Gloag of the Famous Grouse was to follow much later.

From 1864 spirit strength could be reduced using water in approved warehouses, and 1867 saw the bottling of whisky for domestic consumption in bonded warehouses. The blending boom, which would really take off during the 1870s, was a growing interest in malt whiskies distilled in what is now called the Speyside region of production in north-east Scotland, specifically an 80 sq miles tract lying between Tomnavoulin and Ballindaloch that was usually referred to in the 19th century as ‘Glenlivet.’ Their favourite single malt was the bestselling GJ Smith's The Glenlivet.

Their most popular malt whiskies were:
  • Magna Charta Blended Malt Scotch, 5-Year-Old (initially outsourced, but bought in 1858).
  • Royal Glen Dee Blended Malt Scotch, 6-Year-Old (in-house).
  • Royal Glendee Blended Malt Scotch, 8-Year-Old (in-house).
When the company was dissolved in 1857 and renamed Chivas Brothers Holdings with the advent of John Chivas, new ideas and concepts came to fruition. Using the cellar beneath their emporium as a part workshop, they conducted experiments in blending ageing whiskies to move upmarket en bloc and entice an upper-class word-of-mouth clientele with a smooth, rich and expensive whisky experience. The three popular malts supra were then given a re-look, i.e., replaced, improved or renamed, with a concomitant increase in selling price. Another blended Malt whisky was added, the 8-YO Chivas Brothers Old Highland Whisky to mark the arrival of John Chivas as a partner. This brand was discontinued after John’s untimely demise.

In 1854, Edwards and Chivas launched their first self-owned Blended Malt Scotch for local consumption, the Royal Glen Dee, followed by other proprietary Blended Malt Scotch Whiskies. In 1857, they switched to quarter-gallon (quart, 1.132 L) tall bottles. Most blended Malt whiskies were between 60-65% ABV! Chivas Brothers' first Blended Scotch whisky, the Royal Strathythan was launched in 1863. The grain Scotch added along with water brought the ABV down below 50%, a not unpleasant outcome. They gradually realised that a good diluted Grain Scotch whisky would help soften and marry the heavy malts and could be used in volumes that would bring down the overall strength of the whisky, which, surprisingly, tasted smoother and far more flavoursome at 46-50% ABV. By 1900, Chivas Brothers, as a Company, had six in-house blended whiskies on their books: 
  • Chivas Old Vat Blended Malt Scotch 5-Year-Old which had replaced in 1895 the outsourced and then acquired in 1858 Magna Charta and was made with better malts.
  • Royal Glen Dee Blended Malt Scotch 6-Year-Old, but allowed to fade out in 1885.
  • Royal Glendee Reserve Blended Malt Scotch 8-Year-Old, improved by blending some of the select malts used for the fading 6-Year-Old which had now aged two years more with better malts from the wider range available.
  • Royal Glen Gaudie Blended Malt Scotch 8-Year-Old, Master Blender Charles Stewart Howard's- ex J&G Stewart- first contribution, blended in 1894 at 48% ABV and targeted at the local market and then at the promising market in Australia: Popular in Australia.
  • Royal Strathythan Blended Scotch 10-Year-Old: Popular in the US and Australia.
  • Royal Loch Nevis Blended Scotch 20-Year-Old: Very popular in the US.
The last actively occupied Chivas family member, Alexander, died of a throat fungal infection in 1893 aged 37 and his wife Alyce died of the same malady three days later, not out of shock and broken everlasting love, as romanticists would have us believe. Two temporary directors, Alexander Smith and Taylor, kept control till Alexander Chivas’s mother Joyce and two sisters Julia and Williamina and the Board of Trustees could meet to discuss the future course of action. They agreed that control of the company would be exercised by Alexander Smith, close friend, aide and confidante of the late Alexander Chivas and their Master Blender, Charles Stewart Howard. In 1895, Smith and Howard told the Board of Trustees that they wished to buy them and the distaff side of the Chivas family out. The offer was accepted with the one proviso that the brand would remain (and has remained) unchanged as Chivas Brothers, a Ltd. company till this day. In doing so, they neglected any rights Alexander Chivas’s younger but shiftless brother Charles James Joyce Chivas- a bête noire, mistakenly called James Jr elsewhere, banished to the USA-had in the matter of succession. Charles Chivas died in 1908 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Chivas had agents incessantly assessing market conditions in the US through the 1890s. The marketing team reported a rapidly booming economy in the US which was looking for luxury. In 1900, Howard decided to create a new blend that would pay tribute to the legacy of the founding brothers, James and John. Using select malts from the Royal Loch Nevis and other aged malts procured from the Highlands and Campbeltown, Howard found a malt-dominated recipe fitting the bill. Introducing the term ‘Regal’ for the first time ever, Howard created in 1909, all of 9 years later, what he believed to be the finest whisky ever made, a 25-year-old whisky called Chivas Regal that met all regulatory parameters for bottling and labelling as the oldest Blended Scotch Whisky of its era, establishing it as the world’s first and oldest luxury whisky. The ABV was deliberately reduced to 46% to make it an excellent base for a Highball. It made its debut in a specially designed heavy green glass bottle — with gold and silver trimmings as well as a cork made in Portugal — in the USA to a glamorous reception in 1909.

Chivas Regal Blended Scotch 25 YO met with resounding success. Ironically, no member of the Chivas family had, or would ever have, any connection with this ultra-premium successful blend, or, for that matter, its substitute in later days, the 12 YO. The basic price was a steep 38 shillings per gallon, eight more than that of Royal Loch Nevis and 15 more than The Glenlivet 12 YO, which was destined to become USA’s leading Single Malt after WW II. It was all one-way street for the Chivas Regal, from 1909 till end 1914, when WW I started to become a sluggish long drawn affair (1914-18). Existing stocks were exhausted quickly as demand outstripped supply. Shipping lanes to the USA closed down and Chivas Bros switched to building reserves at home.

WW I was to hurt most brands across Scotland, particularly exporters to the USA, and Chivas was no exception. The war did not hamper the production of its two aged brands as the malt whiskies required were over 20/25 years and older, and stock held in reserve was adequate. There was no requirement for fresh barley or other grains, the use of which for liquor had been severely restricted if not almost banned by the Govt to cater for daily living. This limitation led to the production of whiskies with ABVs between 40-43%. Huge stocks in barrels were piled up in anticipation of large-scale export to the USA as soon as the war ended. Production of the Royal Loch Nevis was shrewdly slowed down in phases to shift all focus to the flagship brand. Sadly, an extended unhappy period lay in store for the Chivas Regal 25 in the form of the US Prohibition (1920-33) that followed immediately after WW I, catching the company totally unaware in terms of stock, and the unrelated deaths of both its senior partners in 1935. For the standard and inexpensive at-home Blended Scotch brands, Prohibition was a godsend.

The surviving partner William Mitchell, unable to handle Chivas Brothers, sold off the entire holdings to whisky brokers Morrison & Lundie in 1936 on an 'as is' basis. Well stocked, Morrison decided that it was far too onerous to maintain aged barrels of whisky. They wound up the Loch Nevis and reduced the production of the Chivas 25 drastically, resulting in its withdrawal as their standard-bearer and ultimate demise. They disposed off most of the aged stock in a greedy market to recover their cost of investment in no time. Morrison & Lundie sold the Chivas Brand for just £85,000 to Canadian Samuel Bronfman’s (1889-1971)Seagram Limited Company, who switched his attention to a 12 YO premium brand, a decision that would be seen as wise a lustrum later, when WW II (1939-1945) broke out in Europe, 4,000 miles from the USA. 1939 saw the debut of Chivas Regal 12 YO in the USA at what was to become a global standard proof value of 75°, i.e., 42.8% ABV (86° proof in USA).

By now, the 12 Years Old status had become a definitive characteristic of a premium whisky and the Chivas Regal 12 YO was an immediate success in the USA. Sadly, this was to turn out a very short-lived flash in the pan. Things were quite different across the pond. In the shaky post-war economy, with no barley to make whisky, the industry had stalled in Scotland. The USA suffered in its wake and Chivas Regal went off the market and was soon forgotten. Samuel Bronfman had been tracking Morrison & Lundie, having bought some of the aged whisky barrels that they had earlier disposed off. These would come in handy later when the Royal Salute luxury whisky brand would emerge in 1953 as a 21 YO tribute to the ascent of Queen Elizabeth to the throne. In 1945, there were NO 12 YO Blended Scotch Whiskies except in the USA! The Glenlivet had 12 YO whiskies in the UK, but these were single malts. WW II had brought in many curbs and Blended Scotch whisky had suffered. The Chivas Regal 12 YO had to be imported from the USA, for a grand comeback, whereas other blenders had to wait for another three years.

Bronfman was on the lookout for a distillery as a home base. His agent found one in 1950 called the Milton Distillery at Strathisla, Keith. The owner, one George (Jay) Pomeroy, a known scoundrel, wanted an astronomical sum, so Bronfman backed off. But the owner was jailed that year for fraud and Milton (aka Milltown) Distillery was put up for auction. Seagram purchased Milton for £71,000 at a public auction in Aberdeen in April 1950. This purchase was the second time Milton had changed hands in a public auction. 

Bronfman changed its name to Strathisla, as its water came from the river Isla, pronounced exactly as the peat haven of Islay. He had unknowingly struck gold as Strathisla distillery housed a vast amount of ageing whiskies underground, both malt and grain, mainly the Strathisla Old Highland Malt Whiskies, and another warehouse beneath the Glasgow railway yard, all between 6 & 10 YO. He then needed a good Master Blender and hijacked the Master Blender of J&B, the preeminent Charles Julian, who revealed that with the huge quantity of whiskies available at his new home, he could produce a superb 12 YO, only by 1954, but in great and annually repeating volumes. This was kept secret since Bronfman wanted to make headlines with the first deluxe 12 YO Scotch whisky after the War. Seagram employees were made to feel that Bronfman, an overly dynamic, brash and irascible man, seemed to be at odds and ends, juggling various whisky brands to keep the cash flow alive.

In the spring of 1954 and after an absence of over five years in the marketplace, Distillers Corporation-Seagrams Ltd. rolled out in grandeur the Chivas Regal 12-year-old Blended Scotch Whisky in the United States. This also kept British authorities happy with export income. Chivas Regal 12 YO sold at $8.00 per 750 ml bottle, vs the $3.5-5.0 for lesser whiskies. It was also sparingly sold in the UK soon thereafter.

Bronfman’s shrewd philosophy of sale was an artificial creation of a shortage: The early advertising strategies devised by Sam Bronfman and his team for marketing and promoting Chivas Regal was to create the illusion of overwhelming demand for Chivas Regal in a time of acute shortage. “What assets do we have? Its [Chivas Regal] label is terrible but seems genuine. We have a Royal Warrant, and own one of the oldest operating distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, but to what avail? Only time will tell.” This was the initial refrain making the rounds in both the USA and the UK.

In the USA 1953-54, Sam’s advertising agency created and ran multi-page, full-colour ads in upmarket magazines and key trade publications. The flashy inserts heralded the coming of Chivas Regal. Full-colour free booklets that told the Chivas Regal story were sent to thousands of intrigued consumers across the country. Sales staff were to tease distributors by selling them only small amounts of Chivas Regal when it came, thereby instigating an instant “shortage” as soon as Chivas Regal hit the streets, a brilliant move. Bronfman wilfully told distributors, salesmen and retailers that there would never be enough Chivas Regal. He wanted them to get a fast turnover and come back for more. People always wanted what they couldn’t get.

He wrote to 200,000+ moneyed men, “As a connoisseur in this class, I urge you to visit your pub or spirit shop and to ask for a bottle of Chivas Regal, which, though very limited in quantity, will be reserved for you, who appreciates the best in Scotch whisky.” His ad agency devised a series of “shortage crisis” print ads disclosing the deficit situation of Chivas Regal. Consumers were asked to show ‘patience’ while more Chivas Regal was being produced and matured across the Atlantic and their wait wouldn’t be overly long. All such statements were patently false, a shrewd marketing strategy. 

The “CR shortage” strategy worked better than expected. Distributors quickly ran out of Chivas Regal and immediately reordered, but were then only given another carefully meted out case amount. Retailers placed Chivas Regal on strict allocation exclusively to their best, most affluent clientele because “The best people in town were talking about Chivas Regal. . . . Styles start at the top and percolate downward...” The perceived, if hollow, scarcity snowballed into a minor feeding frenzy for Chivas Regal in the major US markets throughout 1954 and 1955. The backbone single malt in the Chivas Regal family was the Strathisla, buttressed by Glenlivet and rounded off with Braeval and Longmorn. Other malts were added to maintain consistency in flavour and taste.

Bronfman decided to finance Chivas as its whisky and gin producing arm, with the Chivas Regal 12 YO Blended Scotch Whisky bringing in the money from across the globe, bar the Middle East, soon to become a new and growing oil-spawned market. Since Bronfman was Jewish, the Seagram brands, including Chivas Regal, were not seen in the Middle East until 2001 and firmly under Pernod Ricard patronage. Phipson's Black Dog 12 YO Blended Scotch, an 1889 product that ruled the roost over the Australasian half of the British Empire up to 1983 gave way to Haig's Dimple 12 YO, and Diageo's Johnnie Walker Black Label thereafter.

In 1957 a ‘sister’ distillery named Glen Keith was constructed close to Strathisla, while thirty racked warehouses at Keith Bond were developed as a maturation and blending facility, slowly being expanded as time passed. The 100 Pipers blended Scotch whisky was created at Glen Keith, to match both Cutty Sark and J&B in the USA. Growth of whisky sales during the 1970s led Chivas to construct Allt-a-Bhainne and Braes of Glenlivet (1973). The latter dropped the Glenlivet suffix in 1994 to become Braeval distillery, all providing additional malt capacity.

In the next 25 years, Aberlour, Glenallachie, Edradour, The Glenlivet, Glen Grant and Longmorn distilleries were brought into their fold by Seagram. Benriach joined its fold for just two years and was hived off as it was found complex for Chivas' classic style of blending.

Their prize catch was a controlling stake in The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd in 1978, for which Edgar, the eldest son of late Samuel Bronfman paid £46 million (~ $88 million at the time). Its sister distillery Glen Grant was also acquired, allowing him to aggressively market a 5 YO Glen Grant in Italy and simultaneously insert Chivas Regal into that market. The valuable lessons learnt when promoting the Glen Keith malts assisted Strathisla product 100 Pipers in the USA to counter the Cutty Sark and J&B Rare were employed here.

Today, Seagram is part of Pernod Ricard and Chivas Brothers is the second-largest Scotch whisky company after Diageo. This perplexing statement reflects how fortunes fluctuate in the liquor industry.

In 1994, Edgar Bronfman handed over control to his eldest son, Edgar Jr who had little interest in whisky, preferring the glamour of the cinematic world. He led Chivas Regal into almost total ruin with a series of appalling decisions, despite sane advice to the contrary. His worst experiment ever was the “Chivas DeDanu,” a specially concocted blend geared for younger drinkers in Italy. It failed on Day 1. To the shock of old-time Seagram money managers the world over, the dim-witted Edgar Jr sold their entire blue chip 24% Du Pont holding in 1995 at a price 13 % lower than the market rate. Commentators said, “Buying Du Pont was the deal of the century; selling it was the dumbest deal of the century.”

The epigram "from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" was proved.

He moved the excellent Something Special 12 and 15 YO Blends out of Asia into South America, where it rose immediately to No 1, later settling as No 3 when the Something Special 12 YO went NAS. In his mind, entertainment was “in” and booze was “out.” He spent $5.6 billion on MCA Inc., which made movies and operated theme parks. In October 1999, he along with Jean-Marie Messier, the blustery top manager at Vivendi, the French water and utility firm, formed a dubious bond that would on December 8, 2000, resulting in the ill-fated union of Seagram and Vivendi. Edgar traded the family’s controlling stake in Seagram for what amounted to less than 9% of Vivendi and the two giant companies evolved into a single corporate entity, the Vivendi Universal. In August 2002, Vivendi Universal went bust and Bronfman was on the street, easy pickings for Pernod Ricard S.A. of France and Diageo plc of the UK. It retained its name, Chivas Brothers, as promised almost a century ago.

It officially opened its latest state-of-the-art malt distillery, Dalmunach (situated on the site of the mothballed Imperial Distillery) at Carron near the River Spey in June 2015, increasing malt whisky distillation capacity by 17% as Dalmunach is capable of producing up to 10 million litres per year. Pernod Ricard’s ownership had the following distilleries and their products in its bag:
  • Aberlour: Speyside Single Malt (SMS) Scotch Whisky
  • Allt-a-Bhainne: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Braeval: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Caperdonich: Speyside SMS Whisky (Glen Grant No. 2), mothballed in 2002. Still provides very old single malt whiskies, though.  
  • Dalmunach: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Glen Keith: Speyside SMS Whisky, which also produced the double-peated Craigduff SMS Whisky, never released as a distillery offering. Chivas insists, however, that Craigduff was made at Strathclyde.
  • GlenAllachie: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Glenburgie: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Glentauchers: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Longmorn: Speyside SMS Whisky. Key component of Chivas Regal and Something Special. Something Special was very popular in India, and Chivas Bros, sensing a potential conflict with Chivas Regal, had Seagram move Something Special out to South America in 1980, where it met with instant success.
  • Miltonduff: Speyside SMS Whisky, key component of Chivas Regal. Also produced Mosstowie SMS Whisky.
  • Strathisla: Speyside SMS Whisky, key component of Chivas Regal.
  • The Glenlivet: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Tormore: Speyside SMS Whisky
  • Strathclyde: Lowland Single Grain Scotch Whisky, key component of Chivas Regal.
  • Glenugie: Highland SMS Whisky, shut down in 1983, but provides diminishing stock of very aged whiskies for the 30-YO plus category, like Chivas Brothers’ Deoch an Doras range and Royal Salute 32, 38, 50 and 62 YO.
  • Scapa: Islands SMS Whisky
The Chivas Regal 25-Year-Old, designed to woo the high societies of the US, had a higher malt content than the other blends of the time, its intention being to offer a more sophisticated and complex palate to its rivals. The malt content was 65% and the grain 35%. Since then, with tighter cask management by its owner, Chivas Brothers, the flagship expression 12-year-old has a lower malt content than its predecessor, believed to be ~40% Malt, ~60% Grain.

The typically Speyside character of the blend’s malt constituent displays as green apples and orchard fruits; the palate is smooth, sweet honey, applesauce, and hazelnut making way for creamy vanilla, wet sand and heather; the finish has a mild but ephemeral hint of cereal sweetness, while the heather and sea salt linger nicely and dry across the palate. Its excellent grain content lends a honeyed sweetness and does not turn bitter and splattered after a while. 

All its malts are from Speyside. There is no Islay, Lowland or Highland Malt as erroneously stated by some well-meaning writers. The core single malt is Strathisla, a dominant Speysider; the other major malts are Longmorn, Miltonduff; Braes Glenlivet aka Braeval; Glen Keith, Allt-a-Bhainne, Aberlour, The Glenlivet and GlenAllachie. The grain is from Strathclyde, the only ingredient not from Speyside, as it is a Lowlands Grain WhiskyEach distillery can contribute more than one Single Malt Whisky; Strathisla provides up to five to six strains while Longmorn and Miltonduff provide up to three to four each. The Strathclyde provides all desired Single Grain whiskies. The exact recipe is something to kill for.

In view of the falling sales, the Ad Agency was changed, the bottle was changed from dark green to clear glass to accentuate the striking tawny-amber colour of Chivas Regal and a new ad followed. The headline read: ‘What Idiot Changed the Chivas Regal Package?’ The copy explained the reasons (you could now see the whisky, etc, etc). Its conclusion: ‘Maybe the Idiot Was a Genius.’” This one ad turned a fading Chivas Regal into the shining star it is today.

In 1958, Chivas Brothers closed both the King Street and the Union Place shops and moved to a new retail location at 387-391 Union Street. The new site included a restaurant, called Chivas Brothers. In early 1960, a bar called the Crusader Bar was opened. The restaurant turned into a popular meeting place for well-to-do Aberdonians throughout the 1960s and 1970s. On January 31, 1980, Chivas Brothers closed down for good and has never reopened.


Interestingly, Strathisla has its own 12 YO Single Malt and Strathclyde its own 12 YO Single Grain, both under the Chivas Regal label, and sold as the Chivas Distillery Collection.







As the 20th century came to a close, work intensified on at a stepped up pace in the vast Scotch Whisky empire, as more and more millennials came of drinking age. Anticipating the boom, the fifth Master Blender at Chivas Brothers, Colin Scott, with the help of then Deputy Master Blender Sandy Hyslop and his wide expertise in blending, particularly Single and Blended Malts, set about creating new whiskies for the international market, while retaining tight control over the flagship 12 Year Old. Under a sustained push by Pernod Ricard, the 12 YO blend was allowed in the Middle East and quickly moved into the vast market that it controlled, including lands as far afield as India and China. 

The new blends introduced by the Chivas family to the market were the Chivas Regal Extra, Chivas Regal Mizunara, Chivas Regal 18 YO, the Chivas Regal Ultis- a blended Malt, the Chivas Regal Extra 13 in two separate moulds, 15 Single Malts from four famous but quiet distilleries, the Chivas Regal 25 YO in 2007 and the Chivas Regal 15 YO in 2019. Surprisingly, the Chivas 18 is rated higher than the much older Royal Salute. The relaunch of the 25 YO in the USA was a sentimental moment for Chivas Bros, as Master Blender Colin Scott released the very first bottle on 28 September 2007 in New York, 98 years after its global debut in the USA.

Chivas has unveiled a fresh new look for its flagship blend - the biggest redesign in Chivas’ 113-year history, in a re-evaluation of what luxury looks like. Chivas 12 has undergone an extensive redesign of its bottle, label, and pack to usher in a striking new look that blends boldness, modernity, and status while still flexing the luxury and distinguished heritage long associated with Chivas. The iconic Chivas 12 bottle has been reshaped and elongated to stand taller and prouder while still retaining its recognisable rounded shoulders, while shedding weight. A redesigned crest shines a light on the beating heart of Chivas – the ‘luckenbooth’. The outer box has undergone a complete renewal with a vibrant burgundy replacing the familiar silver and gold tones as the principal colour scheme. The package retains the intricate detailing and textured finish loved by Chivas fans worldwide.
The Icon: Chivas Regal The Icon is the pinnacle of the Chivas range. This blend is made up of more than 20 of Scotland’s rarest whiskies, some of which come from ghost distilleries now lost forever, making their products extremely rare and incredibly exclusive. Coveted by whisky aficionados the world over, these precious rare malts are blended together and matured to craft a timeless expression released in highly limited qualities every year. Each decanter used for Chivas The Icon is hand-blown and hand-finished by dedicated master craftsmen at Dartington Crystal. The artistry ensures a sublime finish reminiscent of the iconic green Chivas Regal bottle that captivated high society over a century ago. The crystal decanter carries an intricately designed metal Chivas Regal logo, and an exquisite heavy stopper bearing the Chivas luckenbooth, an ancient Scottish symbol of love, which embodies the Chivas’ love for Scotch whisky.

Though a NAS whisky, it has often been quoted as a 25 YO and a decanter recently auctioned by Sotheby’s was a 50 YO, distilled in 1968 and bottled in 2018, in memory of Manchester United’s European Cup final victory in 1968. Do note that there is no reference to the Royal Salute family, which comes from a totally disparate genre.

Updates: Sustainability

In October 2021, with sustainability in mind, Chivas Bros unveiled a fresh new look for its flagship blend, the Chivas Regal 12 YO – the biggest redesign in Chivas’ 112-year history. The extensive redesign of its bottle, label and pack usher in a striking new look that blends boldness, modernity and status with its luxury and distinguished heritage.

The bottle has been reshaped and elongated to stand taller and prouder while still retaining its recognisable rounded shoulders. A redesigned crest shines a light on the ‘luckenbooth’, with a distinct change in overall colour to a lighter paint. Over 1300 tonnes have been saved in the glass used. The collar stating: From 1801 has been discarded.

The outer box has undergone a complete renewal with a vibrant burgundy replacing the familiar silver and gold tones as the principal colour scheme. A simple change of substrate, saved 92 tonnes of plastic – as much as 2.3 million plastic bottles.

Chivas reduced their carbon footprint by cutting back to a simpler single-ink design of the larger 9-litre boxes – keeping things minimal, focussing on sustainability over aesthetics.


Subsequent to The Excise Act 1823, all malt whiskies had to be stored in bond. The date of entry was printed on the barrel, as was the date of withdrawal. This gave the owner a genuine age certificate. But unscrupulous vendors would fetch another barrel (or more), forge the dates of entry and withdrawal, add a cheap malt whisky to the original, bulking up the volume, and sell two or more barrels at an inflated price. Worse was to follow from 1860, when Blended Scotch Whisky hit the market. Rogues would add only 5-10% of the aged Malt Whisky to a fresh barrel of some unknown grain whisky from one day to one year old, creating 9-10 barrels off one and sell them at a hyped-up price.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer under PM Henry Temple in 1860, Gladstone was under pressure from distillers because of his Malt Tax, which depended directly on ABV. Average Malt ABV was 65%. So, under his fiat, Revenue authorities agreed to allow the blending of “plain British spirit” with pot still malt whiskey. Dealers were permitted to bring any spirit from any part of the UK (including Ireland at that point) to any other part and mix it in any quantity. After an outcry, Gladstone accepted the proposal of Patent Still whisky (grain whisky) which was bland and weak as the additive to Malt Whisky, in ANY proportion. But ONLY distillers could do this blending. Grocers were added in 1863, but the whiskies had to be in an inconvenient BOND house. After pressure from Scotland, this rule was withdrawn and amended and Grocers could now blend at home in Bond, providing the distillery was no further than one-quarter mile from town.

Hardly anybody put his malts in Bond. A survey showed average storage time worked out to three months, most probably the transit time by ship to foreign ports. Those that were stored were found to be much better after three years or more; quality rose after maturation, volume dropped due angel’s share and price increased exponentially. No such barrel was ever seen in a pub. Between 1823 and 1890, after the publication of Acts by the dozen, most malts were being stored in Bond, but for an average of SIX months! There were many honest distillers, though, who allowed their barrels to age six, eight, ten years and more.

Timeline: Strathisla Distillery

Strathisla Distillery started life as the brewery of the local monastery and turned itself to the making of whisky in 1786, one of the few distilleries in what is now the Speyside region to go legal.

1786: Alexander Milne and George Taylor license Milltown distillery in 1796, making it the oldest registered plant
          in Scotland.
1823: The distillery is bought by McDonald Ingram and Co.
1830: William Longmore purchases the distillery.
1880: Longmore retires and his son-in-law JG Brown takes over.
1890: The distillery is renamed Milton.
1940: J Pomeroy purchases a majority share of the distillery.
1950: Seagram purchases the distillery when Pomeroy is jailed for fraud and the 
          plant is rendered bankrupt.
1951: The name is changed to Strathisla.
1970: The distillery begins a heavily peated run of Craigduff.
2001: Taken over by Pernod Ricard.
2013: The Strathisla brand is given a packaging update.

Timeline: Chivas Brother's Holdings

1801: Forrest opens Grocery, 47 Castle Street
1820: Hires William Edwards as Manager
1828: Forrest dies. Grocery bought by William Edwards.
1828: William Edwards expands Grocery by buying 46 Castle Street. Changes shop designation to Grocer,
          Wine and Spirits Purveyor and Provisions Merchant.
1834: Relocates to larger premises at 49 Castle Street. Adds Employment Agency to the portfolio.
1837: Relocates to 13 King Street.
1838: Hires James Chivas as his assistant. Chivas goes on to prove his worth.
1838: John Chivas employed by Apparel Merchant and Wholesale Dealer, DL Shirres.
1841: William Edwards dies intestate overseas. Legal formalities require closure of store.
1841: James Chivas leaves and joins food and wine merchant enterprise of Charles Stewart as junior partner,
          Stewart and Chivas, 39 Woolmanhill Street. Purchase vacant 13 King Street later that year and relocate there
          as a “One-stop-shop,” and excel in servicing disparate demands.
1843-51: Expand further to add 9,11 and 23 King Street. Purchase 21 King Street as residence for James Chivas.
1857: Charles Stewart leaves. John Chivas joins James as Partner, Chivas Brothers.
1862: John Chivas dies.
1886: James Chivas dies and control goes to James' son Alexander Chivas.
1893: Alexander Chivas dies, marking the end of the Chivas family’s association with products bearing their name.
1909: The first ever Chivas Regal bottling, the ultra-luxurious 25 YO makes its debut in the USA. No Chivas family member
          is associated with this release, essentially dedicated to/in honour of the departed James and John Chivas.

Wednesday 11 December 2019


The GatecrasherS Supreme: GERMANY’S ALDI AND LIDL 

Aldi and Lidl Scotch Whiskies Retail Around $15 Per Bottle

Aldi (Albrecht Diskont) is the common brand of two family-owned German discount supermarket chains with over 10,000 stores in 20 countries. The chains operate as two financially and legally separate groups, Aldi Nord and Süd. Aldi Nord operates in Denmark, France, the Benelux countries, Portugal, Spain and Poland, while Aldi Süd operates in Ireland, Great Britain, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia, China, Italy, Austria and Slovenia. 

Both Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd also operate in the US with 1,600 stores as of 2017 (the only country to have both of Aldi's subsidiaries operating outside of Germany).

Aldi is the largest wine retailer in Germany and sells low cost alcohol. It manufactures several brands of whiskies, mainly Scotch Whisky. Four of Aldi’s Whiskies have been named among the best in the world for the second consecutive year at the highly acclaimed global competition Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters. The award-winning whiskies include Aldi Highland Malt Black Scotch Whisky, Glen Marnoch Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Glen Marnoch Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Aldi Hogwash Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.


Stiftung & Co. is another German global discount supermarket chain that operates over 10,000 stores across Europe and the United States. Lidl is the chief rival of Aldi in several markets, including the US. There are Lidl stores in every member state of the European Union. Lidl stores are also present in Switzerland, Serbia and the United States.


Lidl's Queen Margot, an eight-year blended Scotch whisky, took home a category win for "Scotch Blended 12 Years & Under." The whisky beat out competition from industry giants (and far pricier bottles) including Johnnie Walker Black Label and Chivas Regal.

All these whiskies are sold at prices ranging between one half to one third of the pricier global Scotch Whiskies. Somebody is taking the common man for a ride!

Watch this space. A review or two of Grade A whiskies will follow anon.