Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chivas Brothers, The Century of Malts

stats: blended malt whisky, Scotland, 40%, $56

Since I wrote about a Blended Malt Scotch in my last post, I’m going to take the opportunity to follow up with another Scottish Blended Malt that’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. The Century of Malts is a vatting of 100 different single malts that were assembled from the cellars of Chivas Brothers, and was originally released in 1995.

The bottle comes with a neat little book written by Jim Murray, which has a brief profile of each of the 100 distilleries represented in the vatting. But beyond that there’s very little background information to be found about The Century of Malts, which kind of makes since it came out about 10 years before anyone was really writing about whisky online.

The text on the label implies that 100 casks were vatted together; in other words, one from each distillery. Apparently there were two releases though, one at 40% abv and another at 43% abv. My guess is that the first one met with lackluster reviews so they raised the proof for the later release in an attempt to improve it.

It’s hard to say how many bottles of this whisky were produced. It certainly sounds like a one-off limited release, but it seems to have lingered in the distribution chain for many years. The yield per cask could vary quite a bit depending on cask size and age, but I’ll say 200 bottles on average. Even if they only did one vatting of 100 casks, and the first release was a partial bottling with the rest of that vatting kept in tanks until it was bottled for the second release, that would still mean about 20,000 bottles were produced. Of course, the number could be much higher.

I stumbled across this bottle some time around late 2009 / early 2010. I’ve done a little research and figured out that in all likelihood, it had been hidden away, collecting dust in the state liquor warehouse since mid-1997. I paid the standard retail price listed above but unbeknownst to me at the time, that was right around when retail supplies of it mostly dried up and people began to perceive it as having a collectable value. It was fetching prices as high as $150 on the secondary market back then and today it appears to range from $150 to $300.

At the time that it came into my collection, I had the attention of a girl who appreciated good whisky. I thought I’d impress her with my new acquisition, so I brought the unopened bottle to a late-night rendezvous. I don’t recall her exact words, but she likened the flavor to a pair of old gym socks. Needless to say, I no longer try to captivate women with whiskies that I haven’t yet previewed.

It’s been a few years since I’ve nipped into this bottle, so it’s time to give it a fresh tasting.

nose – It displays an interesting range of aromatics, and they vary notably with the nose-to-glass distance. A biscuit-like maltiness, delicate but complex peat notes, heather and other floral aromas, a subtle clay-like character and sherry driven fruit notes.
palate – It comes across as being more muddled on the palate. Too many cooks in the kitchen and none of them are really able to shine. There’s some decent flavor here, but the nose made promises that the palate can’t keep.
finish – It carries some weight into the finish, and the intensity of flavor holds up well considering the low proof, but it gets a little astringent and loses balance with a strong grassy note at the tail end.
overall – It’s better than I remember it and I wouldn’t put it in the “gym sock” category, but it does fall short of expectations, both by dint of its provenance and its collectable status.

Scotland has historically had about 100 operational malt distilleries at any given time. As a blender, Chivas normally keeps a healthy stock of a great variety of single malts. They need that variety because it is common for blends to have 30, 40 or even 50 different single malts in the mix, and as some go in and out of availability, having viable alternatives on hand is essential for consistency. What makes this whisky interesting, at least on paper, is that it dates from a time when many of the casks held by Chivas were from distilleries that had gone silent in previous decades, as well as other rare oddities from the period. The values of such whiskies have grown dramatically in recent years, and it’s unlikely that they would be vatted into a blended malt today, but many short-lived single malt variants and distilleries that did not survive the 80’s (or even the 70’s for a few) are represented in The Century of Malts. Unfortunately, the little book of distillery profiles has proven to be more interesting than the whisky in the bottle.

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