A scotch whisky distiller, when asked recently if he made any blends, was gloriously sniffy and dismissive of blended whisky. It would have been interesting to see and hear what he would have made of the Johnnie Walker Directors Blends, which I got to taste last Thursday (November 28) in London.
It’s been a strange time of late for Pernod Ricard. The French multinational has, of course, been mourning the sudden death this August of its CEO and chairman of 34 years Patrick Ricard, the man who oversaw the transformation of his father’s company into the world’s second largest wines and spirits producer.
Yet, at this time of sorrow, the group’s enviable roster of premium brands is flying higher than at any time since the onset of the credit crunch, thanks in main to the seemingly unquenchable thirst of consumers for premium spirits in emerging markets.
Chivas Regal, with its enviable global following in 150 countries, stretching from China to Venezuela, and its reputation as the first luxury whisky, is undoubtedly one of Pernod’s brightest stars. For proof look no further than the company’s latest annual results. In the year ending this June the 4.9m-case brand enjoyed global volume growth of 7% and higher value growth of 11%.
As Alexandre Ricard, the Ricard family member who will take the helm from 2015, knows well, duty free has been one of the main drivers of growth for Chivas Regal in recent years (Alexandre ran the company’s booming Asian travel retail operations from 2006 to 2008). Indeed, almost one purchase of Chivas Regal in every five is made in duty free, and that ratio rises to one bottle in three for the higher-priced, super-premium Chivas Regal 18 Year Old.
“Travel retail is vital for us,” says James Slack, Chivas Regal’s genial global brand director. “Within the travel retail arena we have recently hit the 1m-case milestone. We are pleased with that, but it is also important we innovate, create energy and support the travel retail category by making our products available in different formats.”
At Cannes this month Chivas Brothers will do just that, reaffirming the significance of this channel of distribution to the brand by launching arguably the most important Chivas Regal travel retail exclusive to date. The Chivas Brothers’ Blend is a permanent 12-year-old exclusive addition to the brand family, created to honour the legacy of John and James Chivas – the Victorian-era brothers who, in the 1850s, famously started to blend high-quality, smooth-tasting whiskies for the affluent clientele of their grocery shop on Aberdeen’s King Street.
Slack says the new whisky intensifies Chivas Regal’s trademark flavour profile. “The Chivas Brothers’ Blend is a rich, soft flavour profile with lots of fruit flavours, and a very creamy texture. The Chivas Regal house style has always been strong on [the brand’s signature malt] Strathisla, but we wanted to accentuate that so we dialled up the proportions of both Strathisla and Longmorn. This helped [master blender] Colin Scott create what we believe is an ultra-smooth whisky.”
Although it is no older than the entry-level Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, the higher malt content of the Chivas Brothers Blend means it lands on the shelf with a 20% higher price tag. The bottle and packaging will also help set it apart from its celebrated sibling. “The outer carton is purple and finished with gold and silver writing,” says Slack. “The style and shape of the bottle is in keeping with the Chivas Regal family, but we have really stripped it down. The heavy ornate crest is still there, but the real hero is the name ‘Chivas Brothers’ Blend’.