One of the plus points of the site being on hiatus during development was the free time, it opened up a whole world of opportunities to shoot new content and learn more about what we enjoyed. Whisky is definitely the drink of choice here at Yin&Yang, why? because of Mad Men. I kid, because of Yang – our very own whisky connoisseur but my own liking of the drink is down to the TV show and my family. For as long as I can remember, there has always been a bottle of Chivas Regal in my house. From my Grandaddy’s days till right now in my Dad’s drinks cabinet. It’s been the go-to drink for yonkers but I’ve only started appreciating the acquired taste necessary to enjoy whiskys. So when the folks from Chivas invited us down to learn more about the brand and the story behind the whisky – I WAS GAME.
The chap above is Phil Huckle, Chivas Regal‘s brand ambassador – the man who knows more about the whisky than anyone else. We joined him at Opium, a rather inconspicuous location in the heart of Chinatown. I arrived 5 minutes late as I couldn’t find the joint, you’ll have to look for the jade green door halfway down Gerard Street. That’s your only way in – there’s usually a doorman outside it, ticking off names.
I’ve had a funny relationship with alcohol over the past few years, NO, not an alcoholic but I did go through a phase of not drinking at all. Even now, I drink once a month at max. A few years back, I just couldn’t justify why I was drinking alcohol – never enjoyed the taste nor did I like wasting my money like that. Hello tee-total Niran. Now that I do drink again, it’s all about the whiskey. The good stuff. Ain’t nobody got time for student drinks.
Enough on me and the location, I thought it’d be best to share with you guys a bit of background information that Phil shared on Chivas Regal before we get started.
Chivas Regal is from Aberdeen and it takes the vast majority of its blend from one region of Scotland called Speyside. It’s the home of scotch whisky making with roughly about 50 distilleries in the area out of the 100 over all in the country. In general, whiskys from this area are much more sweet, fruity, floral in their flavour profile. The heart of the Chivas Regal blend is a wonderful single malt called Strathisla and there’s another great single malt that plays an equally big part in the blend called Longmorn. In comparison their main rival (who I actually worked on at my previous work place), Johnnie Walker, is based down in Kilmarnock and they’ve traditionally used west coast whiskys in their blend so it has much more of drier smoky flavour.
He says it’s much more versatile than it’s rival competitor due to its sweet and floral base which enables you to make any type whisky cocktail with it.
The actual history of the brand dates to 1801 but back then the Chivas brothers weren’t whisky producers. They owned a luxury grocery store called Harrods of the Highlands which served all the local Lords and gentry. The Chivas name became famous through the Queen Victoria when she came to the throne in 1827 and married her first cousin, Prince Albert. When they decided to visit and purchase Balmoral Castle on holiday and the Queen needed a discrete and reliable supplier of groceries. That’s how she granted the Royal Warrant to Chivas Brothers in 1843 and voila.
The whisky side came in the mid-1800s when the cognac (brandy) ran out due to the phylloxera epidemic and at that time cognac was a key part of the Chivas business. This was a big blow to business since the most popular drink of choice amongst the higher class was cognac. James Chivas decided to respond to this situation by creating a smooth whisky by blending whiskies to create the Chivas blend. Funnily enough, his inspiration for this came from blending tea. He was a master tea blender – who knew?! If you think about what you drink every morning (PG tips, dun kno) is an English breakfast tea which is a blend of teas from India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. He took the same format and applied to whisky. Their first blended Scotch whisky named ‘Royal Glen Dee’ was launched, off the back of the royal connection.
Whisky blending wasn’t laid credit to just James Chivas. There were 6 that arrived on the scene simultaneously – James Chivas, George Ballantine, John Dewar, John Hague and John Walker. Blended whisky took off from there.
That’s enough of a history lesson. You can find out more if you like on Chivas’ website – click here.
Top left – Phil, Alwynne from Miss. Whiskey, Daphne, Anthony from Ape to Gentleman
Where did cocktails come into play then? Well the golden period for cocktails was in the 1860s – 1919 (Prohibition) when blended started to take off. The folks across the pond actually started the movement with the cocktails. What we’re seeing now is a big revival of scotch whisky cocktails, gone are the days when whisky was considered an old man’s drink. It’s becoming quite trendy as of late, the diversity and range of the whisky makes it a fun drink to work with for bartenders. However London is the number one place for cocktails – we’re lucky to be in the heart of drink innovation, diversity and quality of bars.
I could sit there and type up the step-by-step for each of the cocktails Phil ran us through that day but I’ve opted to share the Rob Roy in detail. It’s a powerful cocktail, the whisky taste is dominant so it isn’t as fruity as most people would like but I love it.
‘Rob Roy’ – a cocktail that dates back to 1894. The name is derived from a character one of Sir Walter Scott’s books, a Scottish Robin Hood but folks also think it was named after a play that was going on Broadway. What it is essentially is a Scotch Whisky Manhattan. A Manhattan is made with Bourbon, sweet vermouth and a little bit of cherry garnish. What he’s doing here is substituting the Bourbon for Scotch.
He made one and passed it around for taste. We were told not to worry about germs since it’s an alcohol-induced environment. What if someone had the norovirus! I kid haha.
1. Starting off with 60 ml of Chivas Regal 12.
2. Add a little bit of sweet vermouth.
‘Do we all know what vermouth is?
Blank face stare. No.
‘We have two types of Vermouth: sweet and dry. Traditionally sweet vermouth is made in Italy, it’s basically like a fortified red wine with lots of different herbs and ingredients. They fortify it with a grape spirit which is usually around 18-20% and they’ve obviously added sugar as well.’
However here we’re adding French sweet vermouth.
3. Couple dashes of Peychaud bitters
‘Peychaud is bitters brand is from New Orleans in the 19th Century, made from grain alcohol and adding herbs. A lot of their origins are medicine, speaking of which – does anyone know the 100% fool proof method of cure for hiccups? This will change your life. You get 4 limes, cut them into quarters and soak them in Angostura bitters which originated as a stomach medicine. You suck the limes as hard as you can (not particularly nice) and after you suck each one, you’ll be cured forever.’ See the top image for Phil’s voila jazz hands.
4. Add ice and STIR MOFO. STIR.
Rather than shake. Controlled dilution, you don’t want to pump too much air bubbles into the drink or change the texture of it. Unless you’re using juices or egg whites, there’s no real need to shake the cocktail.
‘So James Bond was wrong in my eyes.’
5. Lastly, pour it up into a nice cold glass and add a bit of cherry garnish. Voila.
It’s a very strong drink and we’re enhancing the flavours using the bitters and vermouth so be ready. There are a few variations with dry vermouth or the ‘perfect Rob Roy’ where you use half dry and half sweet.
Here’s one more cocktail recipe but in brief form. This one’s more sweet and perfect for the bright sun-kissed days.
Gallantry – 50ml Chivas 18, Tspn Orange Marmalade, 30ml Lemon Juice, 10ml Sugar syrup, ½ Egg white and orange twist.
Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour, The Jade Door, 15-16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown