The story of world's first luxury whisky

In the world of whiskies, Chivas Regal is considered a timeless classic. Tracing its roots back to 1801, Chivas Regal has the distinction of being the world’s first luxury whisky for its style, substance and exclusivity. That said, very few people know the humble beginnings of the brand before it shot to global fame. In today’s post, we explore the story of world’s first luxury whisky.

A trek to the City

It all began in 1836 with James and John Chivas (pronounced Shi-viss). The duo were two of fourteen children born to Robert & Christian Chivas and lived on the Strathythan Farm in Aberdeenshire. The brothers, James (26) and John (22) left home in search of bigger and better opportunities.

Since there were no train lines or stage-coach routes in Aberdeenshire during that period, the brothers trekked through the countryside to reach the Granite City. It was the period of Industrial Revolution and the city was booming with new people, new industries and new ideas. Arriving in the city, James found employment at a grocery store while John started working with a wholesale firm.

The grocery store where James worked was owned by a gentleman named Charles Stewart. Established in 1801, the store had gained repute amongst Scottish gentry and specialized in supplying the finest provisions and whisky. The repute soon extended from the gentry to the crown itself, when Queen Victoria awarded Charles and James the first royal contract for supplying goods and provisions to her summer home – Balmoral Castle.

Rise of the Master Blender

Ever since joining the grocery store, James had been learning the craft of tea blending, training his nose and palate. This experience came to fore when he started experimenting with whiskies. One of the new ideas of the time was the blending of grain and malt whisky, nowadays known as Blended Scotch Whisky. The core concept was to create something better than the sum of its parts by harmonizing the complex characters of various malt and grain whiskies.

Inspired by his royal patronage, James Chivas began blending whiskies in the ageing casks in the shop’s cellar. Soon, he created the signature “Chivas House Style”, a blending technique that harmonizes the smoothness and richness of flavor.

The Rise of Chivas Brothers

In 1857, Charles Stewart left the partnership. James invited his brother John to join him at the shop. Two years later, the government permitted blending of whiskies in warehouses through “The 1860 Spirits Act”. The new law recognized the Art of Blending as a craft and blended whiskies became a category in their own right. The demand for Chivas Brothers blended Scotch skyrocketed.

James Chivas died in 1886, and the store passed to his son, John having also passed in 1862. Alexander Chivas ran the store with his friend and namesake Alexander Smith and expanded the core family business. Tragedy struck again in 1893 when Alexander Chivas too passed. The Chivas Brothers was taken over by Alexander Smith and a new master blender Charles Howard.

By 1909, Chivas Brothers had gained global repute in the world of luxury goods and exquisite blended whiskies. They had also built-up extensive stocks of maturing whisky. Following several successful releases, Charles Howard wanted to create a new blend to honor the legacy of the Chivas Brothers, James and John.

Chivas Regal – the World’s First Luxury Whisky

Charles Howard created his finest work, the Chivas Regal, a 25-Year-Old blended scotch whisky in 1909. The whisky met all regulatory requirements for bottling and labeling – a feat never accomplished by other brands or companies of the time – marking it as the world’s first luxury whisky. The Chivas House Style became a brand secret, passed down generations of master blenders and the Chivas Regal became an iconic name in the world of whiskies.

Today, the Chivas Regal range includes blended Scotch whiskies aged between 12 and 25 years and sit in the super-premium range of whiskies. Chivas Regal 18 Scotch Whisky, launched in 1997, is another example of the brand’s growth and innovation. The dram is made of over 20 grain and malt whiskies that are each aged for at least 18 years. The rich amber color has found universal adoration and its said that up to 85 different flavor notes can be tasted in this whisky.

So, the next time you pour a glass of Chivas Regal, do not forget to raise a toast to the enterprising spirit of the Chivas Brothers and a 200-year-old legacy.


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