The Rise Of Chivas Regal How The Brand Became a Global Icon
The history of Chivas Regal extends beyond the echelons of the modern Scotch whisky industry. Pioneers of the blended Scotch whisky industry, the Chivas Brothers established a legacy that has yet to lose any of its lustre, stature and prominence.
The Whiskypedia retraces the rise of Chivas Regal, a global juggernaut and trendsetter in the Scotch whisky industry, and how it came to be one. From a small establishment in the downtown Aberdeen to one of Scotland’s most important businesses, the Chivas Brothers managed to earn the patronage of Queen Victoria herself.
The Origin of Chivas Regal
The humble beginnings of the Chivas brand took off in Aberdeen, Scotland as a small grocery store belonging to John Forrest. James Chivas began working at the grocery store, soon being joined by his brother John.
Brothers, James and John Chivas.
James was adept at mixing and blending different whiskies to attain a more desirable taste and smoothness. Together, the Chivas Brothers developed a glowing reputation for their whiskies in Scotland. Armed with a phenomenal business acumen, the Chivas Brothers built further upon their success by maturing their whisky stock in the cellar beneath their grocery store. Thereby raising the quality of their spirit, the Chivas Brothers’ whisky soon became the talk of the town.
The grocery store in King Street, Aberdeen, Scotland.
As their reputation as procurers and providers of luxury products became stronger, royal recognition beckoned. The Chivas Brothers were awarded a Royal Warrant by none other than Queen Victoria in 1843. This Warrant enabled the Brothers to supply their products and goods to the Queen’s Balmoral Castle. This propelled the Chivas brand to unprecedented success in Scotland.
The Royal Warrant
The Royal Glen Dee, a blended malt Scotch, and the Royal Strathythan, the firm’s first proprietary blend of malt and grain Scotch whiskies, were launched in 1854 and 1863 respectively.
The Scotland Magazine named Chivas Brothers as one of the finest businesses in the north of Scotland in their May 8, 1890 edition, announcing to the rest of Scotland that prestige had a new identity.
The rise of the Chivas brand name had only just begun, as global recognition and success awaited. It was 1909 when the Chivas Regal brand took the world by storm. It redefined the identity of whisky in the eyes of the elite, launching the world’s first ever luxury whisky.
The Chivas Regal 25 Year Old immediately disrupted the scene, quickly becoming the favourite spirit for New York’s high-profile elites. It was the oldest ever whisky brand in the world back then, crafted with precision by Master Blender Charles Howard and Alexander Smith.
For many years, the Chivas Regal 25 occupied the centre-stage of the world’s fascination with premium Scotch whiskies. Things began to slow down worldwide as both Prohibition and the Second World War brought most of the world to a halt.
The Chivas Regal 25 had successfully become synonymous with luxury, opulence and prestige for half a decade following its launch in 1909. Chivas Regal returned to the American markets in 1938 after a long absence, but this time, with the Chivas Regal 12 Year Old.
As the ripples of the Second World War were felt across the world, sales of luxury products such as Chivas Regal took a hit. Things continued to look bleak, but the makers of Chivas Regal had faith in the quality of their product.
The market soon began to thrive, as more and more people could once again afford their favourite Scotch whiskies. While nearly every single Scotch whisky brand suffered with sagging sales and abysmal numbers, the makers of Chivas Regal showed faith in their product.
The modern day Chivas Regal 25 Year Old, relaunched in 2007
Chivas Regal did something so unmistakably brilliant with their marketing strategy, that it came to be known as the Chivas Regal effect all over the world. While many brands of whisky and other luxury products were slashing their prices in order to cut their losses, the makers of Chivas Regal doubled the prices of their whisky.
The result was an unprecedented miracle, as sales for Chivas Regal skyrocketed, growing to almost 100,000 cases by the 1960s. This number nearly doubled within a decade, and the Chivas brand showed no signs of slowing down.
The Chivas Regal effect was studied and used by many academics and researchers over the years, who couldn’t help but be fascinated by it. Such was the trust behind their product that Chivas rose to the very top, further cementing its position at the top.
The Future of Chivas Regal
In 1949, Chivas Regal was acquired by Seagram’s owner, Samuel Bronfman. It was his intention to resurrect the house of Chivas to its former glory, and make it the brand that was desired by the high society elite.
In order to build the foundation of this resurrection, Bronfman acquired the oldest functioning distillery in the Highlands region of Scotland. The distillery, built in 1786 was named Strathisla and it soon became forged in the same pristine legacy as the Chivas Regal brand.
The Strathisla single malt forms the heart of every Chivas blend today, bringing the luscious and juicy fruit, sweet creamy toffees and vanilla character to them. But back in the 1960s, the Chivas portfolio was only confined to the excellent 12 Year Old, which shouldered the Chivas legacy all alone for many decades.
In fact, the Chivas 12 Year Old single-handedly made the brand so popular, it was featured in The Exorcist, one of the greatest films ever made. Released in 1973, the film reflects just how popular Chivas Regal was at the time. The Father Karass character exclaims, “Chivas Regal! Where did you get the money for it..?”, hilariously implying the brand’s stature as a luxury product.
Father Karass, the character from The Exorcist.
The Chivas Regal 18 Year Old was launched in 1997, and it became the only second expression from the House of Chivas. Slowly, they began to take back their rightful position as the leading luxury blended Scotch whisky makers of the world. The Chivas portfolio was diversified with the help of legendary Master Blender Colin Scott, who used the prestigious Strathisla single malts and other rare whiskies to create wonders.
The Chivas Regal 25 Year Old was reintroduced in 2007, after an absence of nearly a century since it was first released. The world’s first luxury whisky continues to assert its dominance, and has been accompanied by more world class blends.
Chivas’ rich legacy of innovation was at full display in 2014 when they became the first ever Scotch whisky brand to mature their spirit in the rare and incredible Japanese Mizunara Oak barrels. The Mizunara Oak grows slower than any other Oak tree in the world, and can be notoriously difficult to make barrels out of. Relishing the challenge, Chivas endeavoured to live up to their traditions and create something never seen before.
The Chivas Regal Mizunara was blended, and released in the Japanese market in 2014. The expression was a huge success, and was slowly rolled out all over the world. Chivas ignited a trend, inspiring many other whisky brands to emulate their extraordinary feat, but none could recreate the magic of Chivas
Similarly, the use of hand-selected and rare oak barrels from unique regions of the world is a practice preserved and cultivated at Chivas Brothers over the years. They were the first to mature their spirit in Grande Champagne Cognac barrels in 2018 when they released the Chivas Regal XV.
Today, the Chivas Regal portfolio is one of the most diverse experiences for Scotch whisky lovers. Their core range of products beginning right from the humble excellence of the Chivas Regal 12 Year Old extends right to the most decadently premium Chivas Regal Ultis, the first ever blended malt Scotch from Chivas.
The Ultis represents the timelessness of Chivas Regal, honouring the five great Master Blenders who poured their hearts into building an institution unlike any other. Five rare and vintage single malts from ‘ghost’ distilleries that are no longer functional, this is a blend that captures the true essence of what James and John Chivas set out to achieve.
Not only does Chivas Regal sit comfortably at the pinnacle of tremendous critical success, they have redefined commercial success for Scotch whisky brands worldwide. Laden with innumerable trophies, Gold & Silver medals from triumphs at different competitions all over the world, success is synonymous with the Chivas name. Selling more than 4.5m cases of the world’s first luxury whisky brand, they have proved over and over that there is nothing quite like Chivas Regal.
As Master Blender Colin Scott says, “There is no conflict when it comes to the ingredients in a Chivas blend. The symbiotic relationship between each and every whisky is essential. Balance is key. Control the ingredients. Consolidate the flavour.”
The name Chivas Regal is one of the world’s most recognized and trusted brand names. Chivas has not only redefined the blended Scotch whisky segment, but the world of Scotch, and whisky at large. The historical, cultural and traditional impact of Chivas Regal is larger than one can ever imagine.