You don’t need to be a whisky fanatic to know that single malt scotch is all the rage these days. Luxury bottles of the whisky, aged for decades in countryside warehouses, are fetching tens of thousands of dollars at auction. The Macallan continually shatters its own record prices year after year. The Balvenie and Port Ellen aren’t far behind. But virtually non-existent among this set of ultra-premium spirits is blended scotch.
Even though it is far and away the most widely consumed style of scotch on the planet (or perhaps because or this), the category is all-too-often dismissed by collectors and connoisseurs. With a very exclusive release, one prominent whisky bar in Southeast Asia is seeking to shift that perception once and for all. Behold, the world’s most expensive blended scotch. Is it worth a pour?
Atop the 64th floor of Lebua Tower in downtown Bangkok, Al Fresco 64 is already saddled with superlatives. The tallest outdoor whisky bar in the world — soaring some 800 feet above the streets below — is also home to its city’s most extensive list of brown spirits. But for all its breadth of choice, it’s nearly impossible to avoid Chivas Regal around here. The famous blended scotch partnered with the outpost, and its familiar insignia is branded all about the bar area.
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The sponsorship is hardly a surprise. Whisky drinkers around here are fond of blends — lighter and easier to mix than their single malt counterparts. The gentler body is owed to a preponderance of neutral grain spirit that goes into the mix prior to aging. When pouring out the bottle, those notes are particularly refreshing in cutting through Thailand’s tropical humidity. But they also stigmatize the category as an inferior form of booze.
Those so quick to judge ought to eye Chivas Regal Lebua Blend. Not that you could miss it. Centrally showcased on the backbar, this bottle proudly displays its status: ’Blended Scotch Whisky’ it reads, on a lightly tanned, hand-numbered label. It also a wears a price tag of some $7,000. By comparison, Johnnie Walker Blue Label — the gold standard in premium blended scotch — typically fetches around $250 per 750ml.
Why the astronomical premium? It comes from an ‘accidental’ barrel, discovered by Chivas in the back corners of the brand’s Strathisla distillery. This picturesque facility, the oldest continually operating whisky-making house in all of Scotland, has been producing stunning malt since 1786. For the Lebua Blend, a cask was retrieved holding a blend of malt and grain up to 30 years in age.
The age of that blend is lengthy, to be sure, but not unheard of. The unique wonder here is that the married whiskies were left to rest in a first-fill sherry butt for nine additional years. A so-called ‘finishing’ of this sort, usually lasts closer to around 6 months.
What results from this ‘mistake’ is a mahogany-hued spirit of lingering depth, and dark, stone fruit intrigue. Because so much whisky evaporates from the cask over the decades, only 96 bottles could be plucked from the wood by the time it was dumped. So it’s also incredibly rare. When it’s gone, it’s gone for good – a perfect storm for sticker shock. Initially those bottles were reserved for purchase at the bar, which is the first time in Chivas’ more than 200 years in existence that it released a one-off label for a specific partner.
But the product caused such a frenzy that Lebua CEO Deepak Ohri opted to limit sales, and open up a select few bottles for individual pours — at around $1,000 USD per tasting. Is it worth a month’s rent? Well that depends on how badly you need rent money.
It sits in a specially designed glass, intended to keep the drink cool without adding ice. Its unusual maturation imbues the liquid with the robustness normally known to the most elegant of single malts, but with the ease of drinkability afforded to spectacular blended offerings. In other words: it’s the best of both worlds.
Will collectors and connoisseurs finally come around to the blend? The scant few bottles remaining of Lebua’s $7,000 experiment seem to suggest so. And the hotel and bar already have plans to partner up with Chivas in retrieving another happy ‘accident’ in the near future. In the meantime, even if you don’t have that kind of cash to drop on a luxury experience lasting mere seconds, it’s worth taking more than a few moments to re-consider blended scotch. Looking out over the Bangkok skyline from the outdoor terrace at Alfresco 64 certainly helps promote quiet contemplation.