Review: Royal Salute 21 Year Old

We put together a show of professional carousing and review a bottle of some of the finest blended scotch on the planet: Royal Salute 21 Year Old

The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence: it is a toast to civilization, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man’s determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed. – David Daiches

This close to Christmas and New Year’s and some of us are no doubt still feeling the lingering finish of a few fine spirits. Far from embracing thrills and spills though, or embracing nihilism for that matter, we put together a show of professional carousing and reviewed a bottle of some of the finest scotch on the planet: Royal Salute 21 Year Old. Well, to be precise it is blended scotch and, as the picture shows, it is a flagon.

We have had plenty of opportunities to enjoy Royal Salute 21 over the years and we simply call it Royal Salute. The brand, an imprint under Chivas Regal, does produce other even more sophisticated and prestigious whiskies today but Royal Salute 21 Year Old is how it all began. Besides the Royal Tenenbaums, this is our favorite Royal.

As a matter of fact, Royal Salute is quite closely tied to proper royalty, launched as it was in 1953 to celebrate the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne of Great Britain. Chivas Regal of course was granted a royal warrant in 1843 to supply Queen Victoria and Royal Salute can thus be said to follow in the brand’s traditions. This is a matter of pride and prestige, not only for Chivas Regal but for people who buy Royal Salute for their own satisfaction. Before we get to that though, we shall address the liquid that gives Royal Salute its substance.

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The velvet bag that holds each flagon of Royal Salute usually matches the color of the flagon. Quaich sold separately

Hold the Water

To begin with, Royal Salute is typically deep amber but still in the color range of ale, not Guinness. It does not look too different to Chivas Regal for example. On the nose though, a difference is immediately noticeable. For a blended scotch that includes no whisky younger than 21 years, Royal Salute is remarkably mild on the nose. Dominated by floral notes supported by vanilla, toffee, and old oak (of course), there is an underpinning of something altogether fungal here. The entire affair is quite subtle in this writer’s view – you can nose this quite comfortably, as is common with most Speyside and Highland malts. In other words, there is neither a smoky nor pungent note to be found.

On the palate, Royal Salute is defined by sweetness; we surmise that this comes from the Strathisla malts in the blend. Interestingly, there is some sourness here too in the form of cider vinegar. Hazelnuts and ginger round things off, in the subtlest ways possible. We also detect something grassy and altogether cereal-like about the taste and this can only be from the grain whiskies that are holding the blend together. Once again, there is perhaps the barest hint of an intimation of smoke and peat here, if one cares to imagine that it exists.

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The rich amber color of this scotch is to be expected, given the collective age of the whiskies blended together

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In a nice touch, the velvet bag foreshadows the velvety texture of whisky itself

Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

Royal Salute is soft enough to be enjoyed without water. Indeed, adding water is superfluous; it subtracts rather than adds. It is not at all pretentious to insist this be enjoyed neat. Water is useful here only if dilution is desired; ice in warmer climes is fine but take note that the delicacy of this blend will lead to quite a bit of the aroma being closed down, as they say, with the addition of ice. Our recommendation remains enjoying Royal Salute neat, in a typical whisky nosing glass rather than a tumbler; again, the more delicate nature of the spirit means that a tumbler dissipates the aroma while the tulip shape of the nosing glass focuses it.

“Royal Salute is like an iron fist in a velvet glove. It’s about power and age…” says Colin Scott, Master Blender of Royal Salute and creator of the even more prestigious Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute. We feel that the blenders have used their techniques to diffuse the strength of the 40% ABV so that rather than striking the nose and palate it envelops both. Smoothness was certainly the name of the game for the Chivas Brothers when they came up with Chivas Regal in the 1850s. No surprise then that it remains an essential part of Royal Salute; the Chivas Brothers created this in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. We bring this up again because the origins explain about the power and age business and offers further context to the name Royal Salute itself.

This whisky also pays tribute to very specific notes, as we have noted, that primarily echo Speyside offerings. While other blended scotches offer something of everything that defines scotch, Royal Salute almost completely cuts out smokiness and pungency. With this in mind, we think that not only is Royal Salute perfectly placed to entertain the palates of casual scotch drinkers, it will also please those who enjoy Speyside malts in general and Chivas Regal blended scotch in particular.

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Embossed on the front of the porcelain flagon is the figure of Robert the Bruce, the great Scottish hero

Everything in its
Right Place

As one of the five principal regions in scotch whisky, Speyside commands attention as part of the world-famous Malt Whisky Tour. It is also the location of the Strathisla, the malt at the heart of Royal Salute. Now as a blend, Royal Salute makes no special claims on Strathisla nor the character of Speyside single malts; blended scotch offers the possibility of tasting all of scotch whisky in a single bottle so the origin of the malts and grains within the blend does not truly communicate itself via the liquid.

For Royal Salute in particular though, Strathisla plays an important role and can be discerned by even the most casual of scotch drinkers. Basically, if one has ever tasted Strathisla single malt, the characteristics come through strongly. We have addressed these tasting notes on the previous page so let us look at the provenance of both Royal Salute and of Strathisla. Founded in 1786, Strathisla is the oldest distillery on the Malt Whisky Trail and is in fact the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland. It is by no means an old and musty place either, with public estimates of output standing at 2.4 million liters annually.

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Below the figure of Robet the Bruce are the Gaelic words Treibhireas Bho 1801 Bunaiteachd. This Chivas Brothers motto translates as "fidelity, stability since 1801"

Strathisla is the “spiritual home” of Chivas Regal, the whisky house that created the Royal Salute in 1953. As a Speyside whisky, it takes in the granite mountains, fertile farmlands and rich forests. A famously neat and tidy area, this place lends credence to the legend of a Scotland that is just so, with everything in its right place. This neatness also contributes to Royal Salute in a direct fashion, which is very well put together indeed. Whisky writers Susie Pryor and Andrew Martin describe the distilleries of Speyside as compelling and reassuring and that is precisely what Royal Salute is.

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The quaich, which holds the scotch throughout this series of pictures, is a traditional Scottish vessel for enjoying whisky

Distinguished Maturity

The prestige factor also cannot be ignored here. It is worth remembering that every whisky in this blend is at least 21 years old and, by the estimate of whisky writer David Rager, in fact between 22 and 40 years old. While we shall not be tempted to enter into a debate about the virtues of age in terms of spirits, it is generally thought that the more conditioned the whisky is (that is to say how much time it has been nurtured in a cask) the finer it is. It is certainly more complicated than this but in so far as Royal Salute goes, the age provides the velvet in Scott’s statement. Here you have both the smell and taste of success.

Now prestige is important in the world of spirits, especially with whiskies such as Royal Salute. From the presentation flagon to the actual velvet bag that sort of caresses and protects it, it is about showmanship. Crafted by reputable ceramics house Wade, the porcelain flagon that has held the precious fluid of Royal Salute from the very beginning is indeed remarkable in the world of whisky, and even whiskey.

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Royal Salute 21 Year Old is available in three different colors: blue (as above), green and red

It is of course unfortunate that porcelain lacks the transparent beauty of glass and its utility but this material choice does mean that Royal Salute can come in a variety of different colors. Ours, for example, is blue or sapphire, as I prefer to address it. We must note that it has been reported that the bottle does not seal as well as a typical glass bottle. Our own test with this particular bottle does not show such a weakness but the comment should be noted nonetheless. It might be that newly introduced production techniques at Wade have resolved previous issues with the seal or rather how the cork seals off the flagon.

Whatever the case may be, once open Royal Salute should be appreciated properly and promptly; whisky does not age in the bottle and in fact may lose some distinctiveness in terms of flavor if there is too much air in the vessel, whatever the material the vessel is made of.

This brings us finally to the question of what occasion best works for this whisky. Royal Salute works well as a gift, given its presentation value. It is also a fine spirit for casual whisky drinkers. Remember that this is a blended scotch so malt whisky purists are not the intended audience.

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Here you can clearly see the elements of Royal Salute 21 Year Old, including the flagon, the scotch itself in the quaich, the velvet bag and the cardbox box

Royal Salute

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