...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Taste Off!!! Chivas Regal 12yr versus Johnnie Walker Black Label


It's a head-to-head between two heavyweights.

In one corner, wearing the gold & red label, owned by Pernod Ricard stands
Chivas Regal 12 years old
Brand: Chivas Regal
Ownership: Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Bros. Ltd.)
Distilleries: include the 12 owned by Pernod (especially Strathisla)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

Chivas Regal is currently owned by Pernod Ricard -- Diageo's biggest nemesis (or second biggest, after me) -- and is the fifth best-selling Scotch blend in the world.  This 12yr is the top selling Scotch blend in its age category in Europe and Asia.

The Chivas bros, James and John, were grocers who obtained the Royal Warrant to supply food and goods to Queen Victoria's homes in the 1840s.  Once blended whiskies became legal via license, the Chivas Brothers firm created a smooth blend for their wealthy customer base.

In the early 1900s they created one of the first ultra luxury blends, the Chivas Regal 25 year old, for US export.  It was enormously successful until Prohibition silenced alcohol sales.

After Seagrams purchased the brand in 1949, the 12 year old blend was released to more acclaim.  It became the Rat Pack's Scotch of choice.

Today Chivas Regal's range includes the 12, 18, and 25 year old blends.  The Chivas home and the "Ultimate Chivas Experience" can be found at the Strathisla Distillery's visitor center.

My previous experience with Chivas?  None, actually.  Time to fix that.

In the other corner, representing Diageo, wearing the black and gold label stands
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Ownership: Diageo
Distilleries: 40 of 'em, including Caol Ila and Talisker
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

On the other hand, I have a long complicated history with Black Label.  A real love-hate thing.  But most recently, it's been love.  I posted a very positive report on it in November, please give it a read for the full scoop.  I've mostly brought the Black Label in as a comparative device, a sounding board for the Chivas.  Can the Chivas compete?

Let's Taste Off!


Chivas Regal 12yr (CR12) - Pale gold
Johnny Walker Black Label (JWBL) - Considerably darker

CR12 - Vanilla, herbal, spritely, cocoa, and a hint of bourbon
JWBL - A touch of peat, some grain whisky, sherry, much oakier but pleasant

CR12 - Tastes younger than 12 years, a little crazier and messier; salty, some vanilla, under-ripe fruit
JWBL - Vanilla, sherry, bourbon, light peat smoke, Nillas, malty, very silky

CR12 - Drying, sweet, calms down from the palate
JWBL - Moderate, peat first, then fruity sweetness and vanilla


CR12 - Similar to neat, a bit more grains and bourbon, dusty, vanilla
JWBL - Like the CR12 the grains and bourbon come out to play, vanilla, a whisper of basil

CR12 - Woody, sweet at the start, vanilla, but very quiet
JWBL - Malty, vanilla, grass and hay, mellowed but lovely

CR12 - Not much, very drying, some vanilla
JWBL - Keeps the moderate length, BIG vanilla


I was very impressed with how the Chivas held up.  My experience with Scotch blends this month hasn't been that positive.  I've found them pretty mundane for the most part.  The only two new ones I've enjoyed are Famous Grouse and......Chivas Regal 12yr.

On the neat serving, Chivas has a lovely nose.  Its palate is so-so, but it smells delicious.  Black Label holds much more complexity in the palate and finish, but the Chivas can compete nose-wise.

Chivas doesn't swim very well, its palate and finish mostly dropping away.  Meanwhile Black Label can be lovely with a couple drops of water.

So, I recommend Chivas neat.  It's a great starter whisky since it's smooth, mild, and noses very well.  For some more rough-housing, go Black.


Johnnie Walker Black Label's pricing/rating won't change from its own report, but I'll list it here for official purposes:

Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - Bargain! at $25, Acceptable at $35
Rating - 88

Here's the call on Chivas Regal 12yr:

Availability - Wide
Pricing - Great at $20-$23
Rating - 80 (but only when served neat)

(NOTE: Please see my updated Chivas 12yo vs. JW Black 12yo Taste Off completed in 2016, if you're dying to find out how the current stuff rates!)


  1. From what I've read, the original Chivas Regal 12 had an extremely high malt content. The blend was 60% single malts, 40% grain whisky. Then the '60s came and the American generation succeeding the Don Draper generation began to drink lighter blends so the percentages were flipped.

    1. I wonder if they drank lighter blends by choice or were lighter blends foisted upon them by blenders who wanted to charge the same price for cheaper whisky?

      On a side note: there were a number of Pernod Ricard whiskies showing up in Mad Men season 5, including Jameson, Crown Royal, and Chivas.

    2. According to Pacult's book on Chivas, people (specifically Americans) were switching to lighter spirits like white rum and vodka during this time. So Chivas Regal was reformulated to increase the grain whisky.

      Which just goes to show how tastes change and explain why Diageo and others are taking advantage of the current boom.

    3. Perhaps they were switching to lighter spirits since they were drinking a lot of them straight or on the rocks or as shots? Or maybe we lost our taste buds for a generation? :)

    4. We probably did lose our tastebuds for a generation. It's pretty apparent vodka sales went up after the Don Draper generation hence the whisky crash and glut years of the late '70s and early '80s.

      Give Chivas 18 a try in the future. I find it a step up on Chivas 12 and a good competitor to the old JW Gold Label.

    5. I have been tempted by the Chivas 18, especially when a local Costco had it for $37! But I walked away from it. Luckily the price on it still remains low around here, though no $37-low.

  2. I have recently come to own a bottle if chivas regal 12 year from 1949. Any idea what its woth or still drinkable? Thanks!

    1. Hi Joe. I'm not sure what's it's worth. You can check with the LA Whisk(e)y Society guys. Here's a link: http://www.lawhiskeysociety.com/pages/information-rare-old-whiskey-value . 1949 is actually meaningful for Chivas since that was the year Seagrams bought it from the Chivas family. So I whether the Chivases or Seagrams bottled your bottle.

      On the other hand this it might be some good stuff. Blends from sixty-five years ago were maltier (percentage-wise), peatier (for the most part), and richer (due to different practices with sherry casks) than their modern day counterparts. My 1970s Black Label is a completely different whisky than today's version. With these oldies, much depends on how it was stored and how much oxygen leaked in.

    2. Just want to add a small correction. The Chivas Brothers were long deceased by 1949 and their successors (IIRC a loyal clerk/assistant inherited the business) kept the name partly because Chivas was the name on the Royal Warrant and partly to honor the founders. And the Royal Warrant was also why Seagrams bought them in 1949. Sam Bronfman really wanted a knighthood but had to settle for a Royal Warrant that was awarded to someone else.

    3. Hell, if they were alive in 1949 they would have been in their 140s. I don't think any of the brothers were alive when the 25yo was made. I'd imagine that the Chivas name was also kept because customers knew "Chivas", early brand familiarity. Meanwhile, Sam Bronfman was an interesting fellow. There was a fictionalized biography by Mordechai Richler called "Solomon Gursky Was Here". My dad read it decades ago, I don't know much else about it.

    4. Ha! I meant to say Chivas Family but the unintended idea of the Chivas Brothers refusing to die just made me laugh.

      Sam Bronfman is easily the most interesting figure of 20th Century spirits history. I don't consider him a bootlegger since he owned legitimate distilleries that took advantage of Prohibition. And if Seagrams didn't make so many business mistakes, they might have Diageo's position today.

  3. Hi ,
    I am a doc.I would say Chivas is much better in many aspects.Its smooth, post effects like hangover and gastritis are meager compared to black.Moreover its very smooth and sweet.cheers!

  4. Black labels definitely better but also pricier.

  5. No contest! It's gotta be Black.

  6. Chivas is smooth and has no post effects like hangover compared black... I definately would go for chivas.

  7. It's smooth & never hangover definatly tastewise very excilent