...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!)