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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Taste Off Reboot! Chivas Regal 12 year old (2015) versus Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 year old (2015)

As you read this right now, I am driving across the country, going as far as I can from my old home in Long Beach.  The destination is a one month respite in Upstate New York, with a 9 day Scottish excursion hidden within that month, and then an arrival in my new home of Columbus, Ohio.  And so, in honor of Los Angeles County and the film industry which I have left behind, I am doing something that I have already done before.  It worked so well the first time that I definitely had to do it again.

Welcome to The Johnnie Walker Black Label versus Chivas Regal 12yo Taste Off!!!  49 months ago, I posted a Johnnie Walker Black Label versus Chivas Regal 12yo Taste Off and it became my most popular review ever.  I'm not saying it's my best, I'm saying it's my most viewed, thus my development executives say I need to reboot it.  To my long time readers, I'm sorry, I know I promised never to review Johnnie Walker Black again, but I need to bury some ghosts, if ghosts can be buried.  Perhaps they can be buried in the commas I've used in this paragraph.,

I come to this Taste Off with mixed feelings.  Over the past couple years I've had a number of disappointing bar pours of Chivas and Black Label.  And, with so many of Pernod's and Diageo's brands going NAS, I've been wondering if more 12 year old malt whisky is going into these two blends than in all of the 12 year old single malt scotch bottlings put together.  Maybe I should just try these blends, then comment.

Note: Both of these whiskies were bottled November 2015.

Brand: Chivas Regal
Ownership: Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Bros. Ltd.)
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling: November 23, 2015
(200mL purchased at a local liquor store)


Brand: Johnnie Walker
Ownership: Diageo
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: minimum 12 years
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottling: November 4, 2015
(200mL purchased at a local liquor store)


Chivas 12yo
Its color is a somewhat subdued medium gold.  The nose starts with vanilla and caramel, never shaking those off.  Smaller notes of orange and lemon and apple peels, salty corn chips, mint candy, and coconut appear in the mid- to background.  Caramel and brown sugar lead the palate.  Some tangy orange meets sea salt, cassia cinnamon, and spearmint leaves.  But WOW mostly caramel.  It finishes on cinnamon, sugar, mint, caramel, and......vodka.

JWBL 12yo
Its color is DiageoDoublePlusOrangeGold™.  The nose starts off with the caramel too, adding in overoaked buttery chardonnay.  But then that's met with mild pepper and smoke, roasted almonds, hint of flower blossoms, and a slight raisiny cheap cream sherry thing.  Toffee and nondescript underripe citrus lead off the palate.  The mash-up of the supposed 43 different single malts leaves a bit of a Brown character, like a mush-up of 43 different colors.  There's a slight spicy zing and Sugar Daddies.  The "smoke" note isn't really smoke, rather a combination of mild earthiness, cracked pepper, and road dust.  Its mouthfeel is thinner than that of the Chivas.  It finishes with vanilla, the aforementioned "smoke" (quotes included) note.  Caramel, a mild bitterness, and more vanilla.


Chivas 12yo
The nose leads with orange Smarties and Pixy Stix.  Then caramel and vanilla.  Then celery and parsley.  The palate has somehow picked up more raw heat.  There's caramel, lots of sugar, and a weird bitter note that's neither woody nor herbal.  It finishes identically to the palate.

JWBL 12yo
Much louder raisins on the nose.  A hint of hot tar and moss.  More of that buttery chardonnay thing.  The palate moves closer to the neat version of Chivas.  Very sweet with caramel, mellow sherry, and a woody bitterness.  In the finish there's sherry, caramel, butter, a bleh sweetness, and a dingy smoky aftertaste.


Black Label wins again, though both of their scores are much lower than last time.  I'll do some pros and cons here...

Chivas Pros: It's much better when served neatly.  It has a respectable mouthfeel considering how much it has been filtered and watered down.  The neat palate doesn't completely suck.  Likely has less added colorant than Black Label.
JWBL Pros: Every element has more complexity than the Chivas, making for a more engaging drink.  It too is better when neat.  Holds up better on the rocks.

Chivas Cons: There can't be more than 20% malt content in this thing.  It's almost grain whisky.  It finishes poorly.  It sucks with water.  It vanishes on the rocks (maybe not totally a bad thing in some cases, which in turn is a bad thing).
JWBL Cons: Though its more complex than the Chivas, that's not saying much.  The finish is uninspiring and the palate is only one step above that.  Don't add water.

Overall Pros: I didn't buy 750mL bottles of either of these.  The Black Label was better than the recent bar pours I've had of it.
Overall Cons: I'm probably done with Chivas Regal 12.  Though these were 200mL, I had little interest in going past the 120mL mark of either of these.

I feel somewhat better now, since I doubt that much 12 year old malt whisky actually goes into either of these.  As I referenced above, you could have told me the Chivas was all grain and I would've believed it.  Black Label probably has more malt in it......or it is just some Caol Ila and Talisker livening it up a bit more than the Glenallachie and Tormore do for the Chivas?  I feel like I should be bummed about how far the Black Label's quality has fallen, but I don't.  Keep up the great work, Diageo!

I'm having a sip of Glenfiddich 12yo right now and it beats the pants off of both of these whiskies.  If 'Fiddich 12 is only $5-$10 more than the Chivas and Black Label in your market, it's worth paying up for it (or, even better, Tomatin 12).  Hell, Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig 12yo, and Old Grand Dad 114 bourbons are about the same price as Chivas and JWBL and they are so much more fun than either scotch.  Just something to consider...

Chivas Regal 12 year old (2015)
Availability - Wherever scotch is sold

Pricing - $20-$40(!)
Rating - 74

Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 year old (2015)
Availability - Like Trump's face on CNN, it's everywhere

Pricing - $25-$45(!)
Rating - 79