The Blend of Kings: Chivas Regal 18 Year Gold Signature or Johnnie Walker Blue Label?
For the holidays, Pernod Ricard is suggesting their Chivas Regal 18 year old Gold Signature blended Scotch as an alternative to the globally known and respected, but exorbitantly expensive, Johnnie Walker Blue Label (with no age statement). It’s our job, along with other media outlets around the internet, to make the comparison for you. Our main evaluation concerns the whisky itself, but since the much lower-priced Chivas 18 is presumably intended to compete with the prestige of the Blue Label, we really have to think about the entire package and what it signifies.
The Incumbent: Johnnie Walker Blue Label (NAS)*
Color: Slightly coppery gold.
Legs: Nice – medium-sized beads, kind of slow; viscous.
[DodgyDrammer]: Pungent; sour berries, dried cherries, forest pine, and there’s some peppery smoke in there, too.
[StrongLikeCask]: A little vanilla, but without any overnotes. Nothing very strong, a little sherry.
[WhiskyParty]: Vanilla. Citrus fruits. Some creamy toffee notes and maybe a touch of oak influence.
[DodgyDrammer]: Rich and evocative; a stew of fruits, spices, and sweets, with just the faintest hint of salt and pepper.
[StrongLikeCask]: Not a sharp front like the chivas (see below). Gentle and growing. Slightly sweet, with some pepper.
[WhiskyParty]: Some spice. Smoke on the end. Distinctive in that no real flavors dominate.
[DodgyDrammer]: Not too heavy, a touch oily, but medium overall.
[DodgyDrammer]: Kind of long, with a sweet and slightly smokey fade.
[StrongLikeCask]: A good finish. A sharp smoke, with more pepper. Fades about half way out.
[WhiskyParty]: Decently long finish becoming more malty than anything else.
[DodgyDrammer]: The flavour is at once big and tamed – there’s no missing it, but its not quite so well articulated for me. Loved the nose, enjoyed the rest. Inoffensive, and there certainly is something luxurious about it, but its hard to say what that is exactly.
[StrongLikeCask]: A decent whisky, but nothing remarkable, and nothing near worth the price asked for. I think JW Black Label (12 year old) is a better value.
[WhiskyParty]: This is a whisky that has been “balanced” to death. Rather than create complexity, all the flavors cancel each other out into a smooth blandness. Rumor has it that Blue Label is created using a lot of really old single malts (eg, Ancient Royal Lochnagar). If that is true, it’s a huge waste.
Price (750 ml): ca. $150-200 in the US.
Worth it? If you want to spend 200 bucks, and either you are giving a gift to someone with whom you are not very familiar, or your aim is to have that bottle to impress visitors, this is for you. The prestige is a known quantity when it comes to Blue Label, and there’s just enough going on that both seasoned whisky drinkers and all-around hoighty-toighty types will appreciate it if you pour them a dram. The packaging, which won’t matter much once you open the damn thing, is quite impressive, with a pillowy, silky box interior.
If you are trying to buildup your whisky bar, if you are giving a gift to someone who actually drinks Scotch, or if you are hosting that whisky-fueled holiday party, you can acquire any number of truly excellent single malts (or blends) for much less than $100. And then, for $150-200 there are myriad other options that will blow you/gift recipients/party guests completely away (unlike the Blue Label).
The Challenger: Chivas Regal 18 year old*
Color: Full amber.
Legs: Okay; medium length, largish beads.
[DodgyDrammer]: A pleasant balance of fruit and malt, heavier on the fruit; a box of clementines, some peach cobbler, candied apples, some dried fruits, a hint of something fresh like mint, some white chocolate, and some hay; a lot going on underneath the fruit, but quietly - an abundance of subtlety.
[StrongLikeCask]: Dried fruit. Citrus. A little cloying sweetness.
[WhiskyParty]: Red berries. Sharp, but pleasantly sweet.
[DD]:Rich and creamy at first, but quickly becomingdry and malty, followed by just a touch of smokeyness; cocoa powder and little chocolate candies that turn from dark chocolate toward rasberry-filled, then mocha, and finally toffee as you make your way through the box.
[SLC]: Candied cherries. A very sharp front end. A litte bit like licking cardboard. But, aside from the sharp front end and the sweetness, nothing stands out too much.
[WP]: Mild spices. Only a hint of the fruitiness evident on the nose.
[DD]: Creamy then drying, and a touch prickly; medium-bodied.
[DD]: The toffee fades into a touch of smoke in a smooth and subtle, medium-length exit; satisfying.
[SLC]: Sticky. Lasting, which is nice. But nothing remarkable.
[WP]: Medium to short with the fruitiness and spice fading to a maltiness.
[DD]: An enjoyable and classy dram; chocolate seems to be the prevailing flavour, but not in a dominating way. Everything is in balanced quantities, although I didn’t find quite as much sherry influence as I expected on the palette, considering that Strathisla is purported to be one of the main components (along with Longmorn). For a “premium blend,” this is a good dram at a fair price. For a single malt fanatic, this is a nice experience, but without the overwhelming character of some whiskies.
[SLC]: The actual after-effect when the finish has died away is that I just finished sucking a sweet candy, and I’m happy that I did, but it’s still coating my mouth and I might not want that for much longer. Like with Johnnie Walker, I actually like the 12 year expression better.
[WP]: A nicely drinkable dram, with more character than the Blue Label. It’s the kind of dram that everyone will enjoy at a party or (expensive) wedding bar, but not necessarily something that single malt enthusiasts will seek out.
Price (750 ml): ca. $55 in the US.
Worth it? Chivas, like Johnnie Walker, has the name recognition that rings out no matter what country you live in or what winter holiday you celebrate (and those great new TV spots don’t hurt). Certainly the Chivas Regal 18 year old will impress just about anyone on name alone, and its an affordable alternative to a No Age Statement wallet-buster like Johnnie Blue. As great as the nose was (for some of us) on the Blue Label, the Chivas nose (for some of us) actually intrigues more. While the mouthfeel is perhaps more enjoyable on the JW, the flavours here are generally more well-defined. The packaging is classic Chivas: classy but not overtly opulent like the JW Blue.
I think all three of us agree that as single-malt fanatics, this doesn’t intrigue. Its still pretty tasty, and just rich enough to compare well with the much, much more expensive Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Great single malt 18 years such as Highland Park, Macallan, and Laphroaig are going to cost much more, although the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich 18 years will be more competitive with similarly-aged blended expressions.
Like the Blue Label, if you want to impress that business relation, a not-quite-connoisseur father-in-law, or dozens of party guests, but (unlike purchasers of the Blue Label) you aren’t made of disposable cash this winter (who is?), Chivas 18 is a sensible yet impressive purchase.
Head-to-head: It’s close, and while the Blue Label wins out in a few categories (legs, body, finish), the overall experience of the Chivas 18 and its price point makes it the winner by a slight margin. But as stated, it really depends on what kind of purchase you are trying to make. JW Blue Label might be the rich man’s luxury, but Chivas 18 could very well be the luxury of the everyman.