Johnnie Walker is one of the best-selling whiskies in the world. Well over ten million cases are shipped to every corner of the planet every single year, making it almost synonymous with the word “whisky” in many nations. Chivas Regal is right up there with JW when it comes to sales. Millions and millions of cases go out worldwide year after year. But sales don’t inform flavor. So I’m conducting a blind taste for the ages and pitting four classic Johnnie Walker expressions against four classic Chivas Regal expressions.
The real thrust of this blind tasting is to see which blended Scotch whisky reigns supreme in a one-on-one showdown. I didn’t put in any crazy ringers from their limited-edition releases or ridiculously old expression. These are all bottles you should be able to find at any decent liquor store nationwide. Moreover, this is about the taste. Which one actually tastes better? Does the mild peat of Johnnie Walker drag it down or help it excel? Does Chivas Regal’s fruitiness overwhelm or shine? Let’s find out.
Our lineup today is:
- Johnnie Walker Double Black
- Chivas Regal Mizunara
- Chivas Regal 12
- Johnnie Walker Blue
- Johnnie Walker 18
- Chivas Regal 13 Extra
- Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
- Chivas Regal 18 Gold Signature
Before we dive in, I want to make it clear that I taste/drink far more Johnnie Walker than Chivas Regal. Therefore, my personal palate is going to be slightly more tuned toward the subtle smokiness of that brand. That said, I can be objective in what I’m tasting as being well-made, tasty, and approachable, and that’s how I’m going about this tasting. Let’s get into it!
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Part 1: The Tasting
This opens with a nice and fruity nose full of smoked apricot and dark cherry next to a hint of raw oatmeal cookie dough. The palate has a nice layer of vanilla that leans creamy with tart apple chips, smoked cherry, and a hint of date. The end focuses on the smoked aspect of the cherry as a thin line of “oak” leads to a smoky parlor full of old leather chairs.
This is definitely a Walker. It’s a little rougher around the edges though.
Caramel and dark dried fruits mingle with tasty pears, soft orange zest, a touch of leather, and maybe some old oak staves on the nose. The palate has a dash or two of winter spice next to walnuts and honey-soaked raisins. The finish lets the spiciness warm the palate as pear and leather fade through the end.
This was “very good” according to my tasting notes. It didn’t stick with me though. I kind of forgot about it by the bottom of the next dram.
This feels like a classic blended Scotch whisky from the jump with a nose full of floral honey, caramel, banana bread, and winter spice. The palate leans into the creamier side of vanilla with a lush mid-palate full of black pepper, nuts, and dried dark fruits. The end calms down considerably with only whispers of that creamy vanilla, winter spice, and malt fading out pretty quickly.
This was great on the front end but kind of faded to nothing on the back end. That’s not a bad thing if you’re building a cocktail, but didn’t quite grab my attention on this panel of pours.
The nose on this one feels like silk with soft malts, dried plums, good marzipan, old boot leather, mulled wine spices, and a whisper of fireplace smoke. The taste layers orange oils into the marzipan as rose-water-infused honey leads to a line of bitter dark chocolate that’s touched with smoked malts and nuts. The end has an even keel of velvet mouthfeel next to floral honey, soft smoldering smoke from a fireplace, and old dried fruit.
This is a winner. It’s so lush and almost relaxing. It’s definitely the pour to beat as of now.
This is nice. Apple chips and toffee mingle with ripe berries, old leather, and supple malts with a hint of dark brown spice. The palate is a mix of salted caramel next to marzipan and vanilla pudding with a touch of canned tangerine. The end is sweet with a line of dark chocolate cut with dried chili flakes with an ever so slight smoked edge.
This is just nice. I’m not sure will it’ll end up, but I’m betting it ends up high.
The nose opens with a nice mix of vanilla, caramel, and fresh pear with a thin line of dried apricot and maybe some old vanilla pods. The palate stews those pears in very sweet syrup while the malts lean into sharp cinnamon with a hint of roasted almond and maybe even some toasted coconut. The end amps up the pear vibes as vanilla and cinnamon combine on a pretty short end.
The was a little too short and sweet for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice but not my cup of tea.
The nose balances old leather gloves and honeyed oats with meaty sultanas, cinnamon-spiced malts, a hint of anise, and an echo of grilled fruit. The palate leans into the grilled fruit with a smoky underbelly and a savory edge (almost papaya) next to a lush vanilla cream and a sharp clove/allspice vibe. The finish combines the dried fruit and honey with a twinge of florals as a whisper of earthy peat sneaks in late, kind of like a dry moss slowly growing on a tree.
This is another that’s up there. It’s distinct and tasty.
This just feels classic from the first nose onward. There are clear layers of very fancy dark chocolate that’s equal parts creamy and bitter next to dried red berries with a tart edge, buttery toffee, and a hint of dried roses wrapped in old leather. The palate marries the dried roses with the dark chocolate with a hint of smoked cherry and raspberry sneaking next to a touch of old vanilla husks and maybe some dried cedar. The end slowly fades through those florals and chocolate toward a sweet smoked note of tart fruit.
I think this might have won. It’s delicious.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Chivas Regal 13 Extra — Taste 6
Average Price: $35
This expression from Chivas is all about the single barrel aging. The malted juice goes into Oloroso sherry casks for 13 long years. Once those barrels hit the right flavor profile, they’re batched, proofed, and bottled.
I wrote “nice” in my notes. Generally, that means “yeah, this is fine, moving on.” Look, this is perfectly tasty but not engaging. I can see using this in highballs all day but I’m not standing in line to get another bottle.
7. Chivas Regal 12 — Taste 3
Average Price: $29
Chivas Regal is one of the biggest whiskies in the world, but that’s mostly outside of the U.S. The juice is a classic blend that is specifically built to be in a glass filled with rocks and maybe a splash of water.
This just sort of died in the end. Which is expected for a cheap 80-proof whisky. I’d pretty much keep this around for whisky highballs, which is damn near the entire point of this expression anyway.
6. Johnnie Walker Double Black — Taste 1
Average Price: $45
This is basically Johnnie Black, a slightly peaty blend, that’s been casked again in deeply charred oak. The idea is to maximize that peat and amp up the Islay and Island smokiness of the final dram.
This feels right at sixth. It’s not outstanding but it’s perfectly good for its price point. I’d probably primarily use this in a cocktail since it has a solid base of flavor notes. But I could see pouring this over some rocks and going about my day.
5. Chivas Regal Mizunara — Taste 2
Average Price: $40
Chivas is renowned for its iconic blended whisky. This expression — originally created for the Japanese market and released in the U.S. in 2019 — adds a unique dimension to the classic blend. A portion of the whisky is finished in Japanese Mizunara casks, adding a layer of nuanced flavors to the standard Chivas.
Again, this was perfectly fine. It didn’t jump out at me today, but it was good. I’m still in the “use this for a cocktail” range of this ranking though.
4. Johnnie Walker 18 — Taste 5
Average Price: $94
This blend used to be called Johnnie Walker Platinum, which was also aged for 18 years. You might still see some of those bottles on shelves where scotch sells slowly. This is the same juice, which is comprised of 18 whiskies all of which are a minimum of 18 years old. The primary distilleries in the bottle are Blair Athol, Cardhu, Glen Elgin, and Auchroisk.
I also expected this to land a little higher. I really like this expression in general. Today, it was perfectly good but not “oh my, what’s the wonderful thing in my hand”-good.
3. Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve — Taste 7
Average Price: $88
This no-age-statement blend leans into that signature Walker marriage of Highland and Speyside whiskies with a small dose of Western Scottish juice for good measure. The lion’s share of the whisky involved in this gilded bottle is Clynelish, a Highland whisky that adds a modicum of peat to the mix.
This was subtle and very engaging. The only reason it’s a little lower is that it was a little too subtle today. Had there been a “wow” moment on the palate, it would have been a top-two whisky for sure.
2. Johnnie Walker Blue — Taste 4
Average Price: $240
This is the mountaintop of Johnnie Walker’s whiskies. The blend is a marriage of ultra-rare stock from extinct Diageo distilleries around Scotland. That’s just … cool. This expression is all about barrel selection and the mastery of a great noser and blender working together to create something special.
I would have put good money on this hitting number one. It just didn’t have quite the verve of the next entry to really stand out today. That said, it was a goddamn delicious pour all around.
1. Chivas Regal 18 Gold Signature — Taste 8
Average Price: $79
Chivas 18 is the brand’s signature higher-end blend. The juice is built around a specially made Strathisla 18 single malt. That juice is supported by 20 other single malts from around Scotland with various casking processes.
This was a surprise. This juice just exploded from the glass with nuance and depth while still feeling comfortable and inviting. This was the pour I actually wanted to go back to immediately after the tasting for another go-around.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I’m pretty surprised Chivas won the day over Johnnie. I guess that means I need to reach for my Chivas 18 a bit more often than I do since I really liked that flavor profile today.
Overall, Johnnie Walker is so subtly peated that it really did stand up well against the softer and fruiter Chivas. But I also see why Chivas is so beloved over Johnnie Walker and vice versa. They both have clear merits and appeal to a certain subset of scotch lovers. If you’re overly sensitive to peat, Johnnie just isn’t going to work for you. If you’re not into the sweet honeyed fruit, then Chivas isn’t going to be your jam.
Side by side, there were a lot of parallels though. Those dried fruits, spiced malts, old leather, honey, nuts, etc. I think you’d be in a good position to try both numbers one and two on this list and see where your palate lands on them.
Data shared by The Spirits Business shows that Johnnie Walker remains the most popular Scotch whisky label, with more than double the number of cases sold in 2020 compared to Ballantine's, its closest competitor. Grant's, William Lawson's, and Chivas Regal rank third, fourth, and fifth place, respectively.What is the rating of Chivas Regal whisky? ›
The Chivas brand starts around 1857, but stretches back even further to 1801, when the grocery store the bothers would come to acquire, was initially started by John Forrest. The store was sold to William Edwards, with James Chivas joining Edwards in 1838.
Chivas Regal tends to have a more complex range of flavours and aromas, thanks to its combination of malt and grain whiskies. Glenfiddich offers a sweeter taste profile but Chivas brings herbal sweetness as well as smoky notes. Ultimately, the choice between these two comes down to personal preference.What is special about Chivas Regal? ›
Originally established in 1786, it's the oldest working distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Strathisla single malt whisky flows through every bottle of Chivas Regal – it's our signature smooth flavour.