CHALLENGE: Chivias 18 is stepping up to the long-time king of the blended scotch heap Johnnie Walker Blue. They’re so sure they can best JWB that they sent me a bottle of it along with Chivas 18, daring me to pit them against each other. That’s some swagger, especially considering that Chivas 18 retails at somewhere around $55, while Johnnie Blue starts around $150 and goes up from there (as high as $250 in some places). Hell, I once saw it by the glass in a fancy restaurant (jealous?) for $47 ($47!!). But get this, Chivas 18 isn’t even their top-tier scotch, they also make a 25! The balls on these Chivas guys (and ladies)! So what was I going to do, not drink their free high-end scotch? Biiiiiiiitch pleeeaazze. Let’s get it on!
Round One: Nose
Chivas 18: Picking up some chocolate and caramel. I don’t know how this is possible, but it smells smooth. Before I have even tasted it, I can tell it’s going to go down easy. I get a little bit of a woody scent as well, but not much.
Johnnie Walker Blue: Smells very sweet, lots of honey and some vanilla, with a bit of dried fruit. I highly doubt that it’s going to taste this sweet, but it’s a pleasant nose.
Round Two: Palate
Chivas 18: Warm toffee and honey, with just a little bit of smoke/peat. It would be easy to go for a big peaty blend to try and seem more complex, much like some craft beer brewers who go overboard with hops and mistake big hop flavor for a fully realized product. By limiting the smokey flavors to the background, Chivas gives the other flavors a chance to be noticed and gives it a greater overall complexity. And man, the finish on this thing is unreal. It just keeps going and going and going. I like this a lot.
Johnnie Walker Blue: What? Are you sure this is a scotch that sells for over a hundred dollars? This is so…BORING. There’s a decent amount of peat (though nothing like a Lagavulin or Laphroaig), some sandlewood, and that’s about it. It’s almost structured more like a single malt, but I can tell you at least a dozen single malts (that cost a fraction of the price) that I’d rather drink before this. I’ve had every other color label of Johnnie Walker (red, black, green and even the elusive gold*) and with the exception of the black, I’d rather drink any of them over the blue. Maybe it’s because of the hype that I’m so disappointed, but this just isn’t a $150 scotch. Just to be fair, I went back a day after I first tried it and gave it another shot, drank it both straight and with a touch of filtered water…still unimpressed.
Look, I’m no Dr. Scotch over here, but I’ve been to enough formal tastings and Lord knows I’ve drank enough to fairly judge a scotch. While Johnnie Walker Blue is a fine scotch, it’s not worth the price and pales in comparison to the Chivas 18, which is a far more complex and interesting scotch.
Winner: Chivas 18
*Though I’m still working on the purple