Chivas Regal (12 year) Blended Scotch

Awhile back (May 19, 2011) I tasted a 50ml sample bottle (plastic) of Chivas Regal (12 year-old) blended scotch. I hated it. After a few conversations I’ve come to realize that one cannot rely upon plastic miniature (or even glass, sometimes) bottles to deliver a representation of the actual product. Whisky companies either need to bottle these more carefully, or find an alternative way to distribute samples. Some people make brand loyalty decisions based on these things.

Anyway, I had an opportunity to sample the same whisky from a full bottle this holiday season. It’s not as bad as I originally made out. Below find my new tasting notes, and, for the sake of completeness, my original article:

Nose: White chocolate and golden raisins. A small amount of berry jam and a great deal of unadorned cereal grain. The nose is quite muted, and the prickle very mild. I wouldn’t call it elegant, but I would call it light. A dash of water brings out more grain, provoking a vodka-like dryness that I’m not fond of. I originally identified it as ‘sharp alcohol fumes’.

Palate: Vanilla. Custard and sugar cookies. Very mild fruit – dried cherries? And some nuttiness… hazelnut and a hint of milk chocolate. Somewhat thin body, but eminently smooth. A bit of water creates a honeyed note.

Finish: Medium-long. Bit of a woody twist, with some bitterness showing through. Nut skins. Malty while fading, and golden raisins.

Overall: It’s a very mild, very inoffensive blend with middle-of-the-road flavors. It’s quite smooth, if that’s all you’re looking for, and the price is right… sub $25 or so. Great King Street: Artist’s Blend is “better” in that its grain is better-integrated, its body is heftier, and it has more than just standard scotch flavor. It’s also $20 more per bottle. On the other hand, Johnnie Walker built its empire on “standard scotch flavor,” so it’s not my right to dismiss it. If you want something you don’t have to pay attention to for less than $30, you can’t go too wrong with Chivas 12, but I urge regular Chivas drinkers to expand their horizons with an occasional bottle of sub-$40 single malt.

I’m leaving the “Not Recommended” mark, partially because the miniature was truly unappetizing, but also because I feel that there are better alternative for the money. Teacher’s, Johnnie Walker Black, and Glenlivet 12 all have something extra for the same money, and Great King Street Artist’s Blend is simply better all-around for an extra chunk of change.

[Original article, posted May 19, 2011, follows]
As another attempt to verify claims that blended Scotches can be a quaffable alternative to inexpensive single malts, I picked up a 50 ml miniature of Chivas Regal’s 12-year-old blended Scotch. Chivas Brothers, now owned by Pernod Ricard, is a big name in Scotch and the company has been selling blends since 1801. This particular bottle is widely available and is almost iconic. Caveat: I’ve been having bad luck with 50 ml miniatures lately, and it’s possible that my experiences below are not representative of the true product. That said, miniatures are a form of marketing, and my experience with this one dissuaded me from buying a full bottle. I intend to try a dram from a full bottle at my next opportunity, and I’ll update this post at that time.

Nose: Sharp with alcohol fumes but little else – maybe some apricot and young white wine. A dash of water does nothing to improve it.

Palate: Smooth, but with a twinge of overdryness. Right before the sweet malt sets in midpalate, there is a heavy dose of wet cigarette ash. I want to like it, so I keep tasting and get a few notes of that apricot and a little fresh hay and something briny, like dried seaweed. A little water only accentuates the cigarette ash and adds an unappealing second-hand tobacco smoke note.

Finish has a layer of butter and caramel, but that ash comes back. Warming and medium-long, with a bubbling up of malty sweetness at the tail end.

Overall: Yes, this is Scotch, but it tastes like it’s been watered down with paint thinner and peated malt feints. There is no earthiness from whatever peated malt was used, and the sweetness vanishes too quickly, leaving you with a mouthful of bottom-shelf stuff. I feel unsatisfied, like it offered me something of substance and then pulled a bait-and-switch. I now want a glass of something better. This has done nothing to elevate my opinion of blended Scotches.

Chivas Regal (12 year) Blended Scotch
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $25-$35
Acquired: (glass from a friend's bottle. Thanks Craig!)

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23 thoughts on “Chivas Regal (12 year) Blended Scotch

  1. As far as great blends, I agree that there are few and far between. My favorite widely available blend/vatted malt (within a reasonable price point) is the Glenlivet 18, while the Chivas 18 is a notch or two below it. Compass Box has some interesting stuff as well. Johnnie Walker Blue is ok, but doesn’t even come close to justifying its price.

  2. James, I actually liked Teacher’s very much, considering its price, and Famous Grouse wasn’t bad either. I have a feeling I’m not going to like most of the mainstream blends like Cutty Sark and JW. I’ll try them anyway. :)

    By the way, Glenlivet 18 is a single malt. Chivas 18 (a blend) has actually won a few awards, although I balk at spending $60+ on a blend. Same goes with Compass Box’s whiskies, although I applaud the vatted malt (sorry, “Blended Malt”) concept, the pricetag is a little off-putting.

  3. First of all thanks for the blog…catching and worth reading. Agree with your mark for Chivas Regal (12 year)- not recommended :) , do not understand why it’s so popular (particulalry in the forme Soviet Union countries where i am from)

  4. You’re absolutely right about the Glenlivet being a single malt. I don’t know why, but (mentally) I always classify it in the same category as Chivas and Johnnie Walker for some reason–maybe because they are at similar price points (for each respective age) while other single malts are usually much higher.

  5. I have a feeling most people start their scotch drinking youth with Chivas Regal, and some people probably never move beyond it. I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just not terribly complex. Sometimes I don’t want complex. Sometimes I just want to dump some whiskey over a pile of ice into whatever glass is handy. In this respect Chivas fits the bill. Although in the same price range is Johnnie Walker Black which I prefer in every way.

  6. chivas 12 was the first whiskey of any kind (scotch, bourbon, canadian, etc.,) that i ever drank. drank it for a while because everyone around me (non experts) did. i can’t remember when the last time i drank it but i would never buy another bottle. look up “chivas effect”. LOL

  7. SN – Here are a few blends that will ‘elevate’ your opinion. You must try Dewars! The 12 yr is good – but the 18 yr will blow you away. Second is a blend of single malts – JW Green Label – you will be impressed! I’m looking forward to reading your reviews when you get around to trying these.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Stan. I should definitely try the 12 yr Dewar’s (the White Label is just ok, and not as bad as some of its bottom-shelf competitors – review upcoming). The 18 yr is a little pricey (for a blend) – expensive blends seem to usually taste like average single malts at the same price-point, but I’ll keep an eye out for a chance to try a glass somewhere. Same goes for the green label – it’s definitely on my “to try” list, but no way I’m buying a whole bottle. :)

  8. Chivas 12 is drunk in the movie Ghoules 2 in scene 1. that’s why i have tried to drink it. WHiskyfun has not even review a bottle since the 70s. The Chivas 18y has a watered down taste and ugly sweet alcohol worn out barrel taste like 12. it promptly disappears. But 18 slides in your mouth like velvet and pulls your checks in long and something gritty in good way. It’s there but it ain’t.. I wish I bought the Compass Box Aslya that is 50/50 malt grain. You cant go wrong with cask quality by John Glaser. I think he uses only the best used Jack Danial’s oak casks and never filtered.

  9. Im into Macallan 18 and when I like something, I get stucked on it, so its kind of hard to move to another brand. Maybe my opinion is not completelly objective, because I usually drink whisky together with a Cohiba Robusto, which changes the taste (a lot) but I tried a Chivas Regal 12 about a year ago and I definitelly adopted it as a second brand. It is kind of “watery” compared with The Macallan 18 but still a good malt. (Apologizes for my english).

    Cheers from Buenos Aires.

  10. I was advised to drink scotch by my father as a young man, right after I was legal and I am now 62. I have been a scotch drinker for over forty years. I have tried all the brands and have been a Chivas man almost all that time. Scotch is a drink that requires that a taste be developed. That means not a few drinks. Scotch is unique in that regard. Forty years is a long time to be scotch drinker and offers a measure of seasoned opinion. With that said I continue and will continue to prefer Chivas 12. I didn’t care for the 18. The pleasure an individual derives is what matters and if one isn’t prepared to develop the taste for a scotch they should drink what does give them pleasure. I am not versed in all of the nuances mentioned in the review but just know that I enjoy a Chivas on the rocks just like I enjoy a good steak. Best to you all. …Joe…

  11. If we’re talking about blends, I personally prefer Johnnie Gold and Greens. The Gold (18), they call it a celebration drink, and I’d agree. Very sweet and lovely. It isn’t as complex as other single malts, but sometimes, you just want something sweet and delicious, bit of vanilla, maple, and warming. The Gold fills that role very nicely.

  12. I have to say Chivas 12 is a good mixer (since the blend is kind of sweet to my palate) when paired with ginger ale or cola. I also pour myself a glass when I want to relax and not focus on a single malt. It’s a good every-day blend.

  13. Like Joe above, I’m not afraid to use my name in the same sentence with a “thumbs up” for Chivas 12. My story is similar in that when I came of age, he introduced me to his scotch that he’d enjoyed his entire life and which his father had before him. He was always a steak, potato, and vegtable guy; nothing fancy, just good food. I guess that same description works for Chivas 12; nothing fancy, just enjoyable. I understand that it’s just a pedistrian blend: fine. That’s what I am and that’s what I like.

    1. @David,
      I applaud anyone who drinks what they know they like. That’s the point of spirits after all – to enjoy them. Someone who has the same glass of Chivas every night and loves it is really better off than someone who continually analyzes and criticizes a different whisky every night, and is often disappointed. That said, I always encourage people who are brand loyalists to get out and try a few single malts to expand their understanding of the whisky world and learn more about that favorite blend in contrast.

  14. Hi I am a true scotch noon as I am making my transition from mixed drinks to someting I can drink clean or on the rocks. (I’m getting older is the only reason I can find for justifying the change). I actually enjoyed chivas regal. It reminded me of a mixture between jack Daniels and Hennessey. (Before you scoff I told you I am a noob.) Could y’all give me a few other recommendations that the wife would approve of. (Not expensive).

    1. Hi Jud, and welcome to the site! You might find some ideas here, if you’re looking to upgrade to single malts, which I think are the best bet for drinking straight: http://scotchnoob.com/2012/02/23/picking-your-first-single-malt-scotch/. If you’d like to focus on blends first (like Chivas), the best budget blend I know of is Bank Note. My favorite blend is Great King Street: Artist’s Blend, but it can be pricey (above $40). Glenlivet 12 (a single malt) is also a good place to start – it’s arguably the cheapest single malt, and I like it better than Chivas. Cheers!

  15. Blends are usually not so good, as is chivas 12. I try as many different scotches as possible. The 2 blends I always come back to are Islay Mist and Teachers. Those are the only 2 that re worth the time.

  16. I too used to wonder why one seems so popular, given its less than impressive taste. But then I read that it was re-designed in the 1950s to appeal to scotch-and-soda drinkers. I’ve tried soda water (aka club soda here in Canada) in a number of whiskies, and generally find it just waters down the taste. But for Chivas Regal 12, it really does enhance the blend. All those rather nasty grain alcohol flavours disappear by around a 1:3 dilution, but you still keep the floral notes. I’ve had people turn up their noses to this one served neat, but will then sip on a glass with soda water, on the rocks, all night.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I rarely (ok never) drink scotch-and-soda, so I would have missed this nuance. I have been known to enjoy blended scotch with pebbled ice (a “Scotch Mist”), and I wouldn’t be surprised if Chivas worked in that as well.

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