Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker have contributed so immensely towards building a reputation for Scotch worldwide, one begins to wonder if Scotch would be the same without them? There is no dearth of astronomical adjectives that can be used to describe both great houses of blended Scotch whisky, and more often than not, it is hard not to be led astray when talking about the two in one breath, and the heated debates that follow.
It is somehow so rudimentary to get involved in a skirmish to decide which one is better, that whisky lovers tend to ignore a truly more interesting and oft overlooked aspect of rivalry between the behemoths.
The very fundamentals of blended Scotch whisky, the segment Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker have come to define, is innovation, the tireless pursuit of perfection and keeping true to their traditions.
What deserves a closer look and a much more spirited discussion is the diversity, and novelty among both, Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker’s portfolio of expressions to find which brand continues to spread its wings and soar towards the future while still remaining firmly grounded into the brand ethos and heritage.
Both Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker have some exceptional and ultra-premium blended Scotch whisky expressions, some carry an age-statement whereas some are no-age-statement blends. Now as learned men and women of whisky, we know that age-statements do not necessarily imply the superiority of a blend, so let’s dive deeper into understanding the nitty-gritties of the core range from both brands.
Hierarchy of Portfolio
Chivas Regal, unlike Johnnie Walker, does not follow a strictly tier-based linear hierarchy for their range of expressions, instead diversifying their range with a two-pronged approach that is inclusive of expressions with an age-statement and without.
While Johnnie Walker follows a more linear approach with their inventory, beginning with the Johnnie Walker Red Label, concluding their most expensive core expression, the Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
This is the most glaring distinction between the brands as the Chivas Regal inventory follows a much more interesting approach by placing other expressions between their four age-statement bottlings.
Beginning with the Chivas Regal 12, the Chivas portfolio extends until Chivas Regal The Icon, the brand’s ultimate and most premium bottling with a number of other no-age-statement expressions being placed between them.
For example, between the Chivas Regal 12, and the Chivas Regal XV, the 15-Year-Old expression from Chivas, the brand has placed as many as three more unique expressions. Which brings us to our next topic of discussion;
Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker: Who’s in the comfort zone?
It is the lack of initiative taken on the experimentation and innovation fronts that is proof of a brand getting just a little too comfortable with what they have.
While Chivas Regal has been on their toes throughout their history, constantly re-inventing themselves while keeping their core identity intact, Johnnie Walker has shown little initiative to diversify their portfolio.
Throughout Johnnie Walker’s list of expressions, from the Red Label, the Black Label, the Double Black, which incidentally represents their final fascinating release, the Gold Label Reserve, the Platinum Label, and their most expensive bottling, the Blue Label.
It’s a straight descent into expressions that are more premium than the other, until there aren’t; another key distinction between Scotland’s two most prolific blended Scotch houses.
On the other hand, the house of Chivas Regal is redefining what blended Scotch whisky means to the world by constantly evolving and embracing new techniques.
The prime example being represented by the Chivas Regal Mizunara, inspired by Japan, the Mizunara is a blended Scotch that has its heart selectively aged in the extremely rare and expensive Japanese Mizunara oak barrels. It is the amalgamation of two cultures that put their love for whisky above all else.
Other uniquely crafty and creative Chivas releases include the heavily Spanish Sherry influenced Chivas Extra, matured in first-fill Oloroso Sherry barrels. A technique that infuses a burst of flavour into the whisky that is unmatched, creating a drink that is as elegant as a Chivas should be.
The Chivas Regal Ultis, an ode to the five Master Blenders who poured their hearts and souls into their craft, it is a blend of five exceptionally rare, and precious single malts from five of the most revered Speyside distilleries. This is the only blended malt Scotch from the house of Chivas and carries no-age-statement, and contains no grain whiskies.
The Ultis is the penultimate premium expression from Chivas followed by Chivas Regal. The Icon, a blended Scotch whisky that is blended from some of the rarest whiskies available, some even coming in from ‘ghost distilleries’ that are no longer operational. These exclusive and vintage spirits are finished in handpicked rare barrels that are bottled in hand-blown crystal decanters, a blow-for-blow competitor for the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the most premium expression from Johnnie Walker.
The Johnnie Walker inventory boasts of innovation in the form of the Johnnie Walker Double Black, a no-age-statement blend created by legendary Master Blender, Jim Beveridge. It based on the Black Label as a fingerprint whisky with much peatier whiskies added in. The resulting blend is finished in heavily charred Oak barrels adding an immensely smoky and attractive repertoire of aromas and flavours to the Scotch.
The discontinued, then re-released yet tough to find Green Label, earlier named the Johnnie Walker Pure Malt 15-Year-Old was a blended malt Scotch. It was discontinued by Diageo, the parent organization behind Johnnie Walker in 2012, and re-introduced in 2016 although it continues to be elusive and is not easily available.
That is the extent of innovation at the house of Johnnie Walker as the brand has shown a clear intent to follow the ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ methodology.
Although there is not much distinction based on commercial performances of both brands, whereas critical preferences are wildly subjective as they differ from person-to-person. Both brands have a rich history that dates back to the 19th century, have Royal Warrants from the British Monarchy and outnumber other competitors massively whether its commercially or critically.
Yet with an emphasis on our strictly contained comparison based on the expansiveness, diversity and willingness to innovate from both Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker, the winner is clearly Chivas Regal.
The house of Chivas Regal has shown no signs of contentment, constantly reinventing themselves, evolving their brand, and adding a whole new dimension to the world of blended Scotch whisky through their ground-breaking strive towards excellence.