By Richard Thomas
Two things set Chivas Regal apart from the rest of the blended scotch sector: their illustrious history and their line, which consists entirely of middle-aged and old whiskey. The brand traces its roots, like so many blended scotch brands, to a grocery store blender. Chivas Regal’s grocery blend is somewhat older than the norm, however, going back to the earliest days of the 19th Century. The home base of Chivas Regal is Strathisla distillery, which predates the founding of the brand, dating to 1786 and standing as the oldest of the Highland region’s distilleries.
That pedigree and some sound business practices have made Chivas Regal one of the world’s biggest names in blended whiskey, and because it starts with a 12 Year Old, it is one of the few whiskey labels that really is experiencing a supply crunch due to rising international demand. I therefore had high expectations when I tried that 12 Year Old for the first time, and was disappointed by how overpoweringly woody it was. When I spied a bottle of Chivas Regal 18 Year Old on the shelf of a neighborhood bar, that prior experience left me wondering what the extra six years might do.
The Chivas Regal “Gold Signature” 18 Year Old is made from 20 different grain and malt whiskeys, all 18 years old or older. It comes in the signature Chivas package: a squat, clear glass bottle with the crossed swords label. The bottle does a fine job of showing off one of Chivas Regal’s few consistently good qualities, namely it’s color. The scotch is bottled at 40% alcohol.
Once in the glass, the rich, mid-amber color of the scotch really shines, and the nose is not without its interests. The oakiness that holds the youngest Chivas back is much more subdued, allowing for a more balanced scent with notes of vanilla, musty earth, malt, and just a touch of spiciness. The palate is unsurprising, in that it follows the nose almost exactly, retaining the same qualities of the nose, in the same balance, and with the same smooth character. It is only on the finish that things switch up a bit and become lively. This 18 Year Old goes down with much more of a spicy bite than is present on the tongue, and the earthy, musty notes pick up in intensity as well. The finish is quite long and very warm.
The extra time certainly mellowed the “Gold Signature” out of the least quality of the scotch’s younger sibling, its cloying woodiness. Yet while the scotch has achieved a fine balance, it is sadly lacking in any sophistication. I found this 18 Year Old almost bland, and certainly uninspired.
In the United States, this scotch retails for between $60 and $75. In Europe, expect to pay about €60. This makes it noticeably overpriced relative to far superior blended
scotches of similar age, like Grant’s 18 Year Old. On the other hand, Chivas Regal 18 Year Old is much easier to find than similarly aged blends.
In 2007, this scotch won “Blended Scotch of the Year” from the Malt Advocate, and in 2008 it garnered a double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Challenge. Given that I think of this scotch as nothing quite so much as “boring,” I can only assume the field was unremarkable in those years.