Chivas 12 40% abv.
Color: pale gold
Nose: Muted and gentle - but possessing appetizing and pleasing notes of cake batter, toffee, some heather and distant sherry.
Entry is light and sweet with true scotch tastes of honeyed malt. There is moderate spirit heat at midpalate but some good cereal malt backbone and structure. There is the brief suggestion of some red fruits at midpalate too - but only for a moment. At the turn to the finish you can taste some oak and some vanilla floral oak notes.
The finish is moderately short but nice and sweet with lingering burnt sugar and gentle distant oak.
Noticeably absent is the sour dairy/ vinyl / undercooked onion notes of too much Coffey still grain alcohol. The blenders at Chivas have made a nice amiable, very smooth, simulacrum of an idealized composite Speyside or Highland malt.
Of course so do the makers of Johnnie Walker Black:
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 40% abv.
Color: a darker shade of pale gold than Chivas with a richer and more glittering appearance. Granted this darker color may be the result of added caramel color.
Nose: gentle and smooth, but more assertively rich with toffee, vanilla, some sherry notes, grain sugars, some floral and wood notes and a little hint of mint. Not a huge nose, but more assertive and involving than Chivas' to a small degree.
Entry is sweet and creamy with malt, honey, heather, and sweet cream. There is a thicker mouthfeel than Chivas. Midpalate brings a gentle spirit heat but also a solid cereal grain note and bit of peat smoke. The transition to the finish brings in oak vanilla notes and a sense of the wood. The finish is moderately short too, but with a real sense of wood character. There's more structure and duration to the finish of JW Black - just as there was more up front and in the middle.
Drinking both side by side, Chivas feels a little lighter and thinner with a bit more spirit heat. Somehow, after a sip of Johnnie Walker Black - when I take a sip of Chivas I can clearly detect the slight fishy texture, heat, and trace of the flavor of grain alcohol that I didn't notice when drinking Chivas on it's own first. Johnnie Walker Black is the clear hands down winner of the face off. Chivas comes off as a light, drinkable blend. Johnnie Walker Black comes off as almost a full malt by comparison.
To be fair, Chivas 12 goes for around $30 a 750ml bottle around here and Johnnie Walker black goes $34 - a premium of over 10%. However, there is no doubt in my mind that JWB justifies the modest premium.
Other articles comparing Johnnie Walker Black with other whiskies:
Johnnie Walker Black and Johnny Walker Red review compared head to head.
Johnnie Walker Black vs Dewar's 12
Glenrothes Select Reserve compared with Johnnie Walker Black Label