As a frequent grain whisky apologist, I know that many blended malts can showcase a lost art and provide wonderful depth of flavor and aroma. However, just as much is designed to be unoffensive and then priced into the stratosphere.
I think I can explain why I think the Chivas 18 is such a standout on the basis of two comparisons. The first is to its little brother. The Chivas 12 has the dubious honor of being one of the most boring scotches I've ever tasted. It doesn't edge close to anything resembling a profile, with flavors like peat, vanilla, or fruit only existing in vague wisps. It's probably exactly what single-malt drinkers think of when they imagine a rack-grade, prototypical "blend." Thank god Chivas 18 is a completely different beast.
The other comparison is between Chivas 18 and bottles in the Johnnie Walker line, its larger and better-known competitor. Since JW messed around with a few formulations, the closest blend to Chivas 18 currently is the Platinum, which is also age-stated at 18 years. Johnnie Gold used to carry that number, but no longer, and nobody really knows how old on average Blue Label actually is. Around here, the Johnnie Walker Platinum is about $80, and like a lot of the JW line seems formulated to blend off most of the edges.
Chivas 18 is a winning proposition at sub-$60, but what I appreciate is that the Strathisla in the blend seems to be doing a lot of heavy lifting. Usually when you balance around a core malt (as, for example, Compass Box does with Clynelish or Caol Ila in their blends), you're forced to make some kind of decision as to what you want something to taste like rather than try to embrace the well-intentioned but disappointing reality of trying to be all things for all people.
The uniqueness of the Chivas 18 to me, is an intensely malty and extraordinarily dry quality that strikes me as cracker-like. Usually when we talk of "grain" as a taste component of whisky, it's used as a derogatory term to describe the sourness and harshness of cheap grain whisky. In the Chivas 18's case, it's actually grain, like you'd taste in a sticky bran muffin or from millet. There's also some nice fig and red fruit sweetness that keeps the 18 from being too one-note. I certainly wasn't expecting a taste as unique as that from a luxury blend, so kudos to Chivas Brothers.
I should reiterate that moving away from the "all things for all people" goal of product development does carry a risk: while I think a scotch that reminds me of a bran muffin is wonderful, that might not be to your liking. Some people want big, bold, driven flavors all of the time. As I said with the Clynelish 14, this might not be the bottle for you. As a Pepperidge Farm cookie, this is a Chessman, not a double-chocolate Milano. But thank god the world is big enough for both the bold and the understated.