Love a scotch but prefer a blend to a single malt? If so, you have tried a Johnnie Walker. The two-hundred-year-old blender offers a range of whiskeys that allow you to sample the best of what Scotland has to offer blended neatly together in a single bottle.
From the lowland hills to the clear waters and bountiful grains of Speyside to the harshness of the West Highlands and Islands, a dram of Johnnie Walker is a tour of the world’s most famous whiskey regions.
You’ve likely had a dram of Johnnie Walker before, but one recipe, in particular, beguiles whiskey drinkers around the world: Johnnie Walker Blue.
Johnnie Walker Blue is probably the most recognized and accessible super-premium whiskey blend. Its infamy comes from its smooth recipe and its price. You’ll struggle to spend more both on a blend or on a blend so young.
Johnnie Walker Blue may be on your bucket list, but does it deserve a place on your shelf? Keep reading to learn more about this legendary whiskey.
About Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a modern take on an old tradition. Distillers at the Highland property took their inspiration from an early product: 1867 Old Highland whiskey. Alexander Walker’s 1867 whiskey was a good product, but it suffered from a period when casks were in short supply, and the quality of casks was a far cry from what it is today.
Blue Label is a blend of Speyside and Highland whiskeys in and around the Moray area as well as further afield. For Johnnie Walker, it represents the four corners of the Scottish Highlands and the diversity and quality the region offers whiskey lovers.
It features the Speyside malts Cardhu and Benrinnes as well as Clynelish from Sutherland in Scotland’s far north. From the mighty west coast comes the addition of an Islay malt that brings the smokiness associated with the Western Highlands and Islands.
Johnnie Walker is a Scotch blended whiskey made with a recipe designed to create a consistent flavor. The result is a liquid that is more versatile than traditional single malts and lends more to use with mixers and cocktails.
The blend’s two dominant whiskeys are smooth Speyside varieties that add strong elements of richness and a full body to the drink for a velvety palate.
Blue Label is not without a little bit of smokiness thanks to the use of Clynelish and the Islay malt, which both offer smoky notes on their own but become mellow in this blend. The tasting notes suggest the blend offers more of a wispy smoke than an overpowering mouthful as you’d find if you drank an island whiskey as a single malt.
You’ll also find an unexpected sweetness that appears when you note it and upon your palate. The sweetness comes from notes like kumquats, dark chocolate, honey, and oranges but the round flavors of the sandalwood and tobacco complement it nicely.
Johnnie Walker’s seasoned professionals provide a list of tasting notes for Blue Label that point to it as being a mellow, well-rounded whiskey.
You should find notes of:
How to Drink Johnnie Walker Blue
There’s no wrong way to drink Johnnie Walker Blue. It stands out in a snifter just as it does in a cocktail. The brand recommends the following cocktail drinks as excellent vessels for Blue Label:
- 1Whiskey Rob Roy
- 2Whiskey Scotch Highball
- 3Whiskey Old Fashioned
Who Is Johnnie Walker?
Johnnie Walker doesn’t distill its whiskey; it blends other whiskeys to make magic.
The story of the whiskey began in 1819 when founder John Walker’s father died, and young John had to take over the farm and support his family.
John sold the family farm and set his family up in the central lowland town of Kilmarnock. He ran a sundry store and sold single malts, but he found that those distillations were too often inconsistent. Blending them, it occurred to John, was the trick to creating a whiskey that stood up to the test of time.
The first Johnnie Walker whiskey as we know it today came into existence by the hand of John’s son Alexander in 1867. The 1867 Old Highland whiskey is the same concoction that today’s Blue Label recipe uses as inspiration.
Today, Johnnie Walker is the world’s largest and most prominent whiskey brand despite being a blend. It’s beloved by celebrities and world leaders, and the photographers who surround them are all too eager to capture the bottles in their hand.
Johnnie Walker Blue vs. Black vs. Red
Johnnie Walker Blue is just one of the brand’s blends. What’s the difference between Blue, Black, and Red?
The difference lies in the recipe.
Johnnie Walker Red Label comes from 35 malt or grain whiskeys. Many are three to five years old. Johnnie Walker Block is made up of 40 whiskeys at 12 years old and features a more significant influence from Islay whiskeys, which bring in the heavy, peaty flavor.
You’ll remember that Blue features of only four whiskeys.
Here are a few tasting differences:
You’ll find that Red offers a stronger taste of alcohol than Black Label does, which is smoother and a shade of deep amber. Red Label also offers a peppery, fiery flavor that contrasts the mild heat and cinnamon punch of the Black Label.
Other Johnnie Walkers
Red and Black Label are the two most popular of Johnnie Walker’s blends because they are more price friendly. But you’ll also find two more blends lying between Black and the premium Blue labels.
Johnnie Walker Green Label is the newest recipe of the bunch. It’s aged 15 years and is 86 proof, which is higher than Red and Black. It features whiskeys like Talisker, Caolla, Cragganmore, and Linkwood. You won’t find it on many shelves anymore, but you might find it in a collector’s case or specialty shops.
Gold Label is the next step up. It has a unique history. When Alexander II created a recipe to celebrate the centenary of his family’s company, he was thwarted by the shortage that occurred after the Great War. Gold Label is an attempt to bring it back and features 15 single malts aged at either 15 or 18 years.
You’ll find Johnny Walker Blue available in three sizes: 20 cl, 70 cl, and 175 cl.
As the brand’s rarest blend, you’ll see prices ranging from $ to $$. Prices often depend on your state’s alcohol taxes, sale prices, and rare.
You can buy it abroad for substantially less particularly when the dollar’s strength is on the up.
What Reviewers Say
Johnnie Walker provides its insight into what notes and profiles drinkers should pull from the Blue Label blend. But what do other industry professionals make of the company’s notes?
The taster for the whiskey Exchange, one of the foremost retailers in the UK, says that the nose is smooth and silky with nutty notes like unsalted peanuts, brazil nuts, desiccated coconut, and the syrupy taste of flapjacks.
Master of Malt’s tasters picked up similar notes. They found a nose with oak, dried fruit, crisp spice, berry fruits, pastries, aniseed, citrus, and hints of cedar and spice. Their palate found it supple and balanced with toffee and only a hint of smoke and grass with a stronger hint of malt.
The silkiness carries through into the palate where you’ll encounter a spicy first sip with the full body that you’d expect from a Speyside product. The finish is a slow one with the honey and spices remaining but slowly dissipating.
Smoothness is a trait picked up by professional and amateur reviewers alike. The word “smooth” when describing whiskey is often an empty one. Drinkers and distillers assign it to very different products. However, given that Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a blend, it seems that smooth is a word that very much applies.
It pops up again and again, and here it seems to refer to the unmistakable balance of flavors. The price of the bottle is undeniably high, but once you get a taste, it seems there’s no going back. You either drink a dram of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, or you have something else: there’s no alternative.
What Whiskey Drinkers Think
Blue Label is both an ancient and renowned premium blend. It’s smooth, easy to drink, and offers a balance that no other brand could or would replicate. At the same time, they wonder whether the blend is worthy of the high price tag attached to it.
After all, at $-$$ a bottle, one would expect it to be rare or limited in production. The price should reflect what the owner did to earn that bottle by searching high and low or biding their time. In this way, some lovers of Blue Label say that rare takes on an alternative connotation.
Yes, you can buy Johnnie Walker Blue Label in a premium liquor store or easily order it online. Its rareness comes from it being a treat; something you buy for an esteemed colleague of 30 years, to toast a significant life milestone, or celebrate a once in a lifetime success.
The rarity comes with nostalgia, and that seems to be what justifies the price of the blend.
Some say that you’ll get much of the same effect by buying Black Label, which is another premium bottle.
Alternatives to Johnnie Walker Blue
Johnnie Walker Blue is worth it if you won’t otherwise miss the cash, but whiskey lovers and professional reviewers unite in their assessment that you can get a more exciting whiskey for the same price.
If you’re a whiskey or single malt aficionado, ty something else. However, there’s no need to insert finding a new malt into every social scenario. Sometimes, a Blue Label is the only thing that will do, and there’s no point in fighting over it, particularly if your opponent isn’t a big scotch drinker.
The trick to finding an alternative is looking for a whiskey that replicates the smoothness of Blue Label but has just the right amount of interest.
Here are a few examples:
Each of these offers the option to save upwards of $100 and get a dram that non-regular drinkers wouldn’t be able to pick out in a blind taste test. They also offer more character in some cases than Johnnie Walker does, which is great for someone who’s after a smooth dram but wants something to seek out.
The Bottom Line
Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a rare and expensive whiskey suitable for special occasions and those who want to indulge in both the whiskey and the spend.
Despite its legendary status, those in the whiskey community believe it is over-hyped, and regular drinkers tend to agree. Typically, those people are on the lookout for an experience that blows their mind and is worth every last penny. The smoothness that comes with a blend doesn’t always appeal to single malt and scotch drinkers.
The examples provided above offer a similar experience in a single malt bottle for a far more palatable price.
What do we think? If you want to indulge in the experience of drinking a bottle of whiskey that set you back $300, then don’t fight it. The nose, taste, and finish remain the same, but the memories will stand out.
If you want to stick to Johnnie Walker, some say Green Label will do the trick. Once discontinued, the brand recently renewed Green Label, so finding a bottle should be more straightforward than it once was.
As a product alone, we agree with the assessment that Johnnie Walker Blue Label is far overpriced for what it offers. Those curious about the mystery should try a dram at a bar before indulging in the full bottle. It lifts the veil and allows you to spend your money on a bottle as part of an informed decision.