Posts from the ‘Comparison Reviews’ Category

Comparison Review: Teeling Single Malt vs. Teeling Single Grain

Saint PatrickLast St. Patrick’s Day, I reviewed a relatively new Irish whiskey, Teeling Small Batch.  This year, I am stepping it up with two new Teelings, the Single Grain and Single Malt expressions.  Before I go any further, it is important to mention the definition of a single grain whiskey, as it is rarely seen.  A single grain whiskey is a whiskey made at a single distillery from any cereal grain that may include, corn, rye, wheat, barley, or others.  A single malt must also come from a single distillery, but it must be comprised of solely malted barley.  But, that is not all that separates these whiskeys.  (I believe both of these expressions were distilled at Cooley in Louth, but I do not have confirmation on that hunch as of yet.)

The Teeling Single Malt is comprised of whiskeys finished in 5 different types of wood (Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy, and Cabernet Sauvignon).  There is no age statement on this whiskey, but according to Teeling, there is some whiskey as old as 23 years in it.  Like all Teeling whiskeys, their Single Malt is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).

The color is pale orange.  The nose is full of white grape juice, backed by Concord grape jelly, corn flakes, and sweet bread.  The palate is full-bodied with red berries (rasp and straw varietals), red licorice candy, watermelon, red apples, and pumpernickel bread.  The finish is dry and long, featuring a revival of the red berries and white grape juice notes.  There is the slightest hint of white pepper and spiced pecans, adding a bit of spiciness.

The Single Malt expression is dripping with class and elegance, tame and univocal in its direction.  I could see detractors arguing that it is too singular and one-tricked, and it is until the finish, but there is a spiced character that underlines the sweet fruit and wine characters that dominate the whiskey.  If you find this one, you won’t be disappointed if you give it a try.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  It flexes muscles well outside the category of Irish Single Malt whiskies.

On the other hand, the Teeling Single Grain expression is matured exclusively in Cabernet Sauvignon casks from Sonoma County, California.  The result is a darker color in the resulting whiskey.  There is no age statement on this whiskey, nor is there a description of what grains have gone into the mash-bill (I suspect it is primarily a mix of corn and barley).  But, a little mystery never hurt anybody, and this whiskey certainly stands on its own without a detailed backstory.  Like the Single Malt, it is bottled without chill filtration at 92 proof (46% abv).

The nose is slightly alcoholic and boozy, with cinnamon, hard cider, fresh bread, and cloves.  The palate is silky delicious with cloves, cinnamon, red apples, and red grapes.  The finish is long and dry with cinnamon, allspice, and cloves coming through a drying oak note.

Overall, the Single Grain expression brings a lot of potential and flavor, but it is a little more unpolished and rough around the edges.  Nevertheless, the flavor is complex, with all sorts of spice and sweetness to kick around in your mouth even if the alcoholic content comes through a little more.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  Like the Single Malt, this transcends the category of Irish whiskey into something wholly unique.

To conclude, both of these whiskeys are among my favorite Irish whiskeys.  Both are worth seeking out and worth trying if you see them while you’re on  the town in your favorite whiskey bar.  If I had to choose, I enjoy the mouthfeel of the Single Malt better, but I like the flavor and price point of the Single Grain a little better.  Too close to declare a winner, but it is safe to say the winner is the consumer if Teeling stays on this pace.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all!  Be safe and let it ride!

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Aberlour Single Malt Scotch Comparison Review: The Standard Range

The holiday season is upon us, which usually means there is a bottle of Aberlour A’bunadh somewhere on my shelf.  However, I live in Pennsylvania now, and that particular single malt is a rather hard and expensive find nowadays (it has been replaced by another cask strength sherried dram).  So, in memory of the days long ago when this majestic single malt graced my cabinet, I’m reviewing some other Aberlour whiskies instead.  Today’s review will encompass the standard range (save the A’bunadh).

Santa Claus

Photo Courtesy: whiskydisks.com

Aberlour 12 year-old – This is the base malt at Aberlour, double-matured in both “traditional oak” and sherry casks.  I am not sure exactly what “traditional oak” means, but I suspect it means American oak hogsheads.  Aberlour 12 yr. is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The nose has turpentine, burning wood, sherry, potpourri, vanilla, and orange peels.  The palate brings a soft wood smoke overnote, with good oak, wood shavings, leather, sherry, and vanilla.  The finish is short and sweet with a little Fino sherry and orange peel.

Overall, this is a fine single malt, with a pleasant, inviting sherry influence.  However, there are some notes in this whisky that I find unpleasant, almost as if there was some wood used that was left out in the sun too long.  This is not a bad single malt; its just not my favorite of the range.  My grade: C+.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  At the price point, there are other whiskies I would prefer to this one.

Aberlour 12 year-old (Non-Chill Filtered) – This whisky is also aged in two types of casks, but the difference here is the higher bottling proof and the lack of chill-filtration, preserving the oils and fats of the whisky.  It is bottled at 96 proof (48% abv).

The nose is lightly sherried with some nice spice, ginger and lemon zest.  The palate is quite delicious.  The sherry really comes through here, with some bitter dark chocolate, orange peel, ginger, and drying oak.  I find the palate drying in a good way; it makes me want more whisky.  The finish is also quite dry and medium-short.  There are some nice oak notes that linger, as well as some fine strawberries wrapped in dark chocolate (possibly chocolate covered raisins).

This is a definite step up from the standard Aberlour 12, with a lot more body and depth in it.  It’s a hard whisky to find, especially compared with the standard Aberlour 12 year-old, but it’s worth a try if you can grab a bottle.  My grade: B.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  Of the two whiskies, go with the non-chill filtered expression of Aberlour 12.

Aberlour 16 year-old – This whisky is double-matured in first-fill bourbon casks as well as ex-Sherry casks, all to the ripe age of sweet sixteen.  It is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The nose does not yield big sherried notes like I was expecting, but it is still very pleasant, with some heather, malt, brown sugar, red berries, vanilla, and some raisins.  The palate is both malty and woody, but also presents florals, heather, and freshly cut hay.  It is a well-balanced palate, but a bit soft.  The finish is short, with some orange cream and heather honey.

Even after sixteen long years of aging, it’s hard for me to get into this whisky.  It is just a bit too soft, too placid for my tastes.  There are some good flavors present, but they are fleeting.  To me, it tastes younger than sixteen years old.  I would love to see this expression given the non-chill filtration treatment.  My grade: B-.  Price: $70-80/750ml.  Despite the reasonable price on this malt given its age, I don’t think this whisky is living up to its full potential.

Aberlour 18 year-old – This is the senior member of the Aberlour lineup, the oldest whisky in the standard range.  This whisky has steeped in both Bourbon and Oloroso casks for 18 long years, and come out on the other side with glowing qualities.  It is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

The nose is not nearly as sherried as you might expect, like the 16 year-old, but it does smell wonderful, presenting sweet orange cream, vanilla cream, peaches, apricots, potpourri, and plums.  This is a wonderful, full, creamy nose.  The palate is medium bodied, with toffee, vanilla cream, and dark honey.  The finish is medium-long, longer than I expected, with full oak, vanilla, orange cream, and fresh apricots.

On the whole, this is my favorite whisky in the standard range.  The texture in the mouth is creamy and mouth-coating, and the flavors of the aged Aberlour malt are present in full force.  This whisky is complex, deep, but accessible and delicious.  The double-maturation has brought the casks together in nearly perfect harmony in this expression.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $100-125/750ml.  This is the most expensive whisky in the standard range, but it is a brilliant 18 year-old Speyside whisky that will suit quite nicely for any special occasion.

The truth is that the Aberlour A’bunadh is still the top dog for me when it comes to Aberlour.  Unlike the whiskies I reviewed today, the A-Bunadh is aged exclusively in Oloroso casks and bottled at its cask strength.  I have tasted no better Aberlour to this point, including independently bottled single casks.  However, the 18 year-old is one hell of a whisky in its own right, striding through one’s cabinet in a smoking jacket of delicious flavor and character, but it does not come cheap.  For the money, if you can find the 12 year-old in its non-chill filtered version, it’s well worth the purchase.  Most importantly, have a happy and safe holiday season from Bargain Bourbon!  Let it ride!

 

 

 

 

Comparison Review: Monkey Shoulder vs. Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotches

Well, it has been a good long while since we’ve had a comparison review here at Bargain Bourbon, so today’s review is aimed at remedied that minor oversight.  Today, I am reviewing two blended malt Scotch whiskies – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Since I have not yet discussed blended malts on the blog, perhaps a brief word.  Simply, blended malts are Scotches that are derived from single malt whiskies from two or more different distilleries.  Blended malts differ from blended Scotches in that blended malts only contain single malt whiskies in their components, and blended Scotches may contain both single malts and other grain whiskies.

The two particular blends in question today are both blended malts – Monkey Shoulder and Sheep Dip.  Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt from William Grant & Sons, and the three distilleries that contribute to this whisky are all owned by Grant as well.  Single malt Scotch from The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie all find their way into Monkey Shoulder to make a fine Speyside blended malt.  Monkey Shoulder is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv) and this particular batch is Batch 27.  If you are wondering about the name, Monkey Shoulder is a slang term for the soreness in the shoulder that occurs when a malt man has been turning the germinating barley for a long period of time.

Sheep Dip is a blended malt made from 16 different single malts from all over Scotland, with the famed Richard Paterson as the head blender on the project.  Sheep Dip proudly proclaims that of the different Scotch regions have been included in the whisky.  Sheep Dip is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  As far as the name on this one, “Sheep Dip” was often how whisky makers would label their products to avoid their stock being confiscated by the authorities back in the days when such things were a more common occurrence.

Now, onto the tasting…

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time...

I assume he enjoys a fine dram from time to time…

On the nose, Monkey Shoulder is floral and sweet, with honey, vanilla, and some rich orchard fruits.  This is a classic, bourbon-aged Speyside nose.  The palate is wonderfully creamy, with orchard fruits, berries, peaches, apples, and rich honey.  The finish is relatively short with oak, vanilla cream, and drying perfume notes.  My grade: B.  Price: $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is a very good introduction to what an ex-bourbon cask might do to Speyside spirits, and it is priced perfectly.

For Sheep Dip, the arrival is a bit heavier.  The nose is a funky, sherried nose, reminiscent of Edradour.  It is sweet and nutty, with notes of pralines and candied pecans.  The palate is earthier, with those pralines there, along with dates, molasses, brown sugar, and wet moss.  The finish is sweet, dry, and very short.  My grade:  C+.  Price:  $35-40/750ml.  Overall, this is in a nice price point just like the Monkey Shoulder, but the flavors seem disjointed in Sheep Dip, like there are too many chefs in the kitchen.

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip...

Something tells me these sheep got into the Sheep Dip…

On the whole, I do like Monkey Shoulder better, but the greater point I want to make with this post is that blended malt Scotches are great alternatives to buying single malts.  Blended malts are often high quality whiskies with great taste profiles.  If you want to introduce someone to Scotch, save the money on a single malt, but give yourself a cleaner palate and a softer alternative to the blended Scotch route.  As always, let me know what you think, and let it ride!

Black Friday Blends: Thoughts on some Grand Macnish Drams

Happy Friday everybody!  It is my hope that despite all that requires change, some folks reading this found something to be thankful for yesterday.  As you might have guessed, I am thankful for whisky, in almost all of its forms.  So, what I am saying today is, don’t shop at Wal-Mart; drink good whisky with good people!  Today, I am reviewing two different blended Scotches, Grand Macnish 12 year-old and Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask.”

Grand Macnish was founded in 1863, and has been making quality blends since that time. Ever since 1991, with their buyout by MacDuff International, this blend has gotten even more global.  Since the importer for Grand Macnish is based in the Greater Boston Area, I see a lot of this blend floating around, and I have had a few folks ask my thoughts on it, so here we go.

Grand Macnish 12 year-old is a standard blend in the range, bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).  On the nose, this smells of the Scottish Highlands, with light heather, honeysuckle, roses, grass, and lilacs.  The palate is light-bodied with a backbone of smoked heather or smoked grasses, almost peaty.  There are also honeyed sweet notes, and some fine ripe pears.  The finish is a bit peated, evolving to a very pleasant honey sweetness.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $20-25/750ml.

Grand Macnish 15 year-old “Sherry Cask” is also bottled at 80 proof (40% abv), and would seem to have some sherry cask influence, but what that means exactly is left a mystery.  My guess is that there is just a bit of extra sherry cask-matured whisky in the blend (as opposed to a sherried finish), but that is just a hunch.  On the nose, this one is lightly sherried, with a little booze, oak, dry grapes, and dry sherry.  The palate is medium-bodied, with some malt, oats, raisins, dry tannins, old wood, and some sizzling steak.  The finish is medium-long with a light puff of smoke, burning wood, and some fino sherry.  My grade: B-/C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.

Overall, both of these blends are crowd-pleasers and wallet-pleasers.  Neither of them will blow you away with complexity or velvety elegance, but they are both very tolerable drams that won’t break the bank.  Between the two, I probably prefer the 12 year-old, but I wouldn’t turn down a dram of either (unless it was being contrasted with a Chivas 25 year-old or some other elderly blend).  Next time you are having some folks over, and you are looking to put a blend in the cabinet, give Grand Macnish a shot.  Even if you are horribly disappointed, and it turns out that your palate is nothing like mine, you’ll only be out a third of what a single malt would cost you!  Let it ride!

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Irish Whiskey Review

ESQ010114_030Well, its March, and everybody’s favorite Irish holiday is right around the corner.  In honor of good ol’ St. Patrick, I’ll be doing a bit with some Irish whiskey in the next two weeks.  Today’s review is of Knappogue Castle 12 year-old single malt Irish whiskey; it is also a review with my good friend, William, from A Dram Good Time.  Single malt Irish whiskeys are not as common as Irish blended whiskeys like Jameson, Kilbeggan, and Powers, but you can find them if you know where to look.  Like single malt Scotches, single malt Irish whiskeys are distilled entirely from malted barley at one distillery and aged a minimum of 2 years in oak barrels.  The biggest difference from Scotch is that single malt Irish whiskey (like all Irish whiskey) is triple distilled, whereas most Scotch whiskies are double distilled.

The Knappogue Castle brand name is currently owned by Castle Brands, Inc., but Knappogue Castle has had a complicated past.  The actual whiskey in the bottles has been distilled at almost every distillery in Scotland, making it a hard whiskey to keep track of.  To the best of my knowledge, the Knappogue Castle single malts are currently being distilled at Cooley Distillery on the East coast of Ireland.  The 12 year-old is the standard expression in the Knappogue Castle lineup, but there are also some delicious older expressions of Knappogue available in the states.  The 12 year-old is aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

This whiskey looks beautiful in the glass, with its beautiful pale gold, white wine color (there is no caramel coloring added to Knappogue Castle).  On the nose, it is light and sweet, with pears, lemons, daisies, lilacs, and some barley.  The palate is medium-bodied and pleasant, with malted barley, pears, oak shavings, and fresh white grapes.  The finish is medium in length with some dry oak, marshmallows, barley, floral notes, and citrus peels.

Overall, Knappogue Castle 12 year is an easy-drinking quality Irish single malt.  It is crisp and clean all the way through, with flavors reminiscent of white wine, making it a great whisky for those looking to try an Irish whiskey beyond Jameson without going for too much complexity.  My grade: B-.  Price: $30-35/750ml.

Here are William’s tasting notes, but you can check out his full review over at A Dram Good Time:

Color:  Light Gold / Straw – somewhat reminds me of peach white tea.

Nose:  Light, pleasant and full of fresh fruits right out of the gate – apples, pear, pineapple – twigs, honey, touch of vanilla and wood spice, minerals, dry grass, and now more on red apple peels.

Palate:  At 40 percent and triple distilled, this whiskey is pleasant and smooth from start to finish. Much like its aromas, the palate is also full of fresh fruits – again, apple and pear but also a little peach and hints of tangy citrus now – hay-like grassy notes, barley, honey, light oak and a touch of peppery spice.

Finish:  Moderate in length with a bit of that peppery oak, honey and apple peel.

This is a very fresh, soft and creamy Irish single malt. It’s not all that deep and the sweet and gentle qualities definitely make it an entry-level whiskey, but it’s nicely balanced and one I’d gladly toast with this St. Paddy’s day.

Rating:  B

Dram Good Time B

 

Comparison Review: 2012 vs. 2013 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbons

Four Roses Limited Edition 2013Today, I am reviewing two bourbons that I have been asked about a lot over the past year and a half – the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batches from the last two years (2012 and 2013).  Each year, Four Roses releases two limited edition whiskeys.  Every spring just before the Kentucky Derby, Four Roses releases their Limited Edition Single Barrel.  Every fall, Four Roses releases their Limited Edition Small Batch, especially blended for the occasion by Four Roses’ Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge.  Each year, the bourbons that are blended together are different recipes and ages, meaning that each year, there is a different flavor profile.  The Limited Edition Small Batch bourbons are different from Four Roses Small Batch, which is always comprised of the same four bourbon recipes.  As you may have guessed, neither of these two Limited Edition Small Batch bourbons are particularly “bargains,” but they are both retailed at under $100 for a bottle, which puts them just within the upper limits of my price range for bourbons on the blog.

Before I get to the review of these two wonderful bourbons, I should say a few words about Four Roses’ ten bourbon recipes.  Four Roses uses two different mashbills, one with a medium rye content and one with a high rye content.  In addition, Four Roses uses five different yeast strains.  If you are statistics wizard, you have already realized that Four Roses has ten different combinations of grain and yeast at their disposal.  It is the quality and distinctive flavors of these bourbon recipes that allow Jim Rutledge to create some of the best bourbons you can buy.  If you want to know all there is to know, check out the Four Roses website.

The first bourbon I am reviewing is the 2012 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.  It was made from four different bourbon recipes, expertly blended together by Jim Rutledge.  The oldest bourbon in the batch was a 17 year-old “OBSV,” made from Four Roses’ high rye mashbill and their delicately fruity “V” yeast strain.  The youngest bourbon used in the batch was the same exact recipe (OBSV), just an 11 year-old version.  The final two recipes used were a 12 year-old “OBSK” (high-rye mashbill with spicier yeast strain) and a 12 year-old “OESK” (low-rye mashbill with the spicier yeast strain).  These four bourbons came together at barrel strength (111.4 proof, 55.7%abv) to create a brilliant bourbon.

On the nose, this bourbon is rich and full, with a healthy dose of cinnamon, backed up by French toast (with maple syrup), caramel, vanilla, oak, and a whiff of floral scent.  The palate is full and rich as well, with a nice bit of heat at barrel strength.  It is quite sweet, with vanilla, strawberries, black cherries, but it moves to spicy wood and hot cinnamon.  The finish is very long and very delicious, the highlight of this bourbon.  It starts spicy and woody (with a bit of cigar box), but it fades to a gentle vanilla custard with strawberries after a few seconds.  It goes on and on.  With water, the nose gets a freshly-cut cedar note, and a lot more floral.  Even with water, this whiskey is still hot and delicious.  That cinnamon spice doesn’t leave, but there is a little more caramel in the mouth and a bit of rye in the finish.  Overall, this is a phenomenal batch of bourbon.  It is delicious and incredibly balanced and complex.  Nothing is overpowering, and everything works together.  It gets even tastier as it empties in the bottle, with the sweetness coming to the fore more as the spiciness fades.  It never loses its complexity, though.  My grade: A/A+.  Price: $80-90/750ml.  Quite simply, this is my favorite bourbon that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

Now, onto the long awaited 125th Anniversary bourbon that was the 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch.  After tasting the earliest blending experiments, Jim Rutledge reportedly said that this was the best bourbon he had ever made.  That, in combination with the success of the 2012 LE Small Batch, made this bourbon a very difficult one to find.  Luckily for me, I was able to snag a bottle.  This bourbon is comprised of three different bourbon recipes at three different ages.  The oldest bourbon used in this small batch was an 18 year-old OBSV, very old for a bourbon.  The other two bourbons were both 13 years old, an OBSK and an OESK.  The result is quite a unique, and very delicious bourbon bottled at barrel strength (103.2 proof, 51.6%abv).

On the nose, this bourbon is fantastic, probably the most potent nose I have ever encountered in a bourbon.  As soon as I cracked this bottle open, a sweet, vanilla, floral aroma filled the room, screaming to be poured and savored.  There are also notes of sawdust, tobacco, leather, and cherry cola.  It is a creamy nose that balances sweet notes, floral notes, and old, rustic bourbon notes almost perfectly.  The palate is full-bodied with a lot of those same cherry cola notes, rounded out by vanilla, red velvet cake, Virginia pipe tobacco, strawberries, and dark chocolate.  The finish is medium-length with oak, cedar, and vanilla.  With water, the nose evolves into some citrus notes, and some more antique notes come out (many leather-bound books and rich mahogany if you’re Ron Burgundy).  The palate gets sweeter and loses some complexity with water, bringing out a lot of cherry notes that I don’t like as much.  Nevertheless, it is still a very good bourbon however you choose to drink it.  My grade: A/A-.  Price: $90-100/750ml.  This is delicious, old, deep bourbon that just leaps out of the glass and fills the room.

Overall, I really like the 125th Anniversary bourbon, but not as much as the 2012 version of the Limited Edition Small Batch.  The 2013 bourbon is definitely older with more wood influence, and more elegance.  However, I prefer the sharper, more complex (in my opinion) profile of the 2012 edition.  That is not at all to say that the 125th Anniversary bourbon is not a great bourbon, because it is.  In fact, I suspect that many people with side with Jim Rutledge and say this is the best bourbon to come out of Four Roses because of the combination of sweet, fruity notes with old bourbon qualities.  However, if I could buy but one Four Roses bottle again, it would be the 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch bourbon, as it was my favorite bourbon to this point in my life.   Unfortunately, both of these bourbons are pretty hard to find on shelves nowadays, unless those shelves belong to a wealthy bourbon collector.  With that in mind, the 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition line figures to be just as good, so be ready to jump on the bottles as soon as you see them.

Much thanks to William at A Dram Good Time and Geno at Kappy’s for helping me get my hands on this year’s LE Small Batch!

Comparison Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label vs. Johnnie Walker Black Label

Today, I am taking a brief hiatus from single malts to do a comparison review of two whiskies from the best-selling Scotch brand in the world, Johnnie Walker.  There is no picture of the bottle in this post because most folks know what Johnnie Walker looks like.  When people think of Scotch, they often think of Johnnie Walker first, helped out by common pop culture references (see Joe Namath and George Thorogood).  Unlike my reviews so far in Scotchvember, Johnnie Walker is Blended Scotch Whisky, which means that the whisky in the bottle contains a blending of single malts and grain whisky.  In Scotch terms, grain whisky is whisky comprised of anything except for 100% malted barley.  This usually entails a lot of wheat, which lends to a smoother, less flavorful Scotch.  That said there are some very enjoyable Blended Scotches on the market today; they usually just require a bit more age to reach their full potential.  Without further ado, let me get into a comparison review that I have had many requests for.

Joe Namath famously said he liked his, "Johnnie Walker red and his women blonde."

Joe Namath famously said he liked his, “Johnnie Walker red and his women blonde.”

Johnnie Walker Red Label is the entry-level blended Scotch from Johnnie Walker.  There is no age statement on the bottle, but most of the whisky in this is around 6 years old on average.  The grain whiskies in the Red Label tend to be a little younger (around 4 years), whereas the single malts tend to be a little older (around 8 years), but those are just conjectures.  Red Label is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

On the nose, Red Label is pleasant and sweet, with notes of honeysuckle, vanilla extract, and malted barley.  The palate is sweet and simple, with a nice balance between honey and malt.  The finish is medium in length, starting out sweet, and then presenting a little whiff of smoke after a few seconds.

Overall, Red Label is a simple whisky, but not at all unpleasant.  It knows what it is, and knows what it is not.  Red Label knows it will be drunk with a lot of ice and a fair amount of soda.  No worries, you are not wasting a great whisky if you do.  However, even though Red Label is a thin whisky, it is not at all poor drinking experience.  My grade: C.  Price: $15-20/750ml.  For the price, Red Label is exactly what I expected, a smooth, simple whisky.

Now, for Johnnie Walker Black Label, which carries an age statement of 12 years, which means that all of the whisky in a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black is at least 12 years old.  Judging from the whisky, I do not think Johnnie Walker Black and Red are made up of the same distilleries or the same recipes.  They have notably different flavor profiles, which I applaud them for.  Black Label is not simply an older version of the Red Label; they are entirely different whiskies.  Johnnie Walker Black Label is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) as well.

The first noticeable difference between the two is that Black Label is a good deal darker in the glass, but that could very easily just be added caramel coloring.  On the nose, Black Label is much darker than the Red Label.  There are notes of toasted bread, wood smoke, dry sherry, and malted barley.  The palate is medium-bodied, with hints of peat, oak, and sherry, all backed up by a strong malt backbone.  The finish is medium in length, with some notes of dried fruits (raisins, dates) and peat smoke.

Overall, Johnnie Walker is a more complex whisky, in that there is definitely some sherry influence as well as more peated whiskies in the bottle.  However, it is a bit harsher on the palate, lacking some of the smooth, seductive qualities of the Red Label.  It is almost as if Johnnie Walker knows Black Label will go on ice, which is the way I see it drunk most often at the bar.  My grade: C+.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Johnnie Black is a rough, complex Scotch whisky.  My issue with it is the price point; for that type of money, I will buy a 12 year-old single malt every day of every week.

Between the two whiskies, I think the Black Label is the better whisky, but Red Label is by far the better value.  If you put a gun to my head and told me to go to the store and buy a bottle of Johnnie Walker, I would buy a bottle of Red Label.  If I had $35 in my hand, I am going for a single malt whisky over Johnnie Walker Black Label any day.  But, with your money, you can do whatever the hell you want, so give Johnnie Walker a whirl, let it ride, and let me know what you think.