Posts from the ‘Johnnie Walker’ Category

Phil’s Favorite Blended Scotches

Of all the genres of whisky in the world, by far the most famous and most recognizable on a global scale is blended Scotches. For many years, iconic brands like Dewar’s, Grant’s, and Johnnie Walker have ruled Scotch sales. In my sophomoric years as an avid whisky drinker, I must confess that I looked down upon blended Scotch whiskies, thinking that there was no way they could provide the same amount of enjoyment as single malts. But, I have come to learn with time that I was just a petulant youngster. Even though blends are immensely popular, it does not mean that there are not some brilliant blends out there. For the purposes of this list, blended malt Scotches are included as well. Here are the nominees for my favorite blended/blended malt Scotches.

Name: Compass Box Great King Street
Style: Blend
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 86 (43% abv)
Price: $45-50/750ml
Notes: This is the flagship whisky from Compass Box, one of the fastest growing blended whisky-makers in Scotland. It is a viscous, oily presentation of whisky, with rich flavors of vanilla, potpourri, and toasted bread. There are some gentle hints of freshly cut peat and sawdust that set the whisky out to be a fantastic dram. Although this is a little harder to find and a little pricier than many other flagship blends, it is well worth it. This is one tasty whisky.

Name: Compass Box “The Peat Monster”
Style: Blended Malt
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 92 (46% abv)
Price: $50-60/750ml
Notes: This whisky belies its name somewhat, in that it is not at all a monster of peat. Of course there is peat involved, but it is a balanced whisky with oak, vanilla, and salted caramels to balance out the medicinal, peaty, and smoky notes. There is no question that this a whisky for peat-lovers, but its balanced and refined, a trait that I suspect comes from using peated whiskies from all over Scotland, not just from Islay. This whisky is readily available in most liquor stores. Definitely worth the try if you enjoy peated malt whisky.

Name: Compass Box “The Spice Tree”
Style: Blended Malt
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 92 (46% abv)
Price: $50-60/750ml
Notes: The edition of this whisky I am referring to is the resurrected edition currently on shelves, not the original Spice Tree that created a stir with the SWSA. This whisky is mostly comprised of Highland malt whiskies that are blended together and finished in custom-made barrels comprised of both French and American oak. The result is a unique whisky with spiced and herbal notes, with soft rolling smoke and caramelized peppers. Like “The Peat Monster,” this whisky is readily available and a great addition to any Scotch-lovers cabinet.

Name: Famous Grouse 18 Year-Old
Style: Blended Malt
Age: 18 Years
Proof: 86 (43% abv)
Price: $70-80/750ml
Notes: This blended malt whisky is comprised primarily of Speyside and Highland whiskies aged in ex-Sherry butts. This elicits brilliant dessert whisky flavors of spiced tea cake, sherry, warm buttered bread, and toasted pecans. There is some nice ginger spice notes to balance the whisky out and add complexity. Tragically, this whisky was discontinued a few years ago, most likely because of dwindling stocks. However, if you are able to find a second-hand bottle at a price you can afford, this seductive whisky is worth the buy.

Name: Johnnie Walker Platinum Label
Style: Blend
Age: 18 Years
Proof: 80 (40% abv)
Price: $100-125/750ml
Notes: This recent addition to the Johnnie Walker lineup really got my attention the first time I tried it, and recent drams have proved worthy as well. This aged blend delivers great balance with notes of toffee, hazelnuts, and peaches-in-cream. All these flavors are wrapped up in a wonderful wafting of gentle smoke that coats the whisky from start to finish. In my opinion, this is the best assembly of whiskies in the Johnnie Walker lineup. It is available in most higher end liquor stores, although it does come at a cost…

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.