Johnnie Walker Tasting

JW OdysseyThis month’s tasting at Trinity Hall Irish Pub was of the new Johnnie Walker product line.  Diageo Master of Whiskey, Teresa Meyer, was on hand to talk about each of the products and offer some tasting notes as well. Before getting started, we viewed the excellent video production from Johnnie Walker entitled, The Man Who Walked Around the World.  After that introduction, here’s what we sampled:

  • Red Label ($18) –  Made mostly from Carhdu whisky (owned by Johnnie Walker), this is a light, peaty whisky with an aroma of mild smoke, malt, straw, honey and a taste that is grassy with mild peat, honey, apple and pear.  The finish is light and mildly leathery with lingering peat.  I’m really surprised at the amount of peat in this whisky and it’s not a great combination with the light and spicy flavors that can’t stand up to it.
  • Black Label ($27) – A blend of 40 whiskies with 12 year minimum age and the best seller in the JW line. The nose is very good with honey, fruit and feint peat, while the flavors are fruity and mildly spicy with a bit of peat and vanilla.  The finish is dry fruit, mild leather, mild spice and honey rounding out a mildly rich experience with nice mouthfeel and a good balance of sweet and spice.  This is nice whisky for the price and I’m surprised at how much I liked it.
  • Double Black ($32) – This is the newer No Age Statement Black Label offering/replacement.  It was previously a seasonal offering, but is now permanent.  It’s definitely similar to Black Label, but with less depth and a thinner mouthfeel.  Skip this one, go for Black Label and hope that JW doesn’t discontinue it like Green Label.
  • Gold Reserve ($70) – Made up of whisky from Clynelish and Caol Ila distilleries, Gold Reserve (replacement for Gold Label) has a nice nose of plum and honey.  The taste is consistent with the nose with notes of honey, vanilla, ginger, peat, plum and pear, giving way to a mildly peated and leathery finish with a bit of spice and honey. It’s light and flavorful with a light mouthfeel… more of a summer whisky.
  • Platinum Label ($100) – This is the new 18 year offering that really replaces Gold Label and is comprised of mostly Speyside whisky.  The nose is quite nice with a bit of vanilla, straw, honey, plum and cherry.  The taste is the most interesting so far with bits of lemon drop, cherry, honey, ginger, white pepper and straw followed by a sweet and mildly spicy finish.  This whisky steps things up just a bit with a nice nose, a good balance of spice, fruit and candy and some decent mouthfeel.  It’s the first real competitor for Black Label at almost 4 times the price. 😮
  • Blue Label ($182) – This is the premier offering from JW and one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  It doesn’t disappoint with some cherry, plum, apple, pear, honey, peat and straw on the nose and a richer taste of caramel, vanilla, honey, peat, black pepper, ginger and orange.  The finish is sweet, fruity and spicy resulting in a very nicely balance whisky and plenty of flavor.  If it weren’t so expensive, I could enjoy this one.
  • Johnnie Walker & Sons Odyssey ($1,100) – Marius (Trinity Hall proprietor) secured a bottle of this limited offering that is a blend of 3 malts in a fancy crystal bottle that rotates 360º while in the box.  It has a great nose of vanilla, plum, honey, cigar box, straw and mild peat.  The taste is similar with notes of plum, ginger, pomegranate, honey, vanilla, caramel, orange marmalade and light tobacco before transitioning to a light and sweet finish.  This is the standout of the night with a great nose and a rich, complex taste.  At this price, I would expect no less!

I’m glad to have finally sampled the Johnnie Walker line.  Previously, I had only tasted the plentiful Black Label, which I didn’t remember being as good as I discovered tonight.  It was by far the best value of the entire line and well worth the jump up from Red Label, which I wouldn’t bother with at all.  While Odyssey and Blue Label were impressive, their prices were much more so and put them out of consideration for sure… they’re just not worth the cost of admission.  As good as these whiskies are, there are much better ones available for much less money (Black Bull 12 and  Glendronach 12 to name a couple and Odyssey has nothing on Glendronach 15 Revival at around $80).  Johnnie Walker has quite the following and they appear to offer great consistency from year to year, which is important to plenty of people, but I still don’t see the value above Black Label.  I’m an explorer and easily bored with the same whisky night after night, so I have no daily dram to speak of.  There are plenty of whiskies yet to explore and I’m glad to have sampled these along the way.  Given an opportunity like this one, you should too.