Paying for prestige.
Let’s get that out of the way right off. There is simply no way around it. For those not immersed in the wonderful world of whisky, Johnnie Walker Blue is often thought of as the Holy Grail of scotch. It sits top shelf in liquor stores; commands >$20 an ounce in restaurants and pubs; and is oft gifted for special occasions. Every bottle is numbered and sold in a certified silk-lined box. According to JW, all of the whiskies used in the composition of this blend are at least 20 years old.
Sounds alright, huh? I have now tasted this on a couple of occasions and can say, without any doubt or hesitation…meh.
I have mentioned many times throughout reviews and writings here, do not be fooled by presentation or reputation. Let your palate be your guide. Don’t let anything but your senses decide for you. Let’s face it…aside from our palate, we have one other guide. Our chequebook. Can your palate convince you this is a fine dram? Undoubtedly. Can your chequebook? Simply…no.
Johnnie Walker Blue is unquestionably good. It is beautifully balanced and ever so smooth. It is pleasant and enjoyable, delicious and almost refreshing. But so are hundreds of other malts that will cost a fraction of what this will set you back. As a rule, I do not like bringing price into the equation when reviewing whiskies, but there are times when it absolutely must become an element. JWB is going to cost you ~$200 a bottle.
I think that needs to sink in for a moment.
~$200 a bottle for a branded, colored, chill-filtered, 43% blended whisky.
Okay. Deep breath. I am finished casting insolent glares at the figures behind this whisky. How ’bout the product itself?
Well…it’s tasty. Caramel sweetness, a bit of spice, characteristic JW smoke in the back, some smooth vanilla and mild berry. I think I am getting a little bit of light orange fruit as well. Generally a few drops of water will bring out a little more, but I’m not really a ‘water in whisky’ kinda guy and at 43% I would be afraid of drowning this, so I’ll leave it as simple tasting notes.
It has a thick creamy body and nice mouth-coating quality to it. Not much more will creep forth on the palate from what you’ll pick up on the nose. In fact, the fruitier notes seem to get buried a little here. The flavors are mild and well-mannered. Highest marks here are saved for balance. Not a bad note to be found. In fact it almost lacks distinction because of this tightly-woven tapestry of blending. Can I fault a whisky for being too smooth? Well, no…I wouldn’t deduct points, but should point out to you…when searching for that special diamond ring, shouldn’t there be a beautiful gem that sits in the forefront of the setting? JWB seems to lack that. This is simply too mediocre to justify the cost.
Final notes…it does dry nicely in the mouth and leaves a touch of wood and (very) mild smoke behind. Also a hint of tart fruit skins. Not a bad finish.
To be honest…stick with the Black Label. Trust me.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt
I general agree with Curt’s review, but thought I would add this for anyone who may want to still add this to their collection and save some money.
Buy it at a duty-free store that is not at a North American airport, or at a ground crossing between Canada and the US.
I like the Blue label (not love) but have now bought a bottles because the price was too good! <$130 for 1L at crossing at the Alberta/Montana border.
At $130 for 1L…I’d CONSIDER buying another. Mostly just to let friends try. Not a bad whisky though. I’ve said enough above, but a peek at the score shows my thoughts in inherent quality anyway.
I have to say my first impression (and last) in trying the blue was, “hmmm, tastes like the black”, not that I’ve tasted the black much.
So for me, given the price difference, I’d stick with the black.
Having said that, given i like to drink ‘good’ stuff when I do drink scotch because the opportunities don’t arise often, so I would skip JW altogether and raid David’s stash if Bladnoch or A’Bunadh …
Let me make it even worse for ya then. Will be posting review of Johnnie Walker King George V tomorrow.
I look forward to reading it. It costs me nothing and I can sip some A’Bunadh while doing it…
Better not be MY A’Bunadh….
It’s 300 dollars a bottle in the BC liquor stores.
Funny, BC means bring cash. Its $230 in Alberta, but the double black is only $60
Would you believe that I’ve actually gotten shite for my opinion on JWB?
You did a solid job in reminding the reader that impressions-perceptions-tastes are highly variable. However, realize this…flipping the paradigm into the realm of cars, there are a bunch of cars out there that are great to drive. Mazda Miatas, Porsche 911s, Nissan GTRs and even Ford Taurus SHOs. But just because the Miata is cheaper make it better? Or because the Ford has four doors is it more practical?
To me, I’d rather have a little of something I like than a lot of something that I don’t. JWB is a brilliantly balanced, savory whisky. Granted, it’s more expensive than others but is a 911 any less of a sports car because it’s more expensive than a tricked-out Camaro?
JWB is consistently excellent. Not as trendy, not as extreme…but excellent nonetheless and at the end, you get that awesome bottle!
If you really like it and can dump out $300 for a bottle then by all means.
Having tasted the black, the double black, the green and either a gold or platinum (I won’t even count the red), I don’t see the big deal over Blue.
In Calgary you can get a cask strength Glendronach 17 YO for $80-120, and that beats the Blue any day.