Sunday, August 16, 2009

Johnnie Walker Blue Label



Johnnie Walker Blue Label is the most expensive and presumably finest of the Johnnie Walker blended scotch product line offered by the multinational company Diageo plc.


The price is high. For the same price, you could choose from a wide variety of 18 year old single malts at half the price. Moreover, at the price of a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, you could have a 25 year old single malt like Highland Park. All of this leads up to the question of: "Is it worth it?" Not an easy question to answer. I will return to it at the end of this post.

Marketing/Packaging
The marketing folks at Diageo plc are geniuses. The packaging of Blue Label is impressive and no expense is spared. The blue/green glass bottle rests in a satin lined box complete with a booklet about the scotch. The booklet advises that this scotch was blended with the aim of recreating the flavor profile typical of the 19th century blends old Mr. Johnnie Walker would have created. The bottom line is the presentation is impressive.

No Age Stated
The marketing genius of Diageo is exemplified by their ability to command such a high price for a blended scotch that makes no age statement. The website (johnniewalker.com) and the packaging advises that the rarest of the whiskies owned by Diageo go into this blend. So rare and old that some whiskies used in the blend come from distilleries that are no longer in existence. The implication is clear that some of the whiskies in this blend are more than 18 years old. I have not read on the Walker website, but elsewhere I have read that the ingredient whiskies include malt whiskies that are upwards of 40 yrs old. Certainly a claim that I would like to verify at some point. In any case, for blended scotch whisky to have no age statement means the distiller is free from the constraints of only working with whiskies of a particular age. Aged whiskies are better than young ones but only up to a point, in my opinion.

Serving Suggestion
This scotch is so smooth that there is no need to add ice or water to soften any rough edges. There are no rough edges. Even if you always drink your whisky with ice or water, I encourage you to at least try this neat. Pour a double into a whisky glass or crystal tumbler and take a small sip. A tiny sip. Once swallowed and the taste no longer lingers, have a sip of water to clean your palate.

Nose
Pull the cork stopper on this bottle, have a pour and nose your glass. You will enjoy scents of perfume, peat, smoke and fresh bread. Very nice. I compare this to the Gold Label and to my surprise, the Gold Label is considerably nicer on the nose. Mind you, in my opinion, the Gold Label has the finest nose of any scotch I have ever tried.

Setting
Your taste experience can be affected by what you ate at your last meal and how long ago that meal took place. My recommendation is that you try this scotch three or four hours after dinner, in a quiet place with a fireplace, a nice window to look out and consider the flavors offered up by this dram. I would not recommend eating anything with this fine scotch as the flavors of the food may conflict or dull the palate from the full flavor range offered by this wonderful dram. All you need is a quiet place, some privacy, a tall glass of cold water and a tumbler or whisky glass of this whisky.

Palate (undiluted)
I take a little sip and am surprised by how weighty this scotch is in the mouth. A medium to full body that rolls on the tongue while it is being savored. The initial flavor is very soft peat. I am surprised how much peat the flavor profile delivers. Smooth, rich, corona cigar smoke, a spice box with ginger follows against a malty background.

Finish (undiluted)
The sign of a great scotch is how long it lingers upon the palate once it is gone. Blue Label does not disappoint. Flavors of smoke, very restrained peat, malt, fresh chopped mint leaves, and faint peppercorns linger. Maybe a little echo of English Stilton cheese at the very end. The length of flavor is moderate.

What happens if we add a splash of water?
Add water and you will enjoy more complexity of flavors. Having sampled this both undiluted and with a little water, my preference will depend on my mood. The water (a little! like a teaspoon at the most to a shot) livens the flavors. You will taste more peat, carmelized onion and pepper. On the downside, the water takes away some sophistication. I know the last sentence borders on the meaningless, but that's the best I can do.

General Impressions
It's a decent scotch whisky that will not offend. 'Smooth' and 'rich,'  are words that come to mind when I think about it. No flavors are too strong, bitter or burn, even when consumed neat. I enjoyed this spirit, but have to say that I am not obsessed with it or its biggest fan. A word of caution here. I prefer scotch that is more honey, caramel, chocolate, nutty in flavor. In a word, I am a fan of the stereotypical Speyside scotches (Cragganmore, Glenfiddich, etc.). I am by nature, not an Ardbeg fanatic. For those of you who do not know Ardbeg, it's a peat bomb. Johnnie Walker Blue has an Islay component that dominates the Speyside whiskies that are also a present, but the domination is done in the most elegant way possible.

Is It Worth the Price?
In order to answer this question you have to first determine what it is being compared to? Ultra premium blended scotch whisky or single malt?

Compared to other very high end blended scotch whisky, 'no,' it is not worth the price. The peer group for ultra-premium blends includes: Royal Salute, Ballantines 17 yr old and Chivas Regal 18yrs and 25 yrs. Johnnie Walker Blue is a weak player in this group, probably the weakest.  Chivas 18yrs and Royal Salute are both priced lower but offer up superior, more fragrant flavors than the Blue Label. At this level of likes and dislikes it's fairly subjective. If you like peat and smoke to dominate the flavor profile, Blue Label might be your choice, as it is stronger than the others. However, if you like the classic Speyside flavors of honey, cinammon and caramel, you should opt for Chivas 18, 25 and Royal Salute.

If you compare Blue Label to single malt scotch, it is definitely not worth the money.  There are several single malts which present greater complexity of flavors at half the price! Which ones? Lagavulin 16 yrs, Glenlivet 18 yrs (add a little water), Cragganmore 12 yrs (add a little water), Dalwhinnie and Highland Park 15 or 18 yrs (great neat or with the addition of a splash of water) to name just a few. All of the aforementioned single malts are at a minimum 50% cheaper and offer a more intricate and pleasing flavor profile. If you visit the Johnnie Walker website, Blue Label is promoted on the basis of the "layers and layers of flavor . . ." (at the time of writing this post this was in the website. However, Diaego is constantly updating the site and so this comment about 'layers' may disappear in the future.) And this is where it fails when compared to the previously mentioned single malts. The single malts weave a tapestry of flavor that Blue Label cannot hold a candle to.

But if it fails the value for money test when compared to ultra-premium blended scotch whisky and single malts (which is kind of like comparing apples to oranges) then why does it enjoy such great success in terms of sales? Marketing.  Masterful marketing.  I think for many people, purchasing Johnnie Walker Blue Label is about making a statement:

"I am rich!"

"I spent a lot of money on your gift."

"I have a fat wallet and a very limited knowledge of scotch."

I have no understanding of the phrase 'value for money.'"

Conclusion
Price and value for money considerations aside, if you are looking for a smooth, inoffensive ultra-premium scotch, Johnnie Walker Blue Label will not disappoint, but it will not impress much either.


Cheers!

PS:  An updated review on Johnnie Blue is available by clicking here.

© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

20 comments:

  1. Hi Jason!
    You are completely right. I was intrigued about how good Blue Label taste would be, but it was too expensive... Then, it started getting even more expensive so I decided that it was now or never. Didn't think much, and went to buy it.
    Now, when someone asks me if it's really that awesome to be worth that much money, I say honestly that it's not. But I cannot regret, because it's wonderful anyways. And since I am a fan of all Johnnie Walker's marketing, Advertisement campaings and tv spots, and of course the packaging, I cannot regret. It symbolizes more for me than what it really is. I love it, and since the only way to drink it is to pay for it, well, there's no choice but to get it.
    Once empty, it will go besides the Black Label 100 years of the Striding Man edition black bottle that is standing there in my living room. It's a whisky for fans, also. You know, once you started you have to complete the collection of JW rainbow and be a happy fan.
    Marketing works perfecty.

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  2. My dear boy, some things go best together when making a complete statement. A pickup truck, fat wife, and a six pack of beer for some. Aston Martin, $5,000 hooker, and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue for others.

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    Replies
    1. Great statement, my congrats

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    2. Brilliant...eloquently put Sir.

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  4. Another lame review on JW Blue. I've pulled this bottle out over and over comparing it to some of my finest single malts...just the other day with Highland Park 18. It holds its own just fine. I'm convinced it has become vogue to snub Blue in a form of reverse snobbery that reviewers think make them look smart. In reality Blue is not a great value proposition as I paid 149 versus only 94 for HP 18 which is just as good. There are gobs of single malts just as good as Blue for much less money. But folks don't let these clowns fool you...if you ever buy a bottle of Blue you will know it is an exceptional whisky ever bit the quality of many fine single malts.

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  5. Tastes much like any other Johnnie Walker. A bit like petrol. Neil Pincus.

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  6. I have a great knowledge of scotch and I think JWB is the M-er F-ing Bomb! Screw snobbery. It's all about palate preference. Do you like drinking beach campfires or honey suckles? Many times one scotch vs another is a non-sensical conversation. What do you like better?

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  7. Color me unimpressed by Blue as well. I've had Blue on 3 occasions now and each time I could appreciate the smoothness but was left wanting when it came to complexity or anything that would indicate this was worth the money.

    The last time I had Blue was on Norwegian Cruise where they also had the Green label. I tried Green for the first time that trip and was far, FAR more impressed with that whiskey than Blue. In fact, I am rather annoyed at Diageo for keeping Green limited to travel retail and the Asia market.

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  8. try two parts JWblack; one part lagavulin 16

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  9. I get a hefty pour of Johnnie Walker Blue at my local watering hole for $20.

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    1. Good price to try the very expensive malt. A lot cheaper than investing in a bottle.

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    2. Good price to try the very expensive malt. A lot cheaper than investing in a bottle.

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    3. Good price to try the very expensive malt. A lot cheaper than investing in a bottle.

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    4. I should say blended Scotch an not malt.

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  10. Thank you for the in depth (not lame) review of Blue Label, as you covered each of the issues any scotch fan would be concerned about when deciding about this whisky. I was very pleased to try this recently as my wealthy friend had some guys over for cigars and scotch, for which he enjoys both but knows nothing about either. I was amazed that drinking Blue was as easy as drinking flavored water. It was good, really good, but I kept thinking there's not a chance I'd ever pay $180 for a bottle of this when the flavor profile really kept reminding me of Highland Park. I think I'd rather do my best to have friends that are impressed with me versus impressed with what I drink. And in this case I am fortunate to have that esteem for this particular host who in no way is arrogant, but simply wants to provide for his friends who might not otherwise have the opportunity to try the upper end of products. BTW he's upfront that his wife researches and buys the cigars, because she knows he likes cigars!

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    1. What kind of cigars were they? Davidoff?

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    2. Ken, I guess what I mean is for those who dont know a lot about Scotch, they think Blue Label is the best because it costs so much. In the cigar world, Davidoff is much like Blue Label. While they are great cigars, there are also a lot of other makers (ie. Arturo Fuente, My Father, La Gloria Cubana, etc) that are also just as good but not as well known.

      Any how, thanks for commenting!

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  11. Regarding "Snobbish" reviews of Blue Label:

    A good review of JW Blue cannot avoid a price/value comparison simply because the price is so very high. In my opinion, virtually no individual bottle is worthy of a price tag north of $200 - and not many are worth between $100-$200. It's whisky, people, not gold bullion.

    JW Blue is a conscious attempt at delivering a status symbol (which the producer, Diageo, freely concedes), as opposed to merely a quality drinking experience. Anyone considering taking the plunge on this $250 item who cares to research beforehand deserves to be so informed.

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