As many eagle eyed regulars on here will remember, we're pretty big fans of Johnnie Walker's Gold Label blend. It ticks almost every box- finesse, price, versatility and all-round, solid blending. However, we've had mixed feelings about its more expensive brother, the Blue Label. In some areas, it often felt like it was missing something, that extra sparkle that one would expect for a whisky in its price bracket. I first encountered Blue Label at a restaurant in Cape Town- for the surprisingly generous sum of £7 for a dram. Needless to say, I enjoyed it, but still my mind returned to the half drunk bottle of Gold, sitting in my cabinet at home.
So it is with great intrigue that I recently had the opportunity to try the Blue Label again, but this time in the company of its 2 older and much more prestigious brothers- the King George V and newly released, 'The John Walker' bottling.
The John Walker now occupies the role as flagship of the Blue Label range and has been aimed at the increasing number of High End Cognac drinkers across the globe. Made in batches of 330 bottles from 9 casks (3 of which we're told include Cardhu, the discontinued Glen Albyn and Talisker) this is certainly going to have a story to tell. The blend is married for around 4 months in oak before being encased in individually numbered Baccarat crystal decanters and housed in hand crafted Chinese pine cases, which apparently take around 60 hours to turn out. And it shows. The case does look superb.
So where does this leave the whisky? Could this turn into the story of the man, who spent so much on the exterior of his house that he couldn't afford to furnish the inside? I sincerely hope not. Mind you, if I was small enough I think I would be quite happy taking up residence in one of these...
Nose: Reserved, but stirring. give this time and it really begins to open up. Vanilla notes, leading into aromas of malty, freshly baked loaves, lemon zest, seville oranges and heather honey. Scented wax notes also develop. Brilliantly balanced.
Palate: Quite a big surprise here. Whereas, we have found the Blue Label to lack some depth, this is a surprisingly bold palate, with a distinct note of briney peat, leading into milky, sweetened coffee, turkish delight more honey and mint chocolate notes. All this is wrapped up in a viscous, oily mouth feel.
Finish: An oaky dryness develops, with the coffee notes lingering and a return of the vanilla from the nose.
Overall: The nose and palate are sensational and certainly demonstrate just how blended whisky can beguile and give us hours of enjoyment. The finish perhaps doesn't deliver quite as many superlatives, but this is still no doubt, a class act. In comparison to the original Blue Label this shows a far greater elegance, which one would expect with the kind of whiskies used in its creation. It also highlights a different style of blending to the King George V bottling, which is much heavier on the dried fruit notes.
The best experience i've had with Blue Label? Certainly. But discount the other blends in the JW portfolio at your peril.