Monday, January 9, 2012

“Mr Walker’s Amber Restorative”* - Johnnie Walker Blue Label


Johhnie Walker Blue Bottle and Package

Gentlemen,

I know you have been waiting for some time for these tasting notes. I apologise for the delay. Regrettably I have no excuse. The title of this post is a quote from the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens, perhaps the best writer of his generation. A large part of his oeuvre can be found here and I highly recommend it to you. Were it up to me, this would be required reading for club members (and all candidate members would have to pass written tests), but I acknowledge that the rest of the Committee probably wouldn’t support such a proposal**.

The JW label is part of the Diageo PLC range of products and is a stable mate of other well-known whisky brands such as Dimple, Bushmills, J&B and Vat 69. According to Diageo, they sold approximately 160 million litres of JW last year alone. The JW Blue is I think, probably the best known ‘high end’ blended whisky in the world, a byword for quality in popular culture. Who hasn’t walked through the airport duty free store and seen the seemingly obligatory swinging magnum? Historically JW Blue retailed in Australia for $350 - $400. However, mid-year, a decision was taken to lower the price to approximately $180 - $220. According to the sales rep we spoke to at the Sydney Whisky Fair, this was the pragmatic response to changing market circumstances. Similar quality Whisky from competitor brands was available at a considerably lower cost; and if you wanted JW Blue, you could buy the product online for much less, so local retailers couldn’t move the bottles they had in stock.

The packaging for the JW Blue is fantastic. Its high end and looks it. The box is classy and the bottle itself has a hint of blue glass and tapers downwards. It conforms to the usual JW square bottle template, but somehow the addition of blue glass makes it a bit special. I wonder with the recent drop in price if this level of packaging will stay. It’s more typical of a bottle at the old price ($350), rather than the new. It comes with a little booklet inside, which typically emphasises the history of the brand, the rarity of the whisky; pure marketing gumphf if you ask me…

As usual with Johnnie Walker there is no age statement on the bottle. The website suggests that it is a “rare blend of 9 whiskies, and including those from Glen Albyn and Cambus distilleries” but gives no more details. Online it is listed as a blend of 25 – 30 year old whisky.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label
ABV: 43%
Region: Blend, Scotland

Colour: A very rich golden colour. I would guess (but I’m not certain) that colouring has been added to achieve this.

Nose: As usual, I had some trouble with the nose. But Mrs Colonel tells me that it is a sweet honeyed caramel. The tasting notes from the package suggest a hint of peat, but I don’t get any of this.

Palette: This whisky has a complex flavour. I guess this is product of the blend. I taste a lot of salt. It has a very smooth finish. After a couple of drams, I started to get a strong caramel tasted which I enjoyed.

Overall, I thought that this was a pretty good whisky, but as I hinted in my original post, there is not much difference here between the Blue, and the JW Black, or perhaps not as much as I thought there should be given the price difference. This is obviously a much smoother whisky and is certainly of a better quality, but all I can say is that I’m glad we bought it at $180, not $350. Would I buy it again? Probably not, but I’d certainly have a dram if offered. If I gave a dram, I would score this as 5 out of 7 lightning bolts.

The Colonel

* http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/07/hitchens-diary-201007

** Coincidence or destiny? If you Google ‘Johnnie Walker Blue’ Images, a picture of Hitchens comes up…

3 comments:

  1. No matter which way I try to look at it I firmly believe this to be one of the most overrated whiskies of all time. If this is the best Johnnie Walker can offer after all the years and blending skills it is clear this is a totally marketing based whisky. Say it is good, keep saying it is good, and the next thing you know everyone also says it must be good.

    It is a joke to think this is worth $400 AU let alone $200 AU. I would not even grade it an $80 AU whisky.

    OK so I am being aggressive but I really do think we have all been stung well and truly. Thats is the price vs quality is ridiculous.

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  2. I professed my love for JW Blue after tasting it at Whisky Fair. I still think it's amazingly smooth and well balanced, but tasting it next to JW Black at whisky night really showed up the JW Blue.

    To quote The Diplomat from his comment on Oban 14yo:
    Sometimes I like to sit down and enjoy a dram without thinking about it too much...this is one of those whiskys.
    This would be a good description of how I feel about the JW Blue.

    But (and it's a big 'but') I'm not going to pay $200 for an easy drinker. I'd rather have the Aberlour 10yo that I tried the other day at $55 or give the Oban 10yo a go.

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  3. I haven't tried the JW Blue in a long time, so my judgement could faded, but I didn't mind it and I would pay $200. No way I would pay $400, but I struggle to think that I would pay that for any whisky. I would like to own a bottle in my lifetime.

    As a side note, off to buy a bottle of the JW Green this weekend for my collection, as its now been discontinued.

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