Tag Archives: Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker Black Label ‘Islay Origin’ 12-year-old, 1 litre

Bought: World of Whisky at Heathrow, 22nd February 2020


83.71/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)

If you find yourself in an airport duty free shop and you spot a new whisky you fancy for £30 (or your currency equivalent) I have two words for you – “BUY IT!” I failed to do this with a new range of Glen Grant and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. So when I saw Johnnie Walker (JW) had released four new versions of their 12yo, £30 each for 1 litre bottles, my eyes lit up. With my 5% travel discount from ‘RED by Dufry’ this made it £28.50 per bottle. Since then the price has gone up to £35 at the airports and as much as £52 from online whisky shops (although £45 on Amazon). A bottle at auction went for as much as £55!

I only wanted to buy one of the four bottles, which were divided into the Scottish whisky regions of Speyside, Islay, Highland and Lowland. I’ve been in the malt game long enough to know that Islay is the one for me. Even if it’s mediocre the Islay flavours are going to be interesting. If any of the other regions are mediocre then there’s a chance they’ll be boring, which nobody wants. But with tasting notes that include iodine, sherry, smoke, toffee, red fruits, meaty and full, it sounds like Laphroaig and Bunnahabhain with a few other Islay classics thrown in for good measure. It’s also a vatted/blended malt (like the JW 15yo Green) so no grain in the mix to confuse matters.

Scoring nearly 84/100 on Whiskybase is a reasonable score but only from 9 member votes so far. Over on Amazon the rating is 4.6/5 from 88 global votes but only 3 written reviews from the UK. Most are from Germany where JW must be more popular or simply more available. Indeed Whiskybase list 4 suppliers of this Islay Johnnie Walker, the majority of which are in Germany and none in the UK. Comments online include, “perfectly balanced sweet peated entry level, yet complex”, “lovely and very good value” and “like eating toffee apples at a bonfire. Would recommend to anyone.”

Tasting notes from Master of Malt:

Nose: Iodine, toffee, orange, you’d swear there was some sherry here though apparently there isn’t.

Palate: In the mouth it’s peppery with dried fruit, fresh red fruits and honey, with the smoke lingering but not dominating. Meaty and full.

Finish: Smoke and a little toffee.

Johnnie Walker Green Label (2015 -)

Bought: World Duty Free, 22nd March 2016

82.67/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes) for 100cl version
84/100 – Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com)

The Johnnie Walker ‘Green Label’ first appeared in 2005 but by 2013 it was discontinued everywhere other than in Asia. In 2015 it returned (hurray!) with a limited edition to mark its 10-year anniversary. But rather than disappear again it has remained due to popular demand, and by having enough stock of the whisky that go into this blended malt. As it states on the box this is a vatting together of Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila, which all have to be a minimum of 15 years old. And with no grain whisky to interfere with the mix you get to play a guessing game as to which of these 4 classic single malts you can spot in the taste.

Even though it’s been 2 years since the Green Label (GL) returned I see that Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’ book still contains his review from many years ago (95/100) so I haven’t included that. 82.6/100 on Whiskybase is for my 100cl version but the 70cl scores higher with 83.4/100 from 76 votes (it’s the same stuff in both bottles). That’s a pretty good score. Comments include “no big challenge, no need of too much attention. Simple but decent”, “what it lacks is a bit of power, but then again, the balance between subtle smoke and sweetness is well-done” and “initial taste is very good and promising, but the body never delivers. And it’s just downhill from there, with an almost non existing finish.”

Although ratings appear to be good the new GL clearly has its faults, especially to those who tried the previous incarnation. When Ralfy did his first YouTube review of the GL in 2010 he scored it a fantastic 89/100 but in his re-review in 2016 (below) he’s downgraded it to 84/100. He felt it had been slightly sanitised since his last review. ‘Malts of Montreal’ says in his YouTube review of September 2015 (here) that the old version was more smoky and peaty whereas the new GL is sweeter. This could well upset the Coal Ila and Talisker fans and I certainly didn’t taste as much Talisker as I was hoping when I tried it. But overall, without comparison to the previous version, the Johnnie Walker Green Label is a good blended malt and an enjoyable experience on the palate.

Ralfy’s thoughts on YouTube (April 2016):

Johnnie Walker ‘Swing’ (40% version)

Bought: Whiskysite, Holland, 26th October 2015

91/100 – Ralfy of www.ralfy.com (his video here from Jan 2013)
81.9/100 – Whiskybase (from 12 member votes)

Like the Dimple blend with its flat sides to stop it falling off the captain’s table, the Swing has a nautical connection. Sea cruises for the wealthy were becoming popular in the 1920s but bottles of Johnnie Walker weren’t designed for the ebb and thrust of the sea. Lord and Lady Forbes Leadbetter wouldn’t be happy if the bar of their luxury liner was swimming with whisky and broken glass as the waves hurled unstable bottles to the floor. The ‘Swing’ appeared on the market in 1932 and the curved bottom of the bottle did exactly as the name suggests. A perfect bottle for sea travel.

The last time the Swing appeared in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible was in the 2008 edition when it scores a lowly 79/100. Thankfully that was the 43% version. The one available today is a 40% as discussed by Ralfy in his video and mentioned on Whiskybase. Ralfy loves it but it gets mixed reviews on Whiskybase where one member describes it as a “watered down Talisker 10”. Well I like the Talisker 10 and I usually put some water in it so I will know not to do that with the Swing (I wouldn’t with a blend anyway).

Currently several online shops in the UK are selling the Swing for £48 but it’s possible to find it on mainland Europe for a lot less. I got my bottle shipped over from Holland where it cost the Euro equivalent of £26.

Because it’s Johnnie Walker there are plenty of reviews to be found online. Here’s one on You Tube by “The Single Malt Review”:

Johnnie Walker Swing 70cl

Johnnie Walker ‘The Spice Road’

Bought: World Duty Free, 2nd July 2015

84.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
77/100 – Whiskybase (average from 10 member votes)

A 1 litre Johnnie Walker on sale for £25 with the word ‘spice’ in the title – YES PLEASE! This bottle is the cheapest of the JW ‘Explorer Club’ series that Diageo have put together for Travel Retail shops in airports. Apparently Diageo were successfully sued by the real Explorer Club for using their name – ooops! But there were no hard feelings as Diageo have now become a corporate sponsor of the club. One small boo-boo by Diageo, one giant cheque for explorer-kind.

77/100 on Whiskybase is a so-so score for a blend but Jim Murray’s 84.5/100 in his Whisky Bible classifies this JW as “good whisky worth buying”. Mr Murray’s whole review consists of “sublime delivery of exceptionally intense juiciness: in fact probably the juiciest blend released this year. But the bitter, fuzzy finish reveals certain casks haven’t helped.” As noted before, several of the JW range have a problem with their finish. More reason to get quickly to the next sip!

Johnnie Walker The Spice Road NAS 100cl

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18-year-old

Bought: Amazon, 15th December 2014

88/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
82.91/100 – Whiskybase (average from 25 member votes)

I find Whiskybase a useful website for ratings but, if you live in the UK like I do, avoid looking at how much whiskies cost in Europe (unless you intend to order from there, or like to weep uncontrollably). As I write this, the cheapest place in Europe (listed on Whiskybase) for a 70cl bottle of the Platinum Label is €47.50, which equates to £35.62. The cheapest UK online price I can find is £65.02, nearly £30 more expensive than its European equivalent! It reminds me why we used to do booze-cruises to France 10+ years ago. If you travel to and from Holland or Germany on a regular basis, you’re quids in for whisky purchases, quite literally! More quids remain in your pocket.

88/100 in the Whisky Bible rates this JW blend as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. Reading the review by the author, Jim Murray, you realise the Platinum shares a common trait with several other versions of JW, which is a lackluster finish. This can also be seen in the Blue Label and Spice Road (Travel Retail release). But it’s only a minor criticism, which I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere in other Internet reviews.

I bought a 20cl bottle to tick this blend off my JW colour collection. Would I buy a 70cl bottle at £65? No. Here are examples of cheaper, 18yo single malts, and their Whisky Bible 2015 ratings:

  • £40.99 – Stronachie 18yo – 88.5/100
  • £53.99 – Inchmurrin 18yo – 92.5/100
  • £54.99 – Glenlivet 18yo – 91/100
  • £56.51 – Tomatin 18yo – 92.5/100

As I’m more of a single malt man (at this stage of my experience) I’d buy a bottle of one or all of the above long before I got a full 70cl of JW Platinum. But it’s still a reasonable blend nonetheless.

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18yo 20cl

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Bought: Amazon, 15th December 2014

91.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
81/100 – RalfyJohnnie Walker Gold Label 18yo – YouTube (July 2013)

Ralfy’s review is of the 18yo version of Gold Label, as opposed to the NAS (non-aged statement) ‘Reserve’ version I have. The NAS version is the one most commonly found in supermarkets here in the UK, having been launched in 2013. I bought mine from Amazon as part of the Johnnie Walker 4-pack of 20cl bottles, made up of Gold, Black, Blue and Platinum. I needed the Gold and Platinum to complete my set of Johnnie Walker colours, which go with Black, Double Black, Blue, Green and Red.

The Whisky Bible score of 91.5/100 is excellent. The author, Jim Murray, says “moments of true star quality here, but the finish could do with a polish”. He scores the taste 24/25 but the finish 22/25. Nevertheless, that’s still a good score. Perhaps if it had been 46% instead of 40%?! But that can be said about many whiskies.

According to the Whisky Bible, the colours of JW rank in this order:

95.5/100 – Black Label
95/100 – Green Label
94.5/100 – Double Black
91.5/100 – Gold Label ‘Reserve’
88/100 – Platinum Label
88/100 – Blue Label
87.5/100 – Red Label

Even the Red Label gets a very respectable score. But with the price of the Blue Label you’d expect it to be top of the table, not languishing near the bottom. The Gold’s score of 91.5/100 classifies it as “brilliant”, which is good to hear!

Johnnie Walker Gold Label 20cl

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Bought – Loch Fyne, 19th June 2014

88/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
82/100 – Ralfy, of http://www.ralfy.com
Review: – Ralfy – Johnnie Walker Blue Label – YouTube

It’s time to sell your grandmother, as you reach for a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label off the top shelf. I blame it all on the Green Label bottle I bought last year, which inspired me to want all the colours in the JW range. The Blue is the expensive one, at around £135 for a full 70cl. I paid £45 for my 20cl bottle, and even at that price I need my head seen to! £45 for a quarter bottle of a blend?! And it’s not even the version of the Blue Label that Jim Murray raves about in his Whisky Bible. My version scores a respectable 88/100 with the comment from Jim of “What a frustrating blend! Just so close to brilliance but the nose and finish are slightly out of kilter. Worth the experience of the mouth arrival alone.” He does give the ‘taste’ part of the mark 24/25, which is 96/100, so if I hold my nose and forgive the finish it sounds incredible!

So what is it that Jim Murray loves?! It’s the Blue Label ‘The Casks Edition’ which he scores 97/100. Wow! But unfortunately it’s £300 for a bottle. Double-WOW followed by a “Blimey!” And an “OUCH!”

Johnnie Walker Blue Label 20cl

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Bought – ASDA, 11th March 2014

94.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
82/100 – Ralfy, of www.ralfy.com
Review: – Ralfy – Johnnie Walker Double Black – YouTube

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve started collecting the various colours of Johnnie Walker, as I add ‘Double Black’ to my growing list of Red, Green and Black. Somehow 4 doesn’t seem all that impressive but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I add Gold and Platinum. I’ve even found myself considering Blue, although I could buy several excellent single malts for the same price as one bottle of the Blue Label. But sometimes ‘collector madness’ can blind you to common sense.

I hadn’t been considering getting the Double Black until ASDA reduced it by £10. It seemed only fair to try it. The ‘double’ element refers to taking Black Label as the base and doubling it up by adding more peaty malts and other whisky smoked in heavily charred oak casks.

Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible 2014 gives the Black Label 95.5/100 but the Double Black’s score of 94.5/100 is extremely high. He says of it “there is an earthiness to this unlike any other JW” and adds “this is a welcome and impressive addition to the Johnnie Walker stable”.

Johnnie Walker Double Black 70cl

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Bought – ASDA, 25th October 2013

95/100 – Whisky Bible 2010 & 2012
89/100 – Ralfy, of www.ralfy.com
Review: – Ralfy – Johnnie Walker Green Label – YouTube

As Ralfy says “arguably the best of the entire Johnnie Walker range” and it’s his personal Johnnie Walker favourite. Well worth watching his review. It was recorded back in 2010 when Green Label was easy to come by but it has now been discontinued (apparently). There’s several comments about this below the video with Ralfy saying 2 months ago that the Green Label is only available in Taiwan. He goes on to say “now last-stock (I’m told) on shop shelves, a proper collectable!”

The only local source I could find for the Green Label was ASDA. Links I found online often lead to whisky shops saying it was “no longer in stock”. One link showed an old price of £40 but when I clicked through to the shop the latest price was £50! Thankfully it was nearly half that in ASDA. It’s tempting not to drink it and put it away for a decade or two and then see how much it’s worth. But I haven’t tasted it yet, so scrub that idea!

Another confirmation about the demise of the Green Label is its omission from the Whisky Bible 2013. In the 2010 and 2012 editions it was awarded ‘Scotch Vatted Malt Of The Year’ with 95/100. It seems a shame that such a good whisky is to become a thing of the past.

Johnnie Walker Green Label 70cl

Johnnie Walker Red Label – 5cl

Acquired 3rd October 2013. Part of my ‘Customs & Excise’ collection.

87.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2013 (for modern version)
86/100 – Ralfy, of www.ralfy.com (for 1960s version)
Review: – Ralfy – Johnnie Walker Red Label (1960s v 2010) – YouTube

Although I’m not sure which decades my two wee bottles come from, Ralfy’s review comparing a bottle from the 1960s to one from 2010 makes interesting viewing. I believe at least one of my bottles is closer to the 1960s than 2013. I’m yet to acquire a modern bottle but, when I do, I’ll be sure to contrast and compare between the vintages. Hopefully by then my research will pin down when my minis were made.

Johnnie Walker Red Label 5cl