Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Have just tried ... Johnnie Walker Blue Label

johnnie walker blue labelJohnnie Walker is a world famous range of blended whiskies. The Johnnie Walker brand is currently owned by multi national drinks company Diageo, who blend whiskies from across their portfolio of 28 Scottish distilleries. Some of these only operate in order to supply the Johnnie Walker range. The core range consists of the Red Label (which carries no age statement), Black Label (minimum age of whisky in this is 12 years), Green Label (minimum age 15 years), Gold Label (minimum age 18 years) and this legendary Blue Label. No age stated on the Blue Label but the youngest whisky included is rumoured to be 28 years old, with some of the whisky from rare or closed distilleries such as Brora. It contains over 20 rare single malts and superior grain whiskies in total.

The Johnnie Walker whiskies are the best selling series around the globe with the Red Label forming the cornerstone of this success. The combined sales of all Johnnie Walker whiskies in 2008 totalled 17.2% of world sales (source - Euromonitor International 2009). Therefore, that equates to the fact that for every six bottles of whisky sold during 2008 in the world, one was either a Johnnie Walker Red, Black, Green, Gold or Blue Label. The iconic Red Label is by far the biggest selling of these, contributing almost 10% of all worldwide whisky sales on its own!

The success of the brand is built on the original Johnnie Walker blends being exported around the world during Victorian times. As the British Empire expanded, more people enjoyed the range and brand has never looked back. This is shown in the fact that Johnnie Walker whiskies were already exported to 120 countries before Coca Cola had even left America in the 1920s. The brand and its famous 'walking man' logo are embedded in world culture and pioneered sports sponsorship in the 1960s by sponsoring a motor racing Grand Prix team and other major events, especially golf.

The Blue Label is packaged in a blue glass bottle and the whisky has a golden amber colour. The nose is surprisingly subtle with distinct cereal grain (imagine the husks especially) and vanilla notes appearing first. These are followed by some caramel/toffee and a herbal grassy note (think of dried grasses). Through these comes a whiff of soft peat smoke that is reminiscent of bonfire smoke. On the palate this is very soft and silky. It feels rich and very grainy (those husks again), with the beginning being sweet before turning drier. The sweet elements include vanilla, soft dried fruits (imagine sultanas and raisins) and honey. The dryness comes from an oaky woodiness that appears and this feels a little spicy in nature (think of a woody spice like cinnamon). All the flavours on the palate are backed up with that lovely smokiness again, although it seems more earthy than it did on the nose. The finish is of medium length and again starts sweetly (particularly the caramel and grain notes) before becoming dry and slightly spicy (imagine ginger and cinnamon).

Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a lovely, mellow, soft whisky that is clearly very intelligently blended. It is easy to see why it is so popular and is one of the most aspirational whisky brands/status symbols to have on your whisky shelf in certain parts of the world . A bottle costs between £140-170 for a 70cl bottle in the UK. Whether it is worth the price compared to cheaper (and equally as good quality) premium blended whiskies such as Chivas Regal 18 years old, only you can decide. Or do people willingly pay extra due to the 'aspirational' marketing and Blue Label's legendary status/kudos in the consumer world. Again, only you can decide! All we can say is that it is a lovely dram that should be tried so that you can see what all the fuss is about.

1 comment:

Jim said...

At a recent tasting of mid-level scotches, Blue emerged as the favorite (and most expensive.) However, for 1/4 the cost, something like Johnny Walker Black or Balvenie (sp?) or Old Parr is a suitable alternative. And for everyday drinking, your only hope of staying out of the poor house.