Jul 292014
 

Johnnie Walker King George V038

43% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

Take ye olde Johnnie Walker Blue Label.  Amp up the ratio of great to mediocre component whiskies.  Increase the average age of a few of those various casks.  Dial up the smoke a notch or two (apparently through the inclusion of some rare old Port Ellen).  Dust it all with a hefty sprinkling of complexity, the likes of which the Blue Label could only dream.  Give it a sleek and luxury-style packaging that even the LVMH folks would swoon for.  Triple (or quadruple) the price point.  Voila!  Johnnie Walker King George V.

Seriously, though.  This is damn sexy whisky.  Obviously marketed more towards the affluent upper crust than we punters, it’s definitely one that will take a swipe at your bank account if you plan to shelve a bottle.  But let’s not dwell on that for now.  Anyone who is looking to buy a $700 bottle of blended whisky probably isn’t too worried about that $700 in the first place.  Not to mention that taking price out of the equation is imperative to scoring and reviewing any whisky.  While it’s certainly fair game to weigh in on value for money, I kinda think the scores should only reflect the sustenance of spirit.

I’d also argue that these sorts of releases are aimed more at the luxury class in general, than at the average whisky enthusiast.  There is a prestige association here that supercedes the love of Scotch.  But that’s ok.  Malt snobs, sadly,  are not likely to be the ones reaching for this anyway, simply due to the ‘blend’ appellation and the name Johnnie Walker.  The reality is, though, they would be wrong.  There’s as much to love here as there is in the upper tiers of single malt splendour.  This whisky is the blenders’ art taken to heights rarely seen.  And in all likelihood…even more scarcely replicated.

Brilliant whisky.  Simple as that.

One final thought…

It’s not often (if ever) that most of us will encounter a blended whisky at anything but a normalized alcoholic strength, but man…to imagine what this King George could have scored at cask strength is staggering in its possibilities. 

Nose:  Smoke.  Creme caramel.  Dusty books.  Allspice.  Orange (fruit and zest).  Old wood shavings…maybe pencil shavings, at that.  Leather chairs and warm suede.  A hint of salt and some cereal notes.  Caramel.  Such an incredibly tight weave.

Palate:  Leather again here.  Smoke and mild earthy peatiness.  Slightly coastal.  Polished oak.  Spiced apple pie.  Smoky caramel.  Just a hint of fruitcake.  Apple skins.  A tad thin, but the flavours are fantastic. 

Thoughts:  This is such a well made dram that it would almost hit my desert island list.  Not because it’s one of the all time greats, but because it is so utterly appealing for almost every scenario I can conceive of.  Ok…it IS one of the all time greats.  More ‘Islay’ here than expected too.  ‘Classic’ single malt profile…but VERY high end.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

-Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:30 am
Aug 112012
 

Johnnie Walker Red Label169

40% abv

Score:  70/100

 

A blend can absolutely sparkle.  Think about it.  A good master blender is able to create his whisky much as a jeweller creates a ring.  He is able, as his whim dictates, to position a selection of malts in a setting of soft or hard grains to create something truly magnificent.  The sky is the limit really.  Components are hand-picked from a multitude of distilleries and married in an attempt to bring to life the blender’s vision.

A case in point, Johnnie Walker Red Label is a blend comprised of about 35 malts and grains.  Generally in a blend such as this the grains are used to prop up the malts, where most of the character comes from.  Logically one would assume that, like diamonds in the center of the setting, the primary malts would stand out in beautiful relief.  So, do the malts sparkle here?

Unfiortunately…not even a little.  This whisky is drab, lifeless and uninspired.  I hate to say it, but JW Red is the reason that blended whiskies get a bad name.  Unfair, really, as there are some exceptional blends out there.  Some of which are even in the Johnnie Walker line.

Surprisingly, the nose on the Red Label is actually agressive at first.  It smells young and raw.  I would strongly advise letting it rest for 15 minutes or so before touching it, and can guarantee you’ll be smelling an entirely different whisky at this point.  The nose is chalk full of cereal notes and harsh grains.  There is a pungent peatiness which I truly did not expect in here.  It really doesn’t seem to fit.  A few other notes dance among the grains.  Notably, a burnt toffee or caramel and some rather tart fruits.

First sips reveal really brittle grains and cloying peat.  There is a certain vegetal weediness tied to these earthy notes, which is only slightly softened by a bit of vanilla.  It tastes a little better than the nose would lead you to believe, but by no means is it a stand alone drink.  As a mixer…perhaps.  I don’t really drink mixed whisky drinks though, so I really have no need for this in my cabinet.

The finish, though short enough is still too long for my liking here.  The lingering flavors just aren’t pleasant enough to not wear out their welcome.

An absolutely unexceptional blend.  Put the $30 you were thinking of spending on this towards a bottle of The Black Label instead.

One final note on blended whiskies…

They rely on the availability of their components for consistency.  I will revisit this whisky in the future to see if I notice any of the changes a few other souls have mentioned both verbally and in print.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:52 am
Aug 062012
 

Johnnie Walker Green Label167

43% abv

Score:  87/100

 

It’s really quite nifty when a blended whisky is more than the sum of its parts.  So how ’bout when a whisky is actually more like an exhibition of its parts?  Kinda like an exploded view wherein you can see the workings and trappings?  Well..in this case that works too.

Green Label is a blended malt, comprised of single malts, none of which are younger than 15 years.  Since 1997 Johnnie Walker have been producing this nifty little gem by marrying Cragganmore, Talisker, Caol Ila and Linkwood.  This polygamous little gathering is a marriage made in heaven.

It comes together nicely in its smooth and rich overarching theme, but is easily dissected into some of its components.  The pepper and spice are reminiscent of Talisker…the smoke and tartness are Caol Ila through and through…while the Cragganmore and Linkwood would logically carry the big purple fruit notes and sweetness.

The smoke on both nose and palate (but particularly the palate) is rich and cloying (in a good way) like a fine cigar, while hints of leather and spice are both charming and complimentary.  There is a little bit of peat distinguishable from the smoke that shows off a little of the Islay side of this one.

The arrival is big and sweet and carries a bit more heat than the other Johnnie Walkers I’ve sampled to date.  It coats the mouth in thick slices of tingly peppers and bold flavors.  Rich, warming and rewarding.

Though not as good as the black label, and not necessarily better or worse than the blue label, this certainly is a worthy addition to the JW stable.  If you can find it…buy one.  Quite highly recommended.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:24 pm
Aug 062012
 

Johnnie Walker Gold Label

43% abv

Score:  88/100

 

There is simply no getting around it.  JW make some really nice whisky.  Occasionally these are simply stunning in their complexity and spiraling depths (Black)…and other times they are bold strokes of primary flavors that make a brilliant patchwork whole (Green).

Get your head around the fact that you are drinking a blended whisky (or blended malt with the Green Label) that is going to cost something on par with a single malt.  After all…are you drinking scotch to say you are a malt enthusiast, or are you drinking to enjoy the flavors and aromas?   When you’e certain you can suspend judgement…pull up a seat.  Let’s talk about Johnnie Walker Gold.

I love a whisky that takes me a while to unravel.  I enjoy, not being confounded, but led along a path where the individuals notes continue to reveal themselves in a slow striptease, one after another, until I suddenly realize my tasting notes are a page and a half long.  This tells me that every time I sit down with the whisky it will be a deep and rewarding experience.  I think that is why we do this, isn’t it?

The loudest voices here are certainly the sweet honeyed fruit (think puckered fruit), woody walnut, peppery smoke and light cinnamon spice.  There is a bit of peat dancing around back there too amid a hint of sharp orange zest.   From here the aromas and flavors are like ghosts, hinting at their presence, but when you turn in that direction they fade and leave you wondering if they were there after all.  Was that a hint of pipe tobacco?  Maybe…or not.

Gorgeously elusive and tantalizing.  Even the finish ebbs and flow with curiosity.  One thing certain though…the finish is all pleasant and long lingering.

If you’re curious as to where this stacks up in the Johnnie Walker portfolio…quite well, actually.  You won’t be steering yourself wrong with the Blue, Green or Gold.  Personally though…I’ll still take the Black Label.

By the way…this would be a hell of a dram paired with a nice cigar.  (Blasphemy to some, I know.)

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Lance (Bastardized by Curt)

 Posted by at 8:15 pm
Aug 062012
 

Johnnie Walker Blue Label176

43% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Paying for prestige.

Let’s get that out of the way right off. There is simply no way around it. For those not immersed in the wonderful world of whisky, Johnnie Walker Blue is often thought of as the Holy Grail of scotch. It sits top shelf in liquor stores; commands >$20 an ounce in restaurants and pubs; and is oft gifted for special occasions. Every bottle is numbered and sold in a certified silk-lined box. According to JW, all of the whiskies used in the composition of this blend are at least 20 years old.

Sounds alright, huh? I have now tasted this on a couple of occasions and can say, without any doubt or hesitation…meh.

I have mentioned many times throughout reviews and writings here, do not be fooled by presentation or reputation. Let your palate be your guide. Don’t let anything but your senses decide for you. Let’s face it…aside from our palate, we have one other guide. Our chequebook. Can your palate convince you this is a fine dram? Undoubtedly. Can your chequebook? Simply…no.

Johnnie Walker Blue is unquestionably good. It is beautifully balanced and ever so smooth. It is pleasant and enjoyable, delicious and almost refreshing. But so are hundreds of other malts that will cost a fraction of what this will set you back. As a rule, I do not like bringing price into the equation when reviewing whiskies, but there are times when it absolutely must become an element. JWB is going to cost you ~$200 a bottle.

I think that needs to sink in for a moment.

~$200 a bottle for a branded, colored, chill-filtered, 43% blended whisky.

Okay. Deep breath. I am finished casting insolent glares at the figures behind this whisky. How ’bout the product itself?

Well…it’s tasty. Caramel sweetness, a bit of spice, characteristic JW smoke in the back, some smooth vanilla and mild berry. I think I am getting a little bit of light orange fruit as well. Generally a few drops of water will bring out a little more, but I’m not really a ‘water in whisky’ kinda guy and at 43% I would be afraid of drowning this, so I’ll leave it as simple tasting notes.

It has a thick creamy body and nice mouth-coating quality to it. Not much more will creep forth on the palate from what you’ll pick up on the nose. In fact, the fruitier notes seem to get buried a little here. The flavors are mild and well-mannered. Highest marks here are saved for balance. Not a bad note to be found. In fact it almost lacks distinction because of this tightly-woven tapestry of blending. Can I fault a whisky for being too smooth? Well, no…I wouldn’t deduct points, but should point out to you…when searching for that special diamond ring, shouldn’t there be a beautiful gem that sits in the forefront of the setting? JWB seems to lack that. This is simply too mediocre to justify the cost.

Final notes…it does dry nicely in the mouth and leaves a touch of wood and (very) mild smoke behind. Also a hint of tart fruit skins. Not a bad finish.

To be honest…stick with the Black Label. Trust me.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:06 pm
Aug 062012
 

Johnnie Walker Black Label016

43% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

After several attempts at writing this review (and a lot of time with my finger on the ‘backspace’ key) I decided to scrap it all and simplify it down to this level…

I love this stuff.

Simple as that.  Johnnie Walker Black deserves a spot on every whisky drinker’s shelf (damn you, single malt purists!  Hide your bias…disguise your face if need be…and buy this).  It knocks the socks off the Red Label and sparkles through its complexity when held up against the Blue Label.  Its intricate myriad layers, delivered though a marriage of more than 40 individual whiskies (none of which is younger than 12 years), present such a gorgeous cohesive whole that I am truly taken aback.

Deliciously intense and deep, the JWB is engagingly mysterious and enormous.  The arrival is a rollercoaster of smoothness and subtlety…into warmth and bite…and finally into fruit and toffee.  The hills and valleys of this whisky are simply part of the landscape that rolls by.  No one feature obscuring any other.  Man…this is what balance in a whisky is all about.

The nose is warm caramel or toffee…diffuse peat and smoke…silky malted barley and tart fruity notes.  Something like a bitter berry perhaps.  This is all carried to the palate, with the grains and fruit taking center stage.  The finish is entirely pleasant and dominated by a sweet honeyed fruitiness.  Sprinkle the whole offering with a light dusting of warm winter spice, and this is absolutely the closest I can get to describing Johnnie Walker Black Label.

No long-winded diatribes necessary here.  This really is all you need to know.  Utterly exceptional blending, and very possibly my favorite blended whisky on the market.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:54 pm