Back in the days when I was only a very casual whisky drinker, which is to say more than ten years ago, Johnnie Walker Blue Label for me had an aura of being right at the top of the whisky quality scale. So expensive that I would probably never buy a bottle, but of course worth every penny if I was able to afford it. It was one of those whiskies looked up to in awe, along with Macallan 18 and Port Ellen.
When I became more interested in whisky and got to know more and more experienced whisky lovers, the almost unanimous verdict about Johnnie Walker Blue was: it is very good but overpriced. So I did not think very much about it anymore, and it was only a few years ago when I actually tried it for the first time. It was at a whisky show that was about to end, so there was no way I could write proper tasting notes for it, let alone give it a score. But I quite liked it when I tried it.
Now I was given a 20 cl bottle of this whisky by a generous friend, and finally the time has come to give it a proper evaluation.
Blue Label is a fairly recent addition to the Johnnie Walker range, having been introduced in 1992. It does not have an age statement, but according to their website rare casks “are hand-selected and set aside for their exceptional quality, character and flavour.” It currently retails for around €150, and there are several even more expensive versions around like the George V. edition.
The nose is very delicate with light citrus notes interwoven with gentle smoke and toffee-ish sherry notes. After a while the smoke becomes a little more prominent and the citrus fruits give way to the richer aromas of raisins and berries provided by the sherry casks. Everyhing remains gentle and delicate but very pleasant. I really like the nose of this.
On the palate the whisky starts with a short alcohol bite that quickly fades into a blend of light caramel and lemon zest with a tiny hint of lingering smoke. Unfortunately this was very much it. The palate is quite toned down, there is a vague hint of fruit and a vague hint of spice and a light driness from old casks. And the finish does last not very long, the only thing that stays on a little longer is a generic light sweetness.
I have given this whisky a fair chance. I tried it several times, from different glasses and at different times of the day; I gave it time to develop in the glass and to react to water. But the palate never improved.
I have no idea how strong the batch variation of the Blue Label is, but given the expertise of Diageo I would suspect it is not very big. The discrepancy between nose and palate could perhaps be explained by the fact that casks are usually selected by nosing only.
Nose and palate of the Blue Label display two different qualities of gentleness. The nose is like a full symphony orchestra playing pianissimo, allowing you to pick up many small details. The palate on the other hand feels like listening to the final of Beethoven’s 9th symphony with ear plugs which dampen anything to a level where details are turned into a mushy continuum.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label – 43% – Rating: 82/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$