Johnnie Walker is the most widely distributed blended Scotch whisky brand in the world, so I found it ironic when a non-whisky drinking friend gave me a bottle someone had given him that he didn’t really want. I decided to take that as a sign I should do a proper review of the seven main Johnnie Walker whiskies and here’s what I found.
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1. Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Years
- Price: $39.99 approx. for 750ml
Johnnie Walker is not a distillery that makes its own whisky but a brand that blends different types of whiskies, from different distilleries, from all over Scotland to make their own expressions.
That means malt whiskies and grain whiskies. Peated whiskies and unpeated whiskies, whiskies with a rich and bold character and whiskies that are lighter and more delicate. And while we don’t know the identity of most of them, we do know that they often include whisky from Cardhu (Speyside), Clynelish (Highlands), Coal Ila (Islay) and Glenkinchie (Lowlands).
Black Label is Johnnie Walker’s original and signature expression. It’s a blend of up to 40 single malt and grain whiskies, each of which have been aged for at least 12 years.
Color: Dark copper, gold
Nose: Honey, peat smoke, malt, caramel, oak, vanilla, toffee
Taste: Peat smoke, malt, vanilla, honey, pepper, toffee, raisins, caramel, apples
Finish: Short-Medium: Peat smoke, caramel, toffee
Score – 75 / 100
Black Label is a sweet, malty and smooth whisky, with a relatively light amount of peat smoke (it’s certainly not a peat monster). Its flavors are nice and well balanced but it’s not that complex. It’s more of an easy to drink whisky made to appeal to a wider audience – although that clearly doesn’t include my friend as this was the bottle that he gave me.
2. Johnnie Walker Double Black
- Price: $47.99 approx. for 750ml
Similar to the Black Label, this expression is also a blend of both malt and grain whiskies, but this time selected from whiskies that were matured in deep charred (hence the name) barrels to give it a smokier flavor.
The other difference between the two whiskies is that the Double Black has no age statement – although as it’s also called the Black Label’s younger sibling, I think we can safely assume that it’s less than 12 years old.
Nose: Oak, peat smoke, vanilla, cherry, honey, caramel, apples
Taste: Vanilla, peat smoke, oak, caramel, cherries, lemon, spices
Finish: Short – medium: Peat smoke, oak, pepper
Score – 76 / 100
Interestingly, despite being younger than the Black Label, the Double Black is almost as good – probably because of the deep charred barrels. It’s an easy to drink, sweet and smooth whisky with nice well-balanced flavors. The main difference between the two is that the Double Black is smokier than the Black Label – again, thanks to the deep charred barrels.
3. Johnnie Walker Red Label
- Price: $21.49 approx. for 750ml
The Red Label is a blend of up to 30 single malt and grain whiskies with no age statement. It’s also the best-selling Scotch whisky in the world.
Nose: Vanilla, grains, peat smoke, apples, caramel, fig, lemon
Taste: Honey, vanilla, fig, oak, apples, peat smoke, grains, caramel, pepper
Finish: Short: Peat smoke, grains, sugar, metallic
Score – 70 / 100
This clearly contains some very good whisky, although it also clearly contains some very bad whisky too. And without a longer maturation period to tame some of the harsh notes from the grain whiskies in the blend, they dominate the whisky giving it some off notes – although the light peat smoke helps hide some of its rough edges.
However, since as the brand itself says, this whisky is intended for mixing as opposed to drinking neat, and since it does contain some good whisky and flavors – at a relatively cheap price, one can easily understand its place as the best-selling Scotch whisky in the world.
4. Johnnie Walker Blue Label
- Price: $243.44 approx. for 750ml
Johnnie Walker Blue Label is made by blending,as the brand says, ‘rare Scotch whiskies with a remarkable depth of flavor’. In other words, it’s meant to be a blend of very good whiskies.
Nose: Apples, peat smoke, leather, chocolate, malt, oak, honey, vanilla, caramel
Taste: Peat smoke, malt, honey, oak, vanilla, caramel, leather, pepper, chocolate, apples
Finish: Medium – long: Peat smoke, malt, pepper, honey, fruit, spices, oak
Score – 85 / 100
I don’t know about the ‘rare Scotch whiskies’ part but this expression certainly has ‘a remarkable depth of flavor’. The Blue Label is a relatively complex, delicious and extremely drinkable whisky. It has a lot of enjoyable and varied flavors that are well-balanced, and it’s very, very smooth. I think that there’s some old whisky in this expression.
The major problem with this whisky is its price. It’s very expensive for what it is, and although it’s probably the best of all the Johnny Walker expressions in terms of flavor, $250 is a lot for this whisky. In fact, $200 or even $150 would also be a lot for this whisky.
5. Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
- Price: $79.99 approx. for 750ml
The Gold Label Reserve contains 15 different whiskies but is built around a single malt from Clynelish.
Color: Amber, gold
Nose: Honey, vanilla, caramel, fruit, toffee, peat smoke, banana, spices
Taste: Honey, vanilla, caramel, fruit, peat smoke, oak, chocolate, pepper
Finish: Medium: Peat smoke, vanilla, honey, pepper, chocolate
Score – 80 / 100
This is definitely a good and easy to drink whisky. It’s not that complex but it does have a lot of different and tasty flavors that work well together. It’s also very smooth. Nothing really stands out in terms of it being blended around a single malt – unless the single malt is also the older whisky that this blend seems to have.
It is noticeably better than the Black Label but I’m not sure that it’s twice the price better.
6. Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Years
- Price: $66.99 approx. for 750ml
This is not a blended whisky but a blended malt whisky. Blended whiskies contain both malt and grain whiskies, but blended malt whiskies contain only single malts – which avoids the problem of the harsh notes found in grain whiskies that blends have.
This expression includes single malts from Linkwood, Cragganmore, Talisker, and Caol Ila. All its whiskies have been aged for at least 15 years and it’s bottled at 43%ABV.
Nose: Peat smoke, honey, vanilla, oak, fruit, brown sugar, toffee, floral, citrus, spices
Taste: Peat smoke, honey, pepper, fruit, citrus, vanilla, leather, malt, spices, oak, floral
Finish: Short – medium: Honey, pepper, peat smoke, fruit, spices
Score – 86 / 100
I really like this whisky. It’s sweet, tasty and very smooth with a lot of well-balanced flavors. More importantly, despite being a 15 year old, 43%ABV, great whisky that’s very easy to drink, it’s relatively inexpensive for what it is. It’s the best value for money of the entire Johnnie Walker range.
7. Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years
- Price: $94.99 approx. for 750ml
This Johnnie Walker expression is a blend of malt and grain whiskies that have been aged for at least 18 years.
Color: Dark gold, dark amber
Nose: Honey, vanilla, peat smoke, fruit, caramel, oak, toffee, floral, spices
Taste: Caramel, vanilla, raisins, chocolate, orange, honey, almonds, pepper, peat smoke, oak
Finish: Medium – long: Peat smoke, spices, chocolate, vanilla, caramel, fruit, oak
Score – 84 / 100
This is also a great whisky. It’s sweet and smooth with a lot of tasty, well-balanced flavors that make it very easy to drink. Again, it’s not that complex, and it would have been better at 43%ABV, but it is an excellent 18 year old blend for a relatively cheap price.