A couple of months ago a guy from the Usquebaugh Society, let’s call him Martin, decided to share his stash of Johnnie Walker Blue Labels. He had three waiting for us. A 40% version from the naughties, a 43% version from the eighties and the cask strength version from a couple of years ago.
The samples have been waiting for a while to be tasted, and then the notes waited for another while before being typed up. Finally, I’m getting around to it, about a month after Thijs did his interesting take on them.
As far as I know, Mortlach is a big part of the Blue Label core so somehow I expect a lot of big flavors. Somehow is in that sentence because I tried the 40% version before and was quite underwhelmed by it.
It’s a bit of a strange whisky, this. Some people who’ve been at it (whisky that is) for ages absolutely love it, but I feel the vast majority of afficionados don’t care about this whisky at all. I know lots of people who strong opinion is that the only people buying blue label are people who want to show off to their mates. And Chinese businessmen. There are always Chinese businessmen.
Slightly sweet with some dryness and some tannin. A combination of light and heavy scents. Quite some oak with some spices and fruit.
The palate is tingling with white pepper. It’s quite thin (too watered down?), but does become slightly more balanced after a while. Dried peaches, slightly meaty. The grain whisky is not very light. Some oak.
Dry and some heat, a minor hint of raw oak. Quite long and smooth.
I’ve got the idea, in some way, that this is a whisky for wine drinkers. It misses a bit of the oomph I like in whisky and therefore I don’t really enjoy it. Especially not at € 150 a pop.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label, 43%, 1980s
The scent of this one is slightly more rough, and more punchy than the previous one. More whisky like. Quite heavy in the spirit and meaty. More oak, more fruit, more straw.
The palate clearly shows the blendedness of this dram. Lighter grain whiskies and heavier single malts. Oak, straw and some fruit, but still a bit thin. Dry with peaches and apricot. Quite nice except for the thin mouth feel.
The finish is dry and slightly fiery. Not thin at this point, but showing flavors peach. Nicely balanced with lots of oak.
I think this one is much better. It shows more age and lots of flavors that should be present in any Blue Label. Mostly since you can spend the same money on quite a number of great alternatives. Still, I think even at 43% the ‘up to 50 year old whiskies’ should show more weight on the palate.
This is like the previous 43% version on steroids. More focus on the wood and straw. More fruit and even the dreaded fruitcake descriptor should be used here. Quite sharp.
The palate is warm and sharp, with baking spices, ginger. Not dry as I expected, but with peaches, spiced cake and dried fruits. Rather sharp.
The finish starts sharp and warming. It’s dry with straw and peach. Quite long.
Quite a bit better than the 40% one, which should be the most comparable. However, the 43% feels closed to this one based on the flavors I’m finding. Still, this doesn’t really feel old since it’s a very modern style of whisky. Generally when I think of old whisky, I think of more depth, more layers. That still doesn’t happen.
So, I think this concludes my personal interest in Johnnie Walker Blue Label editions. It’s nice to have tried several head to head, but my conclusion is that you pay more for reputation and marketing than you do for the whisky in the bottle.
The simple conclusion is that it’s not worth it. If I think of the awesome blends you can get for similar prices, from old (with an age statement) Campbeltown Loch editions, or Compass Box’ Flaming Heart and ‘This is not a Luxury Whisky’, I just can, for the life of me, figure out why I’d ever buy this.