Johnnie Walker is one of the biggest names in Scotch whisky. The brand has an impressive portfolio of blended scotch for every taste and budget.
The Johnnie Walker range is expansive. It begins with an affordable selection of whisky worthy of any cocktail and, as you move up in the line, you'll find bottles that are pure luxury, meant to be sipped and savored. The range is designated by a series of color-coded labels, and it has undergone a transformation in recent years.
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Founded in 1820 by Johnnie Walker, this is one of the iconic brands in Scotch whisky. The portfolio of blended scotches is made up of expressions that range from affordable to super-premium. It gives drinkers a choice while knowing that, whichever label they choose, it is going to be a quality product.
Blending Johnnie Walker
Blending Scotch whisky is an art and requires a talent that only a select few in the world can master. It is not easy to get a drinkable (much less marketable) blend out of the myriad of whiskeys available.
The Master Blender has at his disposal single malts—ranging from sweet and soft to smoky and peaty—that represent the different regions of Scotland, as well as lighter grain whiskeys. Some of Johnnie Walker's blends can include 40 different whiskeys, while others use just a few.
Finding that perfect blend, then repeating it in subsequent bottlings and remaining consistent for years is even more of a challenge. With this perspective, a portfolio as diverse as that of Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey is even more impressive.
Understanding Johnnie Walker's Labels
The thing that distinguishes one expression of Johnnie Walker from another is the color of the label. Each is a different blend of whiskeys aged for a certain amount of time, with the most expensive being the oldest.
This can make it a little confusing at the bar. It is not uncommon for a drinker to be surprised when they receive the tab because they ordered one of the pricier Johnnie Walkers by mistake.
To save yourself some money (and possible embarrassment), try to remember the sequence of labels (in order from least to most expensive):
- Red Label
- Black Label
- Double Black
- Green Label
- Gold Label Reserve
- Platinum Label
- Blue Label
Drinking Johnnie Walker
While a number of the offerings from Johnnie Walker are best reserved for sipping straight or on the rocks, all of them are enjoyable this way. There is also no need to be afraid of mixing some of these whiskeys into cocktails.
For affordability reasons, you might want to stick to the Red, Black, and Double Black labels for mixed drinks. If you're feeling good about life, you may even consider the Green, Gold, or Platinum labels as they will make some of the best scotch cocktails you will have the pleasure of drinking. Reserve Blue Label for a straight pour and savor every second of the experience.
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The foundation of the portfolio, Johnnie Walker Red Label is a scotch that anyone can afford. It's enjoyable and reliable, found in almost every bar in the world. Originally known as Extra Special Old Highland Whisky, it took on the name "Red Label" in 1909.
Red Label is a blend of 30 young single malt and grain whiskeys. Bottled at 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 80 proof), this whisky offers a sweet and spicy flavor and robust smoke with a warm finish. It is their most affordable scotch and is good for mixing into any scotch cocktail.
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If you like Red Label, you'll love Johnnie Walker Black Label. One step up in Johnnie Walker's color wheel makes a world of difference. Black Label is a complex blended scotch that is surprisingly still affordable for the taste.
Originally known as "Walker's Old Highland Whisky," this blend was created in 1820 and relaunched in 1909 under a new, easier name: Black Label. It's made of approximately 40 single malts and grain whiskeys that are each aged at least 12 years.
Black Label (40 percent ABV, 80 proof) is a great introduction to the taste of Scotch because it offers a nice balance of sweet and peat. It is an elegant (almost scrumptious) Scotch at a great price and a reliable whisky that can easily become a regular in any bar. It can work just as well in a scotch and soda as it does in a Rob Roy, though it's also enjoyable on its own.
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Full-bodied and complex, Johnnie Walker Double Black remains attainable. What started as a limited-edition expression in 2011 became a permanent fixture in Johnnie Walker's portfolio. That's a reason for scotch lovers to celebrate.
Similar to Black Label, but with a richer, more intense flavor, this is a masterpiece of blended scotch. If you enjoyed the introduction of smoke in Black Label, Double Black is going to be the perfect next step in refining your Scotch palate.
The full-bodied flavor of Double Black (40 percent ABV, 80 proof) is extremely complex and includes a fascinating mix of smoke with vanilla and dried fruits. The whiskeys in the blend are selected from the House of Walker's reserves of smoky whiskeys and some that have been aged in "deep charred oak casks."
It is, again, a great whisky to mix into simple cocktails. If you're drinking it straight, do yourself a favor and add a little distilled water to really open up its flavor profile.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Trying to follow Johnnie Walker Green Label's availability has been like riding a roller coaster. When the Johnnie Walker portfolio received a makeover in 2013, Green Label was phased out of the U.S. and all other markets. It was only available in Taiwan where it sold the best. That changed in 2016 and, much to the delight of Green Label fans, it is once again being sold worldwide. If you are devoted to this scotch, you might want to stock up because there's no telling what will happen next.
Green Label (43 percent ABV, 86 proof) is a blend of just four malt whiskeys. Touted as a taste "from the four corners of Scotland," the malts come from the country's Island, Highland, Lowland, and Speyside regions and each is at least 15 years old. Extremely smooth and often described as honeyed, it also has notes of dried fruits.
Mix this scotch if you like, but don't overdo the mixers so the whisky can shine. Other than that, it's best when simply poured into a chilled glass, maybe with an ice ball for a hint of water.
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The biggest Johnnie Walker portfolio revamp was completed in 2014 with the highly-anticipated release of Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve. Available previously only in duty-free markets, it became readily available and is a permanent fixture in the brand's line.
This luxurious expression is a blend of 15 whiskeys, including malts from the Highlands and Speyside, handpicked by Master Blender Jim Beveridge. It is a very easy drinker that is simultaneously sweet and smooth. This scotch finishes long and strong with light smoke and sweet, woody fruits.
Gold Label Reserve (40 percent ABV, 80 proof) is a scotch that anyone can enjoy. Like Green Label, use it selectively in cocktails—the scotch sour is an intriguing pick—or simply pour it and admire its elegance.
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If you have the money, Johnnie Walker Platinum Label is a scotch you won't want to miss. Sometimes, it only goes by the name "18 Year Old," which indicates the age of the youngest whiskeys in the blend.
This is where the current Johnnie Walker portfolio begins to step into the realm of luxury scotch, and it was a welcome new addition in 2013. If you have enjoyed the Gold or Green Labels, be prepared to be blown away by Platinum Label. It is a full-flavored blend of single malts and grain whiskeys, each at least 18 years old, from hand-selected casks.
This is simply a beautiful sipping Scotch. Imagine a whisky with a little Speyside sweetness and a touch of Islay smoke and peat, add a little fruit and you have Platinum Label. You don't need to add anything to this Scotch other than a splash of water or an ice ball for a really slow melt. It is spectacular on its own and deserves to be appreciated as the finely crafted liquid that it is.
For its age, it is also reasonably priced and worth every dollar. If you never get a taste of Blue Label, you'll be just fine stopping right here.
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Do not accidentally order Johnnie Walker Blue Label at the bar; it will cost you. It is the pinnacle of the Johnnie Walker portfolio and one that many of us only get to taste on rare, usually very special, occasions. It is a luxury, and there are few other drinks that can follow up a four- or five-star meal like a glass of Blue Label.
Blue Label (40 to 43 percent ABV, 80 to 86 proof) is filled with rare whiskeys, many from distilleries that are now defunct. Johnnie Walker claims that "only one in ten thousand casks are of the quality required to make this blend." It is characterized by soft sherry, honey, and vanilla contrasted by an intense, dark chocolate peatiness.
Follow the advice: Johnnie Walker suggests that the best way to enjoy Blue Label is to "cool the palate with a glass of ice-cold spring water" then sip it from a snifter. It is beautiful, it is an experience, and it is one of the best spirits you will find.