Founded in 1820, Johnnie Walker 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.
The Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch Whisky range is expansive. It begins with an affordable selection of whisky worthy of any cocktail. As you move up in the line, you'll find bottles that are pure luxury, meant to be sipped and savored. With one exception, the range is designated by a series of color-coded labels, which has transformed in recent years.
- Ingredients: single grain and single malt Scotch whisky
- Proof: 80 to 86
- ABV: 40 to 43 percent
- Calories in a shot: 69
- Origin: Scotland
- Taste: smooth, malty, smoky
- Aged: 10 to 12 years or longer
- Serve: straight up, on the rocks, cocktails, shots
What Is Johnnie Walker Made From?
Johnnie Walker exclusively produces blended Scotch whisky. Each expression is comprised of carefully selected single grain and single malt whiskies sourced from distilleries in Scotland. 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 whiskies available.
The master blender, Jim Beveridge, 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 whiskies. Some of Johnnie Walker's blends can include 40 different whiskies, while others use just a few. Finding that perfect blend, then repeating it in subsequent bottlings, and remaining consistent for years is a challenge. With this perspective, a portfolio as diverse as that of Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky is even more impressive.
Johnnie Walker History
The company was started by Johnnie Walker in 1820 as a side business to his grocery in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, where a bottling facility remained until 2012. As the whisky business grew, the main operation moved to the Cardhu distillery in Scotland's northeast region of Speyside. Johnnie Walker & Sons was purchased by a few companies over the years, the most recent being Diageo, which has been in control since 1997. It is now bottled at Diageo's facilities in Leven and Shieldhall in Glasgow. Visitor centers can be found throughout Scotland at locations key to the brand's history.
What Does Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky Taste Like?
Each bottle of Johnnie Walker has a unique taste based on the whiskies that go into the blend. Overall, the whisky is known for its smoothness and warmth. It is a robust whisky with notes of fruits, spice, malt, and oak. While it does have the subtle smokiness that is a signature of Scotch whisky, it is not a peaty whisky so it's very approachable.
Since 1909, the thing that distinguishes one expression of Johnnie Walker from another is the color of the label. Each is a different blend of whiskies 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 by the tab because they ordered one of the pricier Johnnie Walkers by mistake. To understand the portfolio, try to remember the sequence of labels (in order from least to most expensive).
The foundation of the portfolio, Johnnie Walker Red Label is an entry-level scotch. It's enjoyable, reliable, and 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 whiskies. 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 good for mixing into any scotch cocktail.
Although Johnnie Walker Black Label is one step up in the brand's color wheel, it is quite different from Red Label. 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 its current name. It's made of approximately 40 single malt and grain whiskies 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.
Full-bodied and complex, Johnnie Walker Double Black remains attainable for most whisky drinkers. It started as a limited-edition expression in 2011 and became a permanent fixture in Johnnie Walker's portfolio.
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 the perfect next step in your scotch adventures. 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 whiskies in the blend are selected from the House of Walker's reserves of smoky whiskies, as well as some that have been aged in "deep charred oak casks."
It is 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.
Trying to follow Johnnie Walker Green Label's availability has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. 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 sold worldwide.
Green Label (43 percent ABV, 86 proof) is a blend of just four malt whiskies. 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 it, 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.
Gold Label Reserve
The biggest Johnnie Walker portfolio revamp was completed in 2014 with the highly-anticipated release of Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve. Previously sold 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 whiskies, including malts from the Highlands and Speyside, handpicked by the master blender. 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.
Aged 18 Years (Formerly Known as Platinum Label)
Prior to 2017, this bottle was known as Platinum Label. It has since been renamed and is the only whisky in the portfolio that doesn't (currently) go by color. Instead, it's labeled "Aged 18 Years," and it has also been called "18 Year Old."
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 this 40-proof whisky. It is a full-flavored blend of single malts and grain whiskies, 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, a touch of Islay smoke and peat, and a hint of fruit. 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.
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 whiskies, many from distilleries that are now defunct. Johnnie Walker claims that "only one in 10 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 the whisky from a snifter. It is beautiful, it is an experience, and it is one of the best spirits you will find.
While those whiskies make up Johnnie Walker's core range, the brand offers a variety of limited-edition whiskies. These tend to be special blends with a unique taste only found in that bottle. Many are also part of special promotions and reasonably priced, which make them fun whiskies to explore.
There is also a portfolio under the title John Walker & Sons. It contains only a few bottles of "prestigious" Scotch whisky that were designed to commemorate special milestones in the brand's history. Some sell for a few hundred dollars while others can top a few thousand dollars a bottle.
How to Drink 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 whiskies into cocktails.
For affordability reasons, it's best to stick to the Red, Black, and Double Black labels for mixed drinks. When you feel like splurging, you may want to consider the midrange 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.
When looking for cocktails that make good use of Johnnie Walker, classic whiskey recipes are an excellent choice. As a blended whisky, its smooth taste also works well with subtle fruit, herb, and spice flavors. You'll often find these pairings in modern scotch cocktails that retain the simplicity of the classics. Of course, because it is a popular fixture in bars, Red Label often finds its way into shots as well.