The constituent malts and grains contained in the current day Johnnie Walker Blue Label will not be the same as those from bottlings created decades earlier. Whilst nowhere near as prolific an expression as some of the other releases in the JW stable – Blue Label’s conception and profile draws from a very limited number of casks from across Diageo’s portfolio of distilleries. Whilst older bottlers are noted as potentially containing small parcels from the likes of Port Ellen and Brora, I very much doubt that the current incarnation of the release digs quite so deeply into Diageo’s inventory.
However, the skill of the blender is not only in crafting for consistency, but also in crafting for profile – and with 28 distilleries Diageo’s blenders have ample depth of casks with which to select from. The marketing behind Blue Label notes that only 1 in 10,000 casks is deemed of high enough quality to go into the blend. However, whilst I’m not one to argue with those figures, when you consider the output of the 28 distilleries combined, this ratio shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise.
The cost of Blue Label varies considerably depending on where you shop and indeed where you drink (and how particular bars and venues foist the expression into the stratosphere of price). Costco here in the UK regularly sells the release for far less than you’ll find elsewhere, but assuming you’re not into buying pallets of toilet rolls (at least not until winter returns), you can find a bottle over at The Whisky Exchange for £145.
Nose: Iced buns and freshly baked brioche are livened with honey drizzled apricots, red and green apples and a scattering of assorted berry fruits. A light, but integrated smoke runs throughout – wispy and ethereal. Touch of lamp oil and lanolin are joined by burnt bracken and fern leaves.
Taste: The arrival offers decent attack for 40% ABV – but nevertheless you’re never under the impression it’s anything higher. All the honey. All the time. Tea cakes with soft and gooey toffee alongside vanilla buttercream. Toasted oak is punctuated by bites of chilli pepper whilst cinnamon and pecans sit alongside orange candyfloss and tobacco pouches.
Finish: Short and presenting spiced honey, ginger and touches of residue grassiness.
The modern incarnation of Johnnie Walker Blue Label is the epitome of an easy going whisky. Excellent blending has produced a honed product, sheened to such a level that the result feels highly unlikely to offend anyone. But that’s a double-edged sword, as the poise that Blue Label shows comes at the expense of distinctive character. Blue Label is simply whisky. Very well produced whisky – but at all times just whisky, nevertheless. With all of its edges smoothed and its spikes tamped down, there’s nowhere for this expression left to go – and therefore whilst Blue Label is an aspirational whisky for some, it’s not a particularly inspirational one.
Review sample taken from the 20 Whiskies that Changed the World - provided by The Whisky Exchange