Friday, September 18, 2015

Whisky Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Blue Label is, almost without a doubt, the greatest triumph of marketing within the scotch whisky world. Based purely on trust, as the bottle contains absolutely no age statements or firm expressions of provenance, Diageo has been able to build an almost impenetrable mystique around it and charge accordingly.

Nominally Blue Label is built from Diageo's 'rarest whiskies' of 'particular qualities' 'fine enough' for the expression. Which tells you exactly nothing. I've seen it suggested that Royal Lochnagar makes up a large percentage of the malt component, but what the other components are and how much of them are in the final mix is completely unknown. Diageo also drops hints that they include casks from closed distilleries, which would make them both old and rare at this point, but we have no way of knowing that and even if they are ingredients, they could very well be teaspooned in and contribute next to nothing to the flavor.

So, in essence, Blue Label is good because we have been told that it is good and many drinkers continue to believe that it is. With that said, it is constructed to appeal to people for whom that will be a self-reinforcing belief. Blue Label is the definition of smoothness, which, if you ask most spirits drinkers, is exactly what they are looking for. It tastes old, without having any well-defined characteristics that stand out from the experience as a whole. There is peat and sherry, but neither is a defining characteristic of the blend unless you're looking for them. It is almost an anti-geek whisky, but when Oregon put 200 mL bottles on sale for $30 I grabbed one because I was never going to have another opportunity to try it for a reasonable price.

So what is definite? The whisky is currently bottled at 40% ABV and is almost certainly colored and chill filtered.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Bottled TA2 04000

Nose: balanced malt and grain, a hint of sherry, gentle old Caol Ila peat, mild toasted oak, slightly herbal, some floral notes tucked inside. After adding a few drops of water, the sherry and oak perk up a bit, the peat and herbal notes come together, the malt fades a bit in favor of the grain, and a bit of burned cinnamon peeks out.

Taste: smooth, smooth, smooth - opens with mild grain and malt sweetness, sliding through an overlay of sherry with a puff of peat and oak near the back. After dilution, almost everything becomes more muddled and indistinct, except the grain becoming stronger at the back,

Finish: light sherry over grain and malt, a little peat and oak

The components of Blue Label are like river rocks polished by time. Everything flows cleanly from one element to the next without a bump. There's absolutely nothing objectionable about this whisky, other than the fact that you can probably get almost exactly the same experience for a fraction of the price. Heck, Johnnie Walker Green Label has a lot of the same characteristics, at higher proof and one third the price. But the appeal of Blue Label will continue to be not its price, but the perception of quality. So I have no doubt that people will continue to buy it. I just won't be included within their ranks - while I enjoyed this, I also see no reason to spend money on it again.

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