Today is a very special day here at Thirty-One Whiskey. Today we are publishing our 500th review — a milestone I honestly figured we’d never reach, assuming that either my liver or my editor (and wife) would have quit prior to getting here. But since we made it, such an occasion deserves a rare and expensive celebratory pour.. which means we’re finally cracking the seal on a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue.
John Walker sold his family farm in 1819 and bought a grocery store in Kilmarnock, Scotland. Following the 1823 licensing of distilleries in Scotland, Walker (who actually did not drink) started producing his own brand of blended spirits for sale in his store. He would produce blends to his customer’s requirements since, as someone who did not drink alcohol, he had none of his own.
The brand became somewhat popular and following Walker’s death in 1857 his sons took up the family business. With the passage of a new law in 1860 that allowed for a wider variety of blended whisky to be produced, his sons solidified the company as a producer of blended whiskys by being among the first to innovate with the larger varieties now available. They also introduced the first square bottle in 1860, which allowed more bottles to fit on store shelves, as well as the distinctive tilted label that visually differentiated the brand and remains a feature to this day.
The Walkers purchased the Cardhu distillery in 1893, which became the primary single malt scotch used in the production of the red and black label whiskys.
In 1909, the descendants of John Walker embarked on a rebranding effort. They hired cartoonist Tom Browne to create a new logo, resulting in the Striding Man that remains the iconic logo of the Johnnie Walker brand.
In 1925, the company joined the Distillers Company, which was acquired by the Irish Guinness in 1986, and subsequently merged with Diageo in 1997.
Despite local backlash, Diageo decided to close the original Johnnie Walker distillery in Kilmarnock, the place where it all started, in 2012.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
Johnnie Walker is a blended scotch whisky, which means that it sources its spirit from multiple distilleries and multiple varieties of Scottish spirits to create exactly the flavor profile they intend. It’s a practice as old as whisky in Scotland; blending has almost always been the primary way that Scotch brands are made and distributed, with “single malt” expressions only becoming popular in recent decades.
For Johnnie Walker, the company line is that this is intended to be in the style of an “Old Highland Whisky” with spirits sourced from all four corners of Scotland to create the bottle we see before us today. As for the specifics, they don’t share much about where they source their spirit from or what the grain bill is for their source. We can assume that the majority of the spirit comes from the Cardhu distillery, but that’s just an educated guess.
As Johnnie Walker describes this product:
Where velvety smooth flavors blossom on the tongue. Johnnie Walker Blue Label comes from hand-selecting rare Scotch Whiskies with a remarkable depth of flavor. Only one in 10,000 casks make the cut. Best served neat, along with an ice-cold water to enhance its powerful character.
Note that there is no age statement here, so we don’t know how long these spirits have been maturing in the barrel, nor where they come from… not even whether they are actually malt whiskies. All we know is that they came from Scotland and Johnnie Walker thinks they taste good enough to justify the price tag.
It feels like part of what you’re paying for here is the show, and they do a pretty darn good job of making this bottle feel worth the price tag.
Starting from the outside, the bottle comes packaged in a padded cardboard display box that opens from the front. There’s a small magnetic catch on the side to keep the door from swinging open accidentally. Inside the box is an inscription about the product written in gold lettering, and the bottle itself is secured in the packaging both at the top and the bottom. There’s no way that this thing is getting loose and becoming damaged on its way to you, and the quality of the packaging definitely feels premium.
Inside that delightful packaging is the bottle we’ve been promised. What you’ll instantly note is that the glass has been tinted a light blue color to match the label, which is a nice touch that makes the liquid within appear all the more golden and delicious. The standard Johnnie Walker slanted label is on the front of the bottle with the usual information, but this time it’s a dark blue label with gold lettering. The bottle is capped off with an elaborate wood and cork stopper.
All in all, this bottle certainly looks the part of a higher-end scotch.
The aroma coming off of this glass arrives at your nostrils like a fine gentleman being assisted out of his 1920’s era limousine — complete with top hat and cane in hand. It’s a velvety smooth and round aroma, with typical sourdough bread components, honey, floral blossoms, and just a faint wisp of smoke to tie it all together. Repeated trips to the well start to reveal some cedar shavings as well as a touch of leather.
Similarly, taking a sip is like that same gentleman bursting into a cocktail party. The flavors in this spirit are well saturated and buttery without being overpowering. First on the palate is some brown sugar and a hint of peat smoke like you might expect from a good scotch, followed by what tastes almost like vanilla buttercream frosting. From there, the sweetness develops into more of a honey and floral blossoms note and then some sourdough bread to round it all out. On the finish, I get some dark chocolate adding to the mixture along with some cinnamon and baking spices as the peat smoke continues to waft its way through the experience.
This I think is where the blending magic really pays off. Taken neat, this bottle is undoubtedly great — but the fact that it can shrug off a handful of ice cubes like Superman shrugs off bullets is amazing.
There’s almost no change to the flavor profile after the ice goes into the spirit. It’s the exact same thing that we saw before, just with less of an alcohol bite and a reduced hint of tartness from the dark chocolate on the finish. There’s also less peat smoke in here now — it’s still there, it hasn’t disappeared, but it is more of a suggestion than it was before.
The result? A truly outstanding, delicious scotch.
This is the Disneyland version of a Scottish whisky — and I mean that in the best of ways.
Disneyland presents an idealized version of the world, one that is clean and pristine to a level that is unattainable outside of a closed environment. It distills the essence of places (the wild west, 1950’s America) and presents a version of the best elements of those environments without all of the negative qualities. It’s an idealized and fabricated version of the world that you can enjoy for a nominal fee.
And that’s exactly what we have here, but in liquid form. Johnnie Walker has distilled (no pun intended) the essence of what makes scotch whisky great and put it into a bottle, one that is as approachable for first time drinkers as it is those who have become jaded from sipping raw whiskey straight from the condenser. That said, this bottle also costs about as much as a day at Disney.
This is a delicious and enjoyable whiskey with some unexpected complexity and great execution. My only complaint is the same one I have from all of Johnnie Walker’s spirits, and that’s the mystery they maintain around what’s actually in the bottle. This is delicious, but I have no idea where it came from other than “Scotland”.
|Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $237.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
An ideal version of a scotch whisky, albeit for a remarkably high price tag.