Saturday, April 30, 2011

Booze On Parade: The Johnny Walker Collection

Someone who has a much higher opinion of me than I do got me a Johnnie Walker sampler for Christmas last year. It's been sitting in my liquor cabinet since then, waiting for a moment when I could give it the focused attention it deserves. This evening I've found myself with a quiet evening ahead of me, just the thing for a vertical scotch tasting. So let's proceed with the unwrapping, shall we?

The collection consists of one each of:

I've had much previous experience with the Red and Black; they're both good, and neither are terribly expensive. What I'm really looking forward to are the Gold and the Blue; I've not had either before on account of them being terribly pricey. Also, how often do you get to do a vertical whiskey tasting? The last time I got to do one was when I visited the Jim Beam distillery; that was a tremendous amount of fun. On with the show!

Left to right, top to bottom, that's Red, Black, Gold, and Blue. Visually there isn't much difference between the four. The Blue is, perhaps, a bit lighter in color, but the Red, Black, and Gold are all indistinguishable. There's not much difference in the way of bouquet either. All of them smell, as expected, like whiskey. I get smoke and maybe a hint of vanilla from the Red, and the Blue seems less assertive than the rest, but apart from that there doesn't seem to be much difference.

I have to say that Johnnie Walker makes a pretty good product. Though undistinguished from a flavor perspective the Red is warm and fairly smooth; not bad for coming in at under $40 for a 1.75L. The Black definitely has more character; there's a noticeable note of smoke and a hint of honey. The first thing I notice about the Gold is the mouth feel; it's richer and thicker than either the Red or the Black. Sweeter too... it bears an ever-so-faint resemblance to a good icewine. And, lastly, the pièce de résistance... it's lovely and refined, exhibiting the same sweetness and mouthfeel as the gold.

Now... here's the question... would I pay $150 for 750mL of Blue? Compared back-to-back its definitely smoother and more refined than the Red but, sadly, isn't all that interesting. I imagine that some people place a premium on the refinement of a spirit, in which case some additional cost is warranted; the Blue is definitely one of the smoothest scotches I've had the pleasure of sampling. However, and this may be a personal idiosyncrasy, I strongly prefer character to refinement... I want my booze to taste like something. For example, Laphroaig makes Quarter Cask, a great, smokey scotch that, while not nearly as genteel as Johnnie Walker Blue, is also a third of the price. Same thing with Macallan, or The Balvenie... they've got lots of interesting things in their portfolio which won't break the bank. So yes, if someone gives me a bottle of Blue I'll by no means turn up my nose, but there are better ways to get the most bang for your scotch buck.


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