Traditionally, we have a get together in December each year and re-visit some of the whiskies we enjoyed over the previous twelve months. Sadly, the events of 2020 meant we had to find another way to have a festive get-together, so our first fully online tasting came to be.
Taking advantage of Black Friday offers allowed us to push the boat out and buy a somewhat pricy bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen Edition. To expand the tasting, we also bought some much more reasonably priced Johnny Walker offerings, namely Black Label, Double Black, and Green Label.
Black label and Double black are blended whiskies that have a lot of online discussion as to which is the better. Green Label is one we tried in 2017 and gave it a very good rating. It is a little unusual for JW being a blended malt – they typically produce blended whiskies. The final bottle, Blue label, Ghost and Rare – Port Ellen is a special limited release - also a blended whisky.
Black Label – Blended Whisky – 40% ABV – 12 YO
A blend of around 40 whiskies from all around Scotland. Their website states:
“Johnnie Walker Black label is an unrivalled masterpiece – an exquisite combination of Scotland’s rarest and most exceptional whiskies”.
At around £30 a bottle I think we can take that with a large pinch of salt.
Nose: Quite interesting with a little smoke, dark fruits, peaches, floral notes and toffee sweetness
Taste: Initial sweetness, followed by vanilla, light smoke and honey.
Finish: Quite short, sweetness gives way to light fruits and white pepper.
Adding one or two drops of water flattens the nose and brings out more of the pepper notes on the finish and some drying tannins.
Double Black – Blended Whisky - 40% ABV – NAS
JW website tells us that this is blended using whiskies from distilleries predominantly around the west coast of Scotland, chosen for their naturally smoky flavour and aged in charred barrels.
Nose: Mild smoke and some oak notes to the fore with fruit in background, but overall the nose isn’t giving away very much at all.
Taste: Sweetness and smoke with a hit of seaweed saltiness, maybe some Talisker influence? Orange, white pepper, vanilla also come through.
Finish: Sweet and slightly salty going into white pepper and vanilla
Adding a few drops of water brings out the smoke, increases the pepper finish and becomes quite drying. Better without water.
Green Label – Blended Malt – 43% ABV – 15 YO
This is a blended malt and JW has disclosed the source distilleries as Talisker, Cragganmore Caol Ila & Linkwood.
Nose: Dark fruits, floral notes, maybe heather, some oak, gentle smoke and toffee.
Palate: Quite sweet and oily, but not in a bad way, a lick of peat, vanilla, honey, and some musty wood.
Finish: Medium length, fruit and smoke finishing off into white pepper leaving a little dryness on the palate.
A few drops of water and the whisky opens up a little giving more of the pepper spice .
Blue Label – Ghost & Rare – Blended Whisky – 43.8%ABV – NAS
This Port Ellen edition comprises whiskies from 8 Diageo distilleries
- Port Ellen (Islay - closed 1983),
- Caledonian (Lowland - closed 1987)
- Carsebridge (Lowland - closed 1983)
- Mortlach (Highland)
- Daluaine (Speyside)
- Cragganmore (Speyside)
- Blair Athol (Highland)
- Oban (Highland)
Palate: Initial sweetness develops into floral heather, dark fruits and warming spice.
Finish: Long smokey finish persists with honey and herbs in the background.
Water: Just two or three drops enhances the smokiness and brings out a little saltiness.
As usual, when we finish the tasting, we rank the whiskies in order of preference. We ignored the selling price of the whiskies and based our decisions purely on how much we liked them.
In first place was the Blue label Ghost and Rare with Green Label a very close second, followed by Double Black and, in last place, Black label.
Regardless of the placings they are all good whiskies. The Black Label is innocuous but still very drinkable; the Double Black had more character. Both of these are regularly available at around the £25 mark and offer very good value – ideal whiskies for those that are wanting to get into peated whiskies or just want a very gentle peat influence.
The Green label was highly rated by us when we tried it in 2017, so we were expecting it to do well again, but it was still a surprise that around a quarter of us enjoyed it more than the Blue Label.
The Blue Label Port Ellen edition is a lovely whisky - very refined. It develops in the glass and develops while you are drinking it; a whisky you want to, and need to, sit with for a long while. It is also eye-wateringly expensive, several times the price of the Green label which can often be found discounted to around £40. All of us agreed that taking price into consideration Green Label was the outright winner.