Johnny Walker

A Very Waffly Christmas

A very waffly Christmas

And so we reach the end of another year. There have been many drams downed, drunken selfies taken, and outrageous tasting notes invented. But stick around, there is so much more in store for Whisky Waffle! Soon we’ll be revealing the winners of the coveted Waffle Awards for 2015. We are debuting a new guest reviewer: the Cynical Scotsman himself! And we have a new ‘event week’ lined up for 2016. Until then, have a merry as well as a “merry” Christmas. Stay safe and keep on waffling.

Nick and Ted

Eriskay

Reviewed by: Ted

Eriskay

Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart. While you may think that I am just reeling off random names in some whisky fuelled musing, they in fact all belong to one particular person. A rather famous one in Scottish history at that. Loyalists to the throne scathingly called him the ‘Young Pretender’, but his followers, and indeed most people today, knew him thus: Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Although born in Italy, 1720, Charlie was actually descended from British royalty, grandson of the deposed Stuart King James II and VII. From a young age Charlie knew it was his mission and divine right to reclaim the throne. In 1745 he made his move, sailing from France and landing with his companions, known as the ‘Seven Men of Moidart’, on the small Outer Hebridean island of Eriskay to begin the ‘Jacobite Uprising’ and sweep through his ancestral home of Scotland to raise support.

‘What has this got to do with anything?’ you may be wondering. Well, it just so happens that the subject of this review takes its name from the island where Charlie and his men landed: Eriskay. Eriskay, or ‘Eric’s Isle’ in old Norse, is a blended Scotch whisky made from ‘quality Highland and Lowland Whiskies’. While the whisky is certainly Scottish, a closer inspection reveals that it is in fact bottled in Australia for the Ron Rico Distilling Company for sale on the local market.

Some cheap blends make no bones about the fact, often sporting rather woeful labelling. The Eriskay is indeed a cheap blend, purchased in this case for only AUD$37, however it’s certainly a cut above its companions in its dress sense. Superficially it looks rather like the label of the Talisker, with serifed lettering and a rather nice map in the background. However, bonnie looks alone do not make the man, there must be substance also.

History records that the Jacobite rebellion was doomed to failure, lost through poor battle strategy and politics. Unfortunately the Eriskay is rather similar in this regard. The nose is light and flat, consisting of mostly shortbread, malt and a bit of caramel slice, sweet but fairly unfulfilling.

Surprisingly, on the mouth there is an instant hit of smokiness, but it crawls low like the fug after a battle. Unfortunately this is followed up by the dull tang of metal, filling the back of the mouth like a round of musket shot. The finish is sharp, bitter and lingering, much like the remainder of Charlie’s life after his cause was crushed.

The Eriskay is definitely a whisky that sits squarely within its price range. While it may attract you with the promise of its Bonnie face, it seems that the Loyalists were right, and the Eriskay is indeed a ‘Young Pretender’.

★★

‘Big Peat’ or ‘The Perks of Random Conversation at the Bar’

Reviewed by: Ted

Big Peat

This story begins, as so many great stories do: m’colleague and I were at the bar. Admittedly not an unusual state of affairs. On this particular night we were chatting to our barman mate, and a friend of his that he’d just introduced us to. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Doug. Doug was feeling in a rather celebratory mood as he’d just scored himself a job working as a pharmacist in sunny (and I mean that in the most ball-of-thermonuclear-fire sense of the word) Alice Springs, which is pretty much smack bang in the centre of Australia. Quite a change from little old Burnie on the NW Coast of Tasmania, which can occasionally be sunny if it really makes the effort.

After the usual necessary social preamble was out of the way, the conversation happily turned to that most mysterious, complicated and variable of subjects… women! No, wait, I meant whisky! Doug, as it turned out, was quite the connoisseur (and not just of whisky. On a side note he very charitably bought us a glass of Cognac from the highest extremity of the top shelf, an interesting experience to say the least). We all shared a common passion for peated whiskies, particularly those from what is arguably the spiritual home of the smoky dram: Islay.

These days people mostly talk about Islay in terms of its single malts, but historically the island’s distilleries injected popular blends with some much needed character (and they still do!). However, there is a theory that history works in cycles, and what was once old becomes new again (which probably explains the questionable return of scrunchies and chokers). Interestingly enough, what was getting Doug excited that evening wasn’t the single malts from one of the hallowed Islay distilleries, but a blend. An all-Islay blend. “It’s fantastic! You should track it down”. Fateful words readers, because a few cheeky drams relaxing the mind and the heady world of internet shopping instantly at ones fingertips is a dangerous combination. Let’s just say that I didn’t take much convincing, and moments later I was the proud owner of a bottle of this curious beastie.

Cut to a few weeks later and m’colleague and I were staring with anticipation at a large post box that we had dubbed ‘The Bunker’. With no little ceremony (mostly involving the humming of the tune from the start of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) we cracked open the box, and were greeted by one of the coolest bits of tube artwork this side of Eilean Mhic Coinnich. Meet the Big Peat, an all-Islay blend purporting to contain ‘a shovelful’ of single malts from the distilleries of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen. The aforementioned artwork is a brilliant graphic-style picture of a hirsute gentleman standing in front of what I can only assume is the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse on a beautiful island day (which is to say that the sky is the colour of tea, and our man has his face squinched up against the wind, which is trying its best to blow his hair away).

Chuckling with glee we popped the top and unsheathed our prize from its scabbard. Gasps of surprise met the sight before us (don’t worry, we hadn’t been ripped off and sent a bottle of JW Red instead). You see, normally we would picture the drams of Islay as being dark and brooding in hue, but the Big Peat was filled with bright spirit the colour of pale golden straw. Some people just like to mess with your mind. Of course, there was only one sensible recourse to meet the conundrum before us, and it wasn’t hiding under the table. Bust out the glasses and crack that sucker open good sir!

A generous splash of whisky later and we were ready to begin uncovering the secrets of the Big Peat. There was no denying that it lived up to its name. The smoke was there as soon as we poured it into the glasses, infused with plenty of dark chocolate, malt, rich earth and those medicinal notes that Ileach whisky is famous for. We were in no doubt about the heritage of the spirit sitting before us, whatever the colour. A closer snort revealed thick sweet notes and perhaps a bit of overripe fruit, like a squashy banana. We eyed each other off; curious, but not too bad a start.

Slurp! Hot, woody, ashy smoke poured into our mouths and then… not much else. Sure, there was a light, sweet after-taste, but it was gone in a flash, and all that was left was spicy, medicinal smoke coiling around the tongue. It was like being on the edge of a bush fire; plenty of smoke getting all up in your face, but no blazing heat to go with it. Hmmm…

We could see what Douglas Laing & Co, the makers, were trying to get at; surely crafting a vatted blend out of the great single malts of Islay should be as awesome a combo as haggis with tatties and neeps! Yet somehow they’d got a wee bit over excited with the whole BIG PEAT malarkey and forgotten that it isn’t just the smoke that makes an Islay dram exceptional, it’s the bricks and mortar and the shape of the fireplace too. The way that sweetness melts into savoury, medicinal tang challenges the tastebuds, dark flavours are shot through with light, seaside elements help wash everything across the palate, and then finally the smoke that sits over them all. It’s a complex ecosystem that requires careful balance to work well.

Sitting back we mused upon the Big Peat. By no means did we think that it was a bad dram, far from it, just that somehow it deserved to be better. Perhaps the mix wasn’t quite right, maybe a dash of Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain could have rounded out the flavours working underneath the smoke. Who knows? What we did know though, was that the Big Peat had challenged us, and that a random discussion in a bar can lead to interesting and unexpected places. So go on, strike up that conversation, you might just find something new.

★★★

 

Johnnie Walker: the verdict

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Hi Wafflers! Johnnie Walker Week is officially over and we have emerged unscathed and wiser from the other side. Throughout the week we’ve gained an appreciation for blended Scotch whisky – and even more of an appreciation for single malts.

All joking aside (and there were a few of them this week) Johnnie Walker has produced a formidable range of whiskies and we can understand why they are the most popular in the world, even if we respectfully disagree.

Happy Wafflers johnny walker week whisky waffle

So what have we learned throughout Johnnie Walker Week? Let’s pick through the shrapnel:

  • The Red Label is consumed throughout the world as a mixer. And after trying it neat – we understand why;
  • The Black Label likes to think of itself as a step up – and it is – but not nearly enough to consume neat;
  • The Double Black fixes the problems of the previous two with solid flavours and a generous dose of smoke, and in our opinion is the best value in the range;
  • The Gold Label Reserve balances its flavours well, although sadly there are not many of them to balance;
  • The Platinum Label 18 Year Old is beautifully smooth but lacking in soul;
  • The Blue Label is excellent – but very expensive. And when you could buy a Balvenie 21 Year Old for the same price – why would you go for the blend?

So there you have it. Whisky Waffle’s first ‘event week’ has concluded. Thanks for checking it out and we hope you appreciated our ramblings and perhaps you have also broadened your whisky drinking horizons. If anyone has their own opinions or rankings of the Johnnie Walker range, let us know in the comments!

Until next time, keep on waffling,

Nick and Ted

#johnniewalkerweek

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Posted by: Mooresy

Green label whisky waffle

Johnnie Walker Green Label is – or I should say was – a bit of an anomaly in the family. Unlike the others which are all blends including grain and non-malt whiskies, Green was a blended malt made up of only four whiskies, all single malts. This gave it the quality of arriving like a blend then developing on the palate more like a single malt. It’s nose complexity was also more akin to a single malt, and the better noses out there could probably pick the distilleries involved from the smell.

I happen to know what they were, but so as not to spoiler, you’ll have to ask me.

 

An elegy for Johnnie Green

Though caramel brown, your label was Green

With flavoured malt so crisp and clean

A complex coffee fruity smell

Vanilla and nuttiness went down well

The taste had cereals, chocolate and nuts

Not sharp or heavy but you sure had guts

A finish strong with walnuts and honey

Of Johnnie’s varieties you were worth the money

One day the factory shut you down

Scotch lovers everywhere gave a frown

No more would we have our favourite blend

A standout nip, a lifelong friend

Now we’re confined to Black and Red

That burns our nose and hurts our head

There’s lots of fine drams out there today

And where there’s a Walker there’s a will and a way

But for now we must simply say farewell

You were a classic, a legend and we think that you’re swell

 

Now a rare and hard to find malt, Green is consigned to the archive of Johnnie Walker’s bond store along with the Gold Label 18 (they’ve removed the age statement for the current variant) and the elusive Johnnie Walker White Label which I have never tasted. If you find a sealed bottle of Green, you may want to hold onto it for its value but I would strongly encourage you to pop the cork and taste a true exception to the rule. If you spot a half open bottle on a friend’s shelf or in a dark musty pub, encourage the friend to crack it at a party or buy it shot by shot from the wizened landlord.

If you are a single-malt snob who sees the word blended and runs a mile from the likes of Green and the very delicious Blue Hanger, thank you. More for the rest of us.

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Blue Label Whisky Waffle

One of the reasons we like single malts is the variability in character; all the little quirks and oddities that come together to create something exciting and different every time. The experiences they leave with you create a lasting impression, such as the first time Ted tried a 72% ABV Heartwood, all crazy and wild and exhilarating, or the time Nick tried an English single malt in a Scottish bar and nearly poured it down the sink, much to the amusement of the patrons.

In comparison, blends tend to be a lot less individual, which is hardly surprising given that the elements are painstakingly selected for their ability to meld seamlessly together. Very rarely does a blend give you something to talk about and really get your teeth into. Not so the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the proclaimed pinnacle of the standard Johnnie Walker range. Discovering this came as somewhat of a surprise to we Johnnie Walker sceptics.

Blue Nick and Ted Whisky Waffle

Unlike any of the other previously reviewed releases, there is a great deal more complexity on the nose. There are delightfully interacting elements of oak, chocolate, and fruit such as oranges, pears and peaches, complimented by a light hint of smoke. The overall character is very warm and welcoming.

The mouth is actually relatively sweet, but so completely different to the overbearing, manufactured sickliness of the Red Label that it’s hard to believe that the two are made by the same company. It’s more like the pure sweetness of a really good light honey. The flavour develops through caramel, to sweet orange, and on to slightly bitter cocoa, all the while accompanied by a pleasing gentle smokiness which lingers on the tongue.

The Johnnie Walker Blue Label has certainly not committed the cardinal whisky sin of being boring. It is rare that a blend has this much complexity, and gives us so much pleasure debating its merits. After all, the best whiskies are the most memorable ones. We’re still not entirely convinced it’s worth the $200 price tag, but after a couple of drams we’re much closer to believing it.

★★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Johnnie Walker Gold Label whisky waffle

It is said that many years ago, three wise whisky tasters came from the east (probably Speyside) to bequeath fantastic gifts upon the saviour of blended whisky. The first wise man brought a very special present: gold. Specifically, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve (the other two of course brought Johnnie Walker Frankincense Label and Johnnie Walker Myrrh Label). Somehow, as if by divine intervention, I found myself in possession of one of these relics: the Gold Label Reserve. Upon reverently pouring myself a dram, I heard a choir of angels singing joyous melodies. I then brought the vessel to my lips and drank.

Confusion then hit me. Is this… it? Surely a bottle titled: ‘Gold Label Reserve’ should be a drop unlike any other! But no. This whisky is not the messiah. It is a very naughty boy.

Gold extra Nick Whisky Waffle

In 2013, Johnnie Walker re-marketed a range of its products. The fan favourite Green Label was removed, a shiny new Platinum Label 18 Year Old was introduced, and the Gold Label was re-branded as Gold Label Reserve, in the process losing its age statement. In theory, the addition of the word ‘Reserve’ indicated a more esteemed and better tasting product. But in practice – they created a drop that was disappointingly unremarkable.

There are traces of citrus on the nose, as well as cocoa and some herbal notes. The sweetness is there, but it is far more subtle than in lower tier Johnnie Walker releases. All of these elements are no more than the merest hint. However it’s well balanced as there is not a great deal of flavour to weigh up. The mouth feel is similarly unexciting. Candied chestnuts, orange peel and a small amount of spice come through, while the finish is short with only a faint dash of caramel lingering. The supposedly ‘trademark’ Johnnie Walker smoke disappears like the vivid details of a dream after you have awoken: vanishing rapidly, as if it had never been there in the first place.

The Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is a good blend, there is no doubt about that. No one flavour dominates the palate and it is unquestionably smoother than the lower tiered releases. It is simply unmemorable. In fact, it is borderline bland. If this was a less esteemed release I would, in all likelihood, applaud it. But for a whisky that calls itself ‘Gold Label’? Such a sin is simply unforgivable.

★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Posted by: Nick

WW Black Label

Johnnie Walker got one thing right when creating their original premium bottling: the name. Black Label subtly suggests quality. Conclude any mundane product title with it and witness the elevation in esteem it receives. For example, Kellogg’s cornflakes: Black Label. Colgate toothpaste: Black Label. Toyota Corolla: Black Label. Chartered accountancy: Black Label.

The name alone should be enough to convince most discerning whisky drinkers that in comparison to the Red Label, this drop is a step up. And it is – but only slightly.

Black extra Nick Whisky Waffle

Johnnie Walker Black is blended from over 40 whiskies all of which are at least 12 years of age. There is a nice range of flavour in this dram, and the supposedly ‘trademark’ smoky character is even vaguely noticeable! The key to this whisky is balance: balance between enjoyable flavours and downright unpleasant ones.

This principle is demonstrated in the nose, which presents a battleground where pleasing chocolate-orange notes and nasty chemical aromas compete for supremacy. There is a lot to like here, although, conversely many elements I’m not at all keen on. The palate continues in a similar vein – the sickly sweetness from the Red Label makes a return but is partially disguised by more agreeable flavours such as oak, nutmeg, and in particular, peat-smoke. It’s the sort of smoke which is only really noticeable if you’ve just polished off a decidedly unpeated malt, but when discovered, it really gives this whisky a lift.

There is a degree of complexity on the finish that is not found in the Red Label. Despite only being bottled at 40% ABV, it features a small amount of lasting spiciness. Sadly the unpleasant sweetness also makes a return and rather spoils the party.

Johnnie Walker Black Label is a mixed bag of a whisky. For every interesting and enjoyable flavour, there is another objectionable one dragging it down. It seems destined to forever be a mixer for those who prefer a slightly classier Scotch and coke. It is premium only in name, sadly not in nature.

★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Blind tasting: Johnnies Night

Posted by: Nick

I like to consider myself somewhat clued up about whisky. Over my time I’ve had a dram or two. I dare to think of myself as an experienced whisky drinker. And I would like to believe that just maybe, I could tell a $200 bottle from one costing pocket change.

But then there was one night. One terrible night. One awful night when everything I knew about whisky hung in the balance. I am referring to: Johnnies Night.

Spooky Johnnies Whisky Waffle Nick and Ted

DRAMATIC MUSIC!!!

Johnnie Walker is the best selling maker of blended Scotch whisky on the planet. Despite this, or maybe because of it, my colleague Ted and I have never truly cared about any of their products. This of course was most likely a result of our dabbles as younger, broker men, when we frequently ‘tasted’ the Red Label multiple times an evening at various social events we attended, and then were too stingy to seek out their more expensive and esteemed bottles. Slowly and surely, however, we built up a collection: through our own purchases, our fathers’ purchases, and purchases by our generous friend Stephen who provided the two most valuable bottles (things haven’t changed that much – we still can’t ordinarily afford a bottle of Blue simply for a blind tasting night!)

The task was simple – six expressions of Johnnie Walker: Red, Black, Double Black, Gold, Platinum and Blue, were to be blind tasted and we would predict which dram was which. Now, I say simple. This turned out to not be the case.

Close up whisky waffle

An artsy close up of our un-whisky friendly glassware. They have colour-coded tags, though!

I’ll make the excuse here and now that we had never tried several of the expressions before – but this could not explain our poor showing when the results came in.

I won’t go into the detailed statistics of the night, partly because it would make tedious reading, and partly because we are far too embarrassed to share them with the world. Suffice to say that we rated the blue far lower than it’s worth and overvalued the red label. The Platinum and the Gold didn’t fare any better, while the Double Black proved popular.

Maybe this says that we do not have as expensive taste as we claimed. Or perhaps it says we do not have as developed palates as we think. Eager to prove this latter fact wrong, Ted and I had a second attempt, this time correctly identifying the Red, Black and Double Black, but then mixing up the upper three.

Lots of Johnnie Walker – some would say too much…

At the end of the night, we were confused, but not perturbed. It was the first blind tasting we had ever done, and we finished the night with a better understanding of blended whisky. The results had turned up the fact that the Gold and Platinum bottles did not appeal greatly to us, nor justify their price tags. The Blue Label was slightly better received, although embarrassingly, so was the Red. Finally, the biggest revelation of the night was our discovery of, in our opinion, the best Johnnie Walker expression.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you some actual consumer advice.

Taking into account flavour, value, personal preferences, and the level of inebriation we had reached at the conclusion of the night, we found the best bottle of Johnnie Walker colour expression to be the Double Black.

That said, I’d take a bottle of Glenlivet any day.

#johnniewalkerweek