Why should it take a half hour to get your drink order? And I don’t mean a half hour to get some service on a busy night, I mean a full 30 minutes of effort from the bartender and the manager (and pliers and a hammer) to get one glass of whisky out of a bottle. It shouldn’t, but this time it did. Fortunately it was worth the wait! Find out the whole story here!
Johnnie Walker has a line of blended Scotch whisky known the world over, but what may not be as well known is the differences between the color “labels.” This is a quick overview of the expressions offered listed in order of approximate cost per bottle.
Red Label ($35)
The world’s best-selling Scotch whisky. It has some rough edges and its individual flavors are more noticeable than others in the Label line. It contains around 30 different whiskies in its blend. A syrupy texture with a lead off of oak, maple, and brine/iodine. A light burn and hint of smoke on the finish. This is the sweetest of the Labels.
Black Label ($45)
This one comes with a 12 year age statement. Blended with about 40 whiskies, black is a smoother experience than Red but still ends with a healthy dose of malted oak. The nose hints at the bourbon barrel it grew up in and the smoky nature of its Scotch parts, but the peat jumps to the fore on the palette with a nutty finish. This is the one of the more balanced of the Labels flavor-wsie, with no one of the flavors more prominent than the others.
Double Black ($56)
This no age statement entrant is a darker, smokier, and more flavorful Scotch than Black Label. Honey oak with a peaty and tangy finish.
Green Label ($NA)
Not available anymore, but you might find a dusty bottle in the back somewhere. This one was unique because it was a mix of only single malts, with no grain whiskies as the others do. Raisins and peat lead off before the grains show up. Malt and brine round out the experience.
Gold Label ($NA)
Fruity and rich with an 18 year age statement. Got the boot for Gold Reserve.
Gold Label Reserve ($70)
The Gold Reserve and Platinum are the forgotten children of the Walker family. Lost between Black and Blue, most drinkers don’t quite know what to make of them. This might be a case of over-saturating the market with options. No age statement on this version of Gold, probably an attempt to distinguish it from the 18 year Platinum. The nose is slightly medicinal and malty, but subtle. A very neutral nose, you need to dig for any specific notes. Honey- and orange-sweetend peat gives way to a bitter, wormwood body. This expression has no strong, distinct smoke. The finish is a fade-out of the body with a friendly nip.
Platinum Label ($77)
With Gold Label surrendering its specific age, Platinum is the sole 18 year age statement in the portfolio. A sweeter entry than Gold Reserve (but not nearly the sweetness of Red). Wood, grains, and pear give way to a bitter tang mid, showing a higher brine bite than Gold Reserve. Again the finish is mild, not adding specific flavors, but rather gently easing out.
A departure from the “Label” line, Swing also departs from the square bottle with a unique bottle that rocks back and forth, ostensibly to counteract a ship’s motion. Sweet, floral and with a hint of peat and oak. For my money, the best in the Johnnie Walker line.
Blue Label ($145)
The most controversial whisky around. Some love it, some don’t like it, and others hate it because other people love it. Also widely priced, some places sell a bottle for almost $250. The expression with the most character in the Label line-up, the sweetness is more layered and approachable. Floral, honeyed-malts come in before a smoky brine body makes itself known. Still well-balanced, the smoke never takes center stage over the other flavors. The finish accentuates the brine and peat. Overall the most balanced of the Labels in terms of flavors being noticeable but well-behaved.
The Secret Shelf: Explorer’s Club
Generally available only in travel retail (i.e. airport duty free stores).
Another unique blended Scotch whiskey from experimental distiller Compass Box. This one hits all the right notes for around $50 a bottle.
Asyla is a blended Scotch composed of 50% single grain, 40% Highland malt and 10% Speyside malt. For the math-challanged, that’s 50% single malt, a fairly high percentage in the world of blends, and it shows in its creamy smooth texture. This expression is aged in 100% first-fill American oak barrels and bottled at 80 proof.
The nose starts with hints of fruit and grape with malted barley creating a gently sweet and enticing aroma.
The first sip gives a light spice nip before the smooth and delicate flavors serenade the tastebuds. A buttery beginning ushers in gentle fruits and malt. Mid body gets a little more substantial with charred oak in a way that completes the experience rather than competing with it.
It leaves with another bite of cinnamon just to remind you of its time spent in the American oak.
I’m certainly not the only one who appreciates Compass Box’s artistry on this one. “If you can hear a purring noise, it is me tasting this,” Jim Murray explains in his Whisky Bible 2014.
One of my favorite bourbons, Four Roses Super Premium is often referred to as Platinum. Shame it’s only available in Japan.
The oak is low-key on this expression, a huge plus in my book. Other than that the flavors are plentiful, well-balanced, but still carrying their individual identities. Not an easy thing to pull off.
Clocking in at 86 proof, this dram isn’t going to set your tabi socks on fire, but rather give a nice warming under your obi.
It’s high on my list because of its balanced, even-flavored nature, so I can only describe the body as maplevanillaorange. Or, yum.
The keen observer will notice the Lock Stock & Barrel 13-Year Rye bottle sneaking an appearance in the background. It has been converted into a liquid paraffin candle and provides some of the lighting for this pic.
Once you’ve taken it down you can expect a mild spicy burn and a sweet corn-mash linger on the palette.
A 15 year Highland single malt, this is the latest addition to the Highland Park Valhalla Series. It shares the unique, viking-inspired wooden display that Thor and Loki enjoy.
It comes in at 102.4 proof, but doesn’t have as much burn a younger dram at this level would. Smokier than her Asgardian brothers, Freya is not content to just follow in her family’s footsteps. She may be a lady, but she’s still a goddess with an attitude.
The first impression as she fills the glass is she’s a little paler than you’d expect from a 15. The aroma rising up hints at her peaty nature without overpowering her balancing orange and floral scents.
The peat makes itself known on first taste, but gracefully allows oak and pear to assert themselves. Don’t be lulled by her grace, she will bite if you don’t show her proper respect.
A creeping burn follows her out, leaving a malted oak reminder of your time with her.
My first foray into the Highland Park Valhalla Series, Thor is perhaps the best well-known of the Asgardians thanks in no small part to his Hollywood agent.
A reddish copper dram, this 16 year clocks in at 104.2 proof. The god of lightning makes his presence felt with a healthy, but not overwhelming, burn. He’s just letting you know he could fry you if he wanted but has chosen to be merciful to us earthly mortals.
While I’m not convinced Thor spent too much time wandering the Scottish highlands, there’s just enough peat on the nose to suggest he vacationed there on occasion. Orange and maple scents weave in and out of the peat to keep the nose from being one-dimensional.
On the palate Thor is complex and interesting, making good on the orange and maple notes threatened on first smell. The burn lingers as peat, oak, and floral notes round out the experience that hangs for a few moments before flying off to work on his sequels.