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).