Magnificently powerful and intense. Caramels, dried peats, elegant cigar smoke, seeds scraped from vanilla beans, brand new pencils, peppercorn, coriander seeds, and star anise make for a deeply satisfying nosing experience. Silky caramels, bountiful fruits of ripe peach, stewed apple, orange pith, and pervasive smoke with elements of burnt tobacco. An abiding finish of smoke, dry spices, and banoffee pie sweetness. Close to perfection. Editor's Choice
Formulated to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Johnnie Walker. This is a fabulous whisky for anyone who can spring for the bottle. It is deep, dark, and quite powerful with a hefty malt foundation and sweeter notes of toffee and vanilla combined with resinous oak, complex fruit (both bright citrus notes and darker pit fruits), crisp mint, tobacco, polished leather, and heavy peat smoke. A tour de force of a blended scotch-as big as many single malts reviewed here.
Highland toffee, dried banana, salted caramel, seashells flipped from rock pools, and crispy-skinned oily fish barbecuing over a fire. Sweet toffee meets cinnamon, pepper, and clove, as an express train of smoke clatters through, leaving intense citrus peel oils and green fruits in the backwash. A spasm of spice marks the finish: arid, amid baked fruits and toffee. Leave me now, I have everything I need.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen Edition, 43.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $350
This uninhibited, tempestuous expression of Blue Label highlights the artistry of the blender through the judicious use of closed distillery malts and grains. Coastal notes of sea spray, lemon, dirty peat smoke, cookies and cream, After Eight mints, caramel, and dry-roasted spice aromas. Combining lemon bonbon, waxy orange, cookie dough, fondant icing, and chocolate, with tobacco smoke, hints of peppermint, and grapefruit notes, this flagrantly outclasses the Brora variant.
You don't mess with the Johnnie Walker brand name casually, so we expect greatness, and boy, do we get it here. This has a dusty, smoky nose with dried apricot and grape, and the whisky is gossamer-soft on the palate, with sweet pear and honey evolving on top of an oaky rich heart before a tidal wave of pepper and peat, and a delightful spice smoke and oak conclusion. Magnificent.
The pinnacle of the current Johnnie Walker range, this is a rare, inimitable blend of just nine whiskies. It exudes the aromas of ripe bananitos, whole mango, satsuma, vanilla seeds, barley awns, butter biscuits, and crystallized pineapple. The supple grain sustains indulgent, characterful malts creating a weighty, smooth mouthfeel. I’m smitten by the vanilla creaminess, burgeoning deep fruit layers, how it swells with a satisfying snuffbox smokiness. A beautifully styled blend delivering a captivating, sensuous experience. (330 bottles only)
Jim Beveridge delivered these aromas of toffee apple, peach, and rich berry fruits by working with European oak casks. The smoke is timid, with hints of background salinity. The finely structured mouthfeel is where this triple malt whisky truly shines: the polished smoothness is exceptional. The flavor journey begins with honey, citrus, and swirling melted chocolate, building to a fire of squeezed orange oils, dry fruits, and pecan nuttiness before concluding with rich espresso, dark caramels, and plain chocolate. Immaculate.
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2016 Edition, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $850
Here’s your private audience with the inestimable Mr. Beveridge. After contemplating impeccably selected aged liquids from the big five Distillers Company Limited (DCL) grain distilleries, he’s ready. Three vattings representing cask character, distillery character, and Highland single malt were combined in the final blend. Fresh layers of lemon and honey mingle with wood smoke. A seductive soft and creamy palate, saturated with fudge and delicate vanilla fuse together in a study of honeyed perfection. A fine indulgence. The best yet. (8,888 bottles)
Bright gold. Amazingly fresh fruits and quince, slowly evolving into mango, blueberry, and a jammy tayberry note. At the same time, exotic spices like cardamom begin to build, particularly when the surface is broken with a drop of water, while vanilla pod notes develop. In the mouth, the grain smooths all the elements, giving an unctuous feel. There’s just sufficient oakiness to give structure and any smoke is far in the distance. A triumph of the blender’s art. £100,000
John Walker & Sons Private Collection (2018) 28 year old Midnight Blend, 42.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $750
The end of a series, this fifth and rarest edition has worked leather, chocolate, dark toffee, cinnamon bark, toasted currants, charcoal, and smoking incense. The smoke is commanding but never domineering. It’s a contemplative and weighty proposition, dark as midnight, with plain chocolate, spices, and dark berries, with a smoky intensity following through on the finish. (3,888 bottles) Collectible
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2017 Edition, 46.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $815
Closer to the heart of JW than its predecessors, Mastery of Oak follows a methodically complicated maturation and blending regime. American oak characteristics, singed cedar spills, damson jam, stewed apple, and rhubarb laced with peppery spice, nutmeg, and clove. A dichotomy of flavors: toffee apple and rhubarb become piquant, verging on sour, with a parallel strand of honey and Caramac. Short finish of the last vestiges of fruit and spice. (5,588 bottles, U.S. Travel Retail)
Try this in your next Manhattan. Heather honey sweetness, Belgian waffles, cinnamon, rye spices, creamy vanilla, peppercorn, and dried porcini emerge after the 6-month rye cask finishing period. Sweet caramel oozes over the tongue, Highland toffee and Orkney fudge hold the spices in check. Banana candy and deep citrus acknowledge the Dufftown single malt component. The most accomplished Blender’s Batch to date. Emma Walker has nailed it. (Travel Retail exclusive)
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2014 Edition, 46.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $840
Smoke begins Jim Beveridge’s public replication of the annual Directors Blend concept, built around Johnnie Walker’s signature characteristics. Peat smoke harks back to Islay, but there’s wood smoke, tobacco leaf, and malt, with a salty richness behind it. The grain just gives it a lift of extra sweetness. Polished, with great structure; red apple, raspberry, and sweet linctus wrap up with a long, smoky finish of cigar stub and peat stores. Clear parallels with Directors Blend 2009, but better. (8,888 decanters released) £500
Complex, elegant textures from the get-go; woodsmoke from a bonfire of green twigs, ashy peat embers, grain stores, vanilla cream, and honey drizzled over baked apples. Golden syrup flapjacks, vanilla fudge, candied apricot, orange peel, Quaker oats, gingerbread, pepper, and a catch of smoke that bridges into the finish, where hints of citrus and golden honeyed grains are found. Classical allure, but eminently accessible.
This is much more muscular than the regular, un-haunted Blue Label. It delivers a multitude of flavors—butter toffee, sweet smoke, citrus peel, and dry spices—tantalizingly peeling off layer after layer, building a slow crescendo to a peak of spices and bitter citrus. Mouth drawing with caramel, apple, pear, and sherbet, a mid-palate of zesty orange and baking spices before topping out with bitter peels, grapefruit, smoke, and sour hard candy.
A staple in the liquor cabinet, this hearty, malty dram conveys peppery smoke, kippers, dry spices, pencil shavings, a biscuit-like cereal note, and more pungent peat smoke as the glass warms up. Among others, this comprises Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore, and Caol Ila malts. Fruit follows smoke, with vanilla, pastry desserts, and peppercorn spices, becoming creamier with shredded peel, apple cobbler, and a warming finish of orange peel and forward spices.
Created by blender George Harper, who worked on White Walker, this has nutty toffee, coffee grounds, caramelized sugars, roasted hazelnut in chocolate, an appreciable grain note, plus the titular gentle sweet peat smoke. Toasted oak, chocolate praline, sweet runny caramel, coffee, and a catch of smoke dissipate to leave the smooth flavor of creamy toffee penny candy. An uncut diamond with great potential set against the brilliance of Black Label. £30
So how brave can you be? Would you take one of the world's most iconic blends and risk messing with it? If you've got a whisky maker as good as Jim Beveridge, then why not? This picks up from the regular JW Black and its signature Caol Ila smoke and peat heart and then adds to it, doing exactly what it says on the tin. But the clever part of this is upping the apple, orange, and fruit content too. Great.
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch No. 3 Triple Grain American Oak 10 year old, 41.3%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $30
Wheat, corn, and malted barley are your three grains here. Orange grove before harvest, a rounded candied peel note, plenty of sweet grain, and creamy vanilla, all backed by gentle spice. Luscious and chewy caramel, taffy candy, lavishly rich orange, and glowing spice notes wrap around the tongue. It’s incredible how they can make this tasty blend of five whiskies look so devastatingly easy (when it’s not). Value Pick
What happens when you light a bonfire underneath Green Label? Earthy peat smoke with medicinal characteristics of lanolin and antiseptic, a salty tang balanced with creamy vanilla, strands of citrus, and touches of menthol and aniseed. Smooth as a thief in the night; mouth-coating toffee, growing smoky notes, and peppered mackerel push back the waxy, citrus elements. Now the fire is alive; the sweetness gets out while it can. (Travel Retail exclusive)
Just as complex as Johnnie Walker Gold, but fuller and more richly textured. (Not surprising, given that there are no grain whiskies in Johnnie Walker Green.) This is one of the finer vatted malts on the market. Its flavors are well-integrated. You’ll find creamy toffee and nougat at its core, which is then layered with notes of vanilla, mint, fresh brine, and even a hint of mustard seed. Excitingly fresh and vibrant on the finish. A whisky for both the blend and single malt drinker. And at $55, it is also fairly valued for an all-malt whisky.
Blender Aimée Gibson’s experimental batch 7 is designed as a sherry finished Black Label. Beautifully smoky, with dried fruits, charred oak, wood spices, vanilla, cocoa, and bonfire smoke. Toffee flavors, with thick smoke, red fruits, orange, raisin, oak spice, gingerbread, marshmallow, strawberry jam, and dark marmalade. Dry finish with bitter peels, dark chocolate, and some feisty spices. In comparison, regular Black Label is silkier, more integrated, and more peppery. (Global Travel Retail only)
A zeitgeist Johnnie Walker fine-tuned for the American palate, this blend has a moreish nose of cinnamon, cocoa, and the toasted coconut of macaroons, mingled with strands of smoke, dried walnut, nutmeg, and an array of spicy rye anchored by a concentrated line of vanilla. Lots of American oak at play here. It’s elegant, dry, and smooth with vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and flashes of spice. It’s fabulous sipped straight up but keep walking to the finish. Value Pick.
Need you ask? An unmistakable classic and an exemplar of a blended Scotch whisky, famous around the world. Toffee, swirling caramel, whole almond, and mashed banana amid twisting white smoke. The palate has such poise, balance, and dexterity that it sets the standard for many less accomplished blends to aspire to. Conspicuously iconic, and the closest thing you will find to a complete whisky at this price.
Sliced apple, fig rolls, hot chocolate powder, baked orange, seasoned oak, and a wisp of light smoke like a red glow from burning newspaper. It has a contented, unperturbed, insouciant character. Cinnamon toffee yields to sweeter notes, with vanilla, dried fruits, and baked peach, and then goes long on nutmeg under drifting smoke. The woodiest of Walkers, this concludes with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, and a catch of smoke. (Travel Retail exclusive)
Beeswax candles, wafers in vanilla ice cream, dried apricots, a strand of garden bonfire smoke, dried-out wedges of honeydew melon, and fruit shortcake cookies. The palate revels in barley sugar, active spices, lime, orange, and grapefruit peel, and it’s beautifully weighted with fudge and vanilla sponge cake. A mouth-clinging finish saturates the taste buds with sweet, honeyed fruits.
Chillingly good bottle for winter, this Game of Thrones tie-in sees a rakish striding man donning body armor, gripping an ice blade, and nodding a frosty greeting through glowing blue eyes. Room temperature aromas speak of toffee, lime zest, menthol, waxy foliage, and pronounced grain notes. Straight from the freezer, there are cornflakes, beeswax, caramel, vanilla, sharp citrus, sugared apple, and a hint of nutmeg. Deliciously tasty dram for your night’s watch. Best Value
Somebody at Diageo has been taking a lot of interest in the Johnnie Walker range of late, what with the revamp of the core range and now a regular stream of special releases. This is the first of a series for Travel Retail only, but it takes the Johnnie Walker themes — vanilla, spice, and honey, with wispy peat and smoke — and adds savory spice to the earthiness. But there are some very young notes in this.
Johnnie Walker Black Label The Director’s Cut, 49%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $80
A futuristic bottle design released for Ridley Scott’s replicant sequel set in 2049, hence the punchy bottling strength. Peat smoke, toffee caramels, fresh banana, and sliced red apple. Promising layers of fruit salad, grape, apple, citrus, and apricot are swept aside by an aggressive peppery attack, emerging to notes of bitter fruit, burnt rubber, and smoke. If this is a glimpse of the future, I’m stockpiling regular Black Label now. (39,000 bottles)
Blender Aimée Gibson set out to make a sundowner scotch by incorporating whiskies matured in wine casks. The blueberry, blackcurrant, and fresh oak aromas continue on to the palate: fruit compote, raspberry, strawberry, and lingonberry with light spices. A late resurgence of dark toffee, chocolate, and cigar smoke blow into the finish. Sip away by all means, but this fruity sensation calls to be served up in long, cool drinks.
An example that older, more expensive isn’t always better, this 18 year old gem is as good as many blends twice its price. The foundation of Johnnie Walker Gold is delicate, clean, and honeyed, along with a fresh sea character (from Clynelish?) that provides a youthful zing. Notes of vanilla, shortbread, tropical fruit, freshly cut hay, marshmallow, and even a hit of peat, round out the palate. Its finish is subtly complex and nicely balanced. The blend has improved nicely over the past several years.
Johnnie Walker Black Label Triple Cask Edition, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $40
This lighter, fruity, spicy whisky is not for peat lovers. Bourbon, whisky, and rum casks were used for finishing, resulting in a nose of rich honey, golden syrup, peach stone, apricot, honeydew, coriander seed, ginger, and white pepper. Citrus, butter fudge, dried and tropical fruits, rumbling spices, and tangy orange create a creamy combination, from which a familiar Johnnie Walker identity suddenly snaps into place. (Travel Retail exclusive)
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2015 Edition, 46.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $805
This second release celebrates Walker’s rare fruit character using 29 handpicked casks combining regional styles, aligned to the 2010 Director’s Blend. Aromas of pear and fresh apple layered over tangy, sugar-tossed dried fruits, pineapple, deep orange oils, and dry peel. Taciturn smoke. Creamy butteriness with red apple, raspberry, and sweet orange yields to soft, chewy pear skins, honey-drizzled Turkish delights, and charred paper. An outlier of JW character but important to contemplate how this adds context to the entire collection. £550
I had to double check that price. My feelings are well recorded on premium whiskies bottled at 40% and if you were to ask me whether the whisky's worth the price tag, the answer's no. That doesn't make it a bad whisky, though; far from it. It has a light, dusty, and fruity nose reminiscent of raspberry sherbet, and on the palate there is trademark smoke, and pleasant toffee and treacle. Good, but in stellar company here. (Travel Retail only) Price is per liter.
How does this long-established blend shape up on its own without a ginger or soda mixer? Fresh apple juice, a twist of lemon, dried orange peel, peppercorn, cracker bread, and a vegetal spicy note. It gets into its stride with delicious apple, gentle fudge, and good-tempered spices, with cracked black pepper and a little sourness to finish. Mild, agreeably smooth, without any bombast or hullabaloo; it just blends in.
Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection The Gold Route, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $95.00
Described as “an exotic mix of bananas, mango, pitaya, pineapples, guava, passion fruit, and raisins, all balanced perfectly by deep charred peaty notes.” It sort of is, but this isn't a soft, silky smooth dessert whisky; it's Rod Stewart singing Air Supply's “All Out Of Love.” It's soft and gentle, but the gravel may put off the softies, and it's far too bland to appeal to fans of Maggie May. Between a rock and a hard place.
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch No. 1 Red Rye Finish, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $22
America, Walker wants your cocktails. Emma Walker that is, the blender whose signature adorns the first of these experimental expressions. Toffee Speyside nose, digestive biscuits, cinnamon, cool mint, and a pronounced grain note from Port Dundas. Orange, lime peel, lovely caramel richness, and creamy toffee through dilution. The brand’s second consecutive rye cask finish: you noticed too? Up against its sibling, JW Select Rye Cask, there are certain similarities, but this is fruitier, less intricate, and less rich and spicy.