Johnnie Walker Blue Label was my first review that garnered a few angry/disagreeable comments, one of which described me as a “sellout”. My crime? I really liked it. And still enjoy it, when Lady Luck manifests a glass of it in my life.
My biggest – or rather only – complaint revolved around it being ever so slightly weak, even at 43%. I remember wondering if I’d ever be able to try one of the stronger versions – the occasional limited edition for Japan, or some sort of anniversary release, perhaps.
Well hello there! As part of a yearly whisky buying club, a bunch of us managed to get our greedy mitts on a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label The Casks Edition™, essentially a higher strength (not cask strength!) version of Blue Label with a few recipe tweaks here and there.
Given the bonkers price (more on that later) I was also on the hunt for some sort of value benchmark… so I poured some of The Casks Edition™™ alongside some regular Blue Label and hit them for a side-by-side.
Sniffing them comparatively, you can’t really tell that The Casks Edition™™™ is significantly beefier – instead coming across as richer, a little spicier and quite fruity overall. You still get that lovely wax, some nuttiness and depths of complexity that floats my Blue Label boat. The richness disparity makes it tough to analyse meaningfully, but they’re clearly not the same “formula” – exceedingly difficult to articulate, but if I had to guess I’d say there’s some more drippy cask (sherry?) in here.
Regardless, it’s a truly beautiful nose – warm and oily, fiendishly tough to unpack and the barest wisp of smoke lingering in the background.
Hot hot hot. Wow wow wow!
GONE is that feeling like something was missing – that slight weakness that kept regular Blue Label from feeling truly potent. You get an intense, malty experience that seems to give every tastebud what it needs. Absolutely delicious – one of those crazy, face-meltingly brilliant blends rivalling the best of Compass Box or Douglas Laing. Eyes automatically closing with each sip? Check. Spontaneous eyebrow lifting? Check. Involuntary “woah”? No doubt!
Who knew I’d ever be able to say “I prefer this Blue Label with water”? Wow.
My preference is just a teaspoon of water to take the immediate edge off and allow some of that easy-drinking Johnnie Walker goodness to make itself known. Still likely hovering around 50% ABV, it’s nice to imagine this is what Bruichladdich’s take on Johnnie Walker might be. A slow, decadent drink with plenty of punch to keep you from getting complacent.
When you dial it down to around 43% the differences compared to the standard bottling make themselves known. Likely more sherried (or I’ll cut-me-own-throat), fruity and “Christmasy”, but nowhere near sherry monster levels. Blue Label was never a particularly peated dram, and I’d guess that this version is even less so… if only because there’s clearly some added woody component that would hide the influence. It’s still there though, blended with that masterful house style that has made me such a closeted fanboy.
Slow-dram levels here. At full strength this is officially “dessert whisky” territory, without needing facefuls of sherry or ham-fisted bourbon influence to give you the sense of being dense. Long, citrusy, oily and waxy. Excellent!
In a way I feel vindicated – my suspicion that a blend like Blue Label with a little more oomph would be a killer dram has been entirely confirmed! Complex, creamy and introspective, but with the headroom required to make it truly great.
On the other hand, all of this is fairly meaningless given that Blue Label The Casks Edition™™™™ is so preposterously priced that it really is beyond the reach of us mortals. As a duty-free exclusive it’s near impossible to purchase as a sample, let alone at a bar, which means the only way to feasibly get some is to pay for the entire bottle on a return international flight. Or steal some from a friend who went through the trouble.
Incredible liquid. While “worth it?” is a subjective question, in this case the answer is objectively “hell no”! But if you are lucky enough to find yourself with a glass of this particular little slice of heaven, then take it slowly, appreciate every sip and cherish that day forever. Blue Label The Casks Edition™™™™™ is one of the best whiskies I’ve ever tasted.
(Dodges another onslaught on tomatoes)