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Johnnie Walker Blue vs. Single Malts

A Washington Post story I was just reading had an ad for Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the venerable distillery’s finest blend.

I’ve never had it, largely owing to the fact that it goes for $225 for a 750ML bottle and $550 for 1.75 liters. But I can’t understand why anyone would drink a blended whisky that costs radically more than some of the finest single malts.

The Blue doesn’t come with an age specification but the Black is a blend of 12-year-old malts, the Green 15’s, and the Gold seems to be bottled as either 15 or 18.  Let’s assume then that the Blue is at least 18-year-old.    Considering that the Black is quite good, I’d imagine the Blue is superb.  But, again, The Macallan 18 can be had for much less, going around $150 for 750ML.   The Oban 18 goes in the same range.   Can the Johnnie Blue be better than those fine whiskys?

I should note that I seldom drink Scotch in this price range, having settled on Dewars White Label over The Famous Grouse as my everyday drink and The Macallan 12 as my keep-in-stock indulgence.  But I’m curious to get reader input into this important topic.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. So many questions... says:

    I honestly have no idea if it’s any better. However, I think, to a certain extent, it’s probably a matter of branding and status. Everyone knows about Blue, mainly because of how expensive it is. That’s sort of the same question I’ve always had about Louis XIII, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never drink that either.
    I’ve personally never had over a 16 year scotch, so can’t say if 18 or 21 year is incredibly better. I think scotch drinkers are better served by switching between different single malts to experience different tastes. Of course, that is also mainly my wallet talking.
    As far as every day drinking, I’m mainly a beer guy. If I had to choose an everyday whiskey, I would actually probably go towards the Irish side and go with Jameson. I love Macallan 12, but I also love having some Laphroaig or Lagavulin when I want something more intense.
     

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  2. Herb says:

    Can’t say as I’m not much of a whiskey guy.  But I will say that I prefer Sour Diesel to Purple Kush.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 21 Thumb down 9

  3. john personna says:

    Recent history have shown that if you distill a higher priced spirit, they will come.
     
    (Is that true even moreso in Japan?  Perhaps it is an export product.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. This article is relevant to my interests.
    I find that single-malts produce better quality for the money than blends. I’ve not noticed that aging beyond 12 years has any particular effect — perhaps that is the limit of my palate’s sophistication.  Aging less than 12 years, however, is noticeable.
    Dewar’s is kind of sweet for my taste; I prefer the smokiness of Laphroaig, released with a single ice cube. YMMV.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  5. John Burgess says:

    Not a scotch drinker at all, but I note that Walker Blue is a favored article of bribery throughout Asia, even in places where people aren’t supposed to drink. In India, the mere fact that a government official even has it is seen as prima facie evidence of something very wrong.
     
    It is, of course, possible to taste it without forking out for the whole 750ml bottle. I see it on drink menus in the $35-$50/shot range.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  6. Egads, $50 for a shot? I can’t justify that no matter how good the whisky is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  7. tom p says:

    This is the first I have ever heard of JW Blue. And I can not imagine why any one would even consider forking out that kind of dough for a blend. My knowledge of blends is very limited by the fact that most are a waste of time. I found one I enjoy for the everday “knock of the scales” drink (Crawfords, $30.00 for 2 litres).
     
    I’m with you James, Why spend $225 -$550 for a bottle of who knows what when for 50 you can get a very acceptable Single malt? My own prefernces lean towards the Lagavulin and Laphroaig (I am a sucker for the Laph) but also enjoy the MacAllan, Oban, Glenlivet, etc. 
     
    For the most part I mine the cheap side for new taste sensations tho I did once get an 18 yr old MacAllan (yes it was worth it, but I haven’t had a rich uncle die in a long time)
     
     

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  8. wr says:

    I’m mostly a single malt guy, although I’ll happily drink Ballantine’s for the cheap burn. I’ve never had the Blue, but a friend once brought a bottle of Green, and it was terrific…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  9. MarkedMan says:

    I’m not a whiskey guy, although I do like the occasional scotch-rocks.  (Lately, less rocks).  Why would a blend be inferior to a single malt?  In wine, which I know a bit about, most blends are cheap, but good blends can be very good. In fact, most wines are blends to some extent, even something labeled Merlot or Cab might have 10 or 15% of something else to balance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  10. MM says:

    A few years ago, I went to a scotch tasting sponsored by Johnny Walker.  At the end, we were give a shooter of Red, Black, Gold and Blue to take home.  The blue was absolutely delicious, but that said, in my opinion nothing is delicious enough to justify a $200+ bottle. To me it’s about signaling that you have the ability to buy it.
    And I like a good single malt for $50 a bottle just about as much as I liked the Johnny Blue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. kasey says:

    I also went to a tasting about a year ago – every Scotch (other than the Blue) there was fairly expensive and tasted like gasoline to me, but I can drink the Blue with no problem. I can’t tell you why, tasting or no tasting I don’t have the whiskey knowledge, but it has a different flavor to it. I went to the Scotch tasting based solely on experience with the Blue and I was very disappointed to learn that I do not like Scotch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  12. kasey says:

    The Mcallan 18 and Oban 18 were part of that tasting, and they both tasted wretched to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    James,

    I worked my way through college at a higher end liquor store.  If memory serves me correctly, Johnny Walker blue is aged a minimum of 25 years.  Special editions will be aged for 40 years.  Each bottle of blue may contain a blend of any of their barrels, including the vatted malts they use for Green, that have been aged for a minimum of 25 years (that’s my awkward way of saying that a bottle of blue may have 40 year old scotch in it).As far as the taste? It’s the smoothest damn whiskey you’ll ever have, but its not a very complex taste.  Actually for taste, both the green and gold label are far better.  Gold has a smokey flavor, and green has fruity tones similar to a single malt irish.  And no, its not worth the price of the bottle, or $50 a shot.  However, there is a bar in West Lafayette Indiana that has it for $15 a glass.  Definitely worth it at that price just for the novelty.Kasey,The McCallans in general are meh.  That statement against Oban hurt me deeply.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    Those paragraphs were formatted perfectly when I posted it…:(

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  15. John Hannaford says:

    I mostly agree with Neil. The Blue is smoother than a baby’s bottom, but in reaching that smoothness it has lost some flavor notes that are better represented in the younger blends. I think it has a place amongst a whiskey fanatic’s collection, but if the argument is about value, then it fails the test as most blends or singles over 15-18 yrs do.
    And Neil – meh?. Really? You’d turn down a hit from my bottle of the Anniversary Malt?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. TG Chicago says:

    “Those paragraphs were formatted perfectly when I posted it…:(”

    Yeah, there’s been some weird formatting stuff here lately. I sure wish there was an “Edit Post” option….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Colin says:

    While the Johnnie Walker Green and Blue are “okay”, single malts like The MacAllan are great.  I tend to stick with the 15.  I’ve had the pleasure of trying glasses of the 18, 25, and 30 but at that point my palate just can’t distinguish more value for the cost.  The Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and La Santa are great in the $35-45 price range when they are on sale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  18. sam says:

    @JJ

    “But I can’t understand why anyone would drink a blended whisky that costs radically more than some of the finest single malts.”

    So they can tell people, old shoe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  19. Neil Hudelson says:

    John H,

    I’ve only had the 12 and 15 year Macallans, and while I thought they were good, they didn’t knock my socks off. Oban, for whatever reason, really just hits the spot time after time.

    That said, I’m always willing to reevaluate my opinion based on new malts, er… evidence.

    :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Frank says:

    I’ve had the macallans up to 25; the 25 is worth every penny. Best thing I ever had. Blue you ask? Meh, unimpressive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. rodney dill says:

    I’ve had both Oban and Macallans 18, but I prefer Glenfiddich when you get 15 or 18, far superior to their 12 year. Also Glenlivet Nadurra 16 is extremely smooth, especially for something that runs at 114 proof. For a 12 year I prefer Balvenie double wood.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. kevin bailey says:

    My all time favorite is Macallan 18 (it’s even better than Macallan 25 IMO), but JW Green is a very close second. Unlike the other JWs, Green is a blended malt, meaning a blend of only single malts 15 yrs old or older…no grain alcohol. It’s got thecomplexity of a single malt, but is as smooth as a blend. And, it’s a lot cheaper than Macallan 18. It’s very good…(And the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and Nectar dor are tasty too, as is Glenfiddich 15 and Glenlivet 18) Not a real big fan of The Balvenie, but a lot of people like it. Talisker 10 is next on my list to try….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0