A couple years ago a good friend invited me to a Johnnie Walker tasting and dinner pairing put on by Johnnie Walker. Every course incorporated scotch, such as quail eggs with a sauce containing Johnnie Walker scotch whisky.
That evening we had Johnnie Walker Red, Black, Gold, Platinum, and their top tier Blue blend. The story behind Johnnie Walker is that the original Johnnie Walker was a tea blender who blended tea in London to create the ideal tea flavor.He applied the same concept to Scottish whisky and his product became insanely popular in London. In fact, the Johnnie logo is a Londoner with hat, tails, and a cane – proving that this high class “blended” Scotch whisky is good enough even for rich Londoners (remember, Scotch whisky was once considered crap whisky).
It’s now the rage to drink single malt scotch whisky and that’s generally a rebellion against the popular monopoly of Johnnie Walker. When I began my scotch journey, I deplored all blended scotches in favor of single malts. But after 10 years of drinking scotch, I’ve come to realize that blends can be as good, if not better than single malts. That’s heresy is some Scotch circles, but I stand by it.
I wanted to help everyone understand which single malts you are drinking when you drink a blended Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky. Below you’ll find the breakdown with my thoughts on each:
Johnnie Walker Red (baseline blended – $25 bottle):
Johnnie Red is verifiably the “best selling Scotch Whisky in the world” deriving from the 1909 recipe. Six bottles are sold every second. It is literally on the shelf of every single bar on planet earth. When it comes to entry-level Scotch, this is it.
If you’re going to go with a “scotch based cocktail,” then Johnnie Red is the go-to scotch.
What’s in Johnnie Red? Nobody knows. They say it’s a blend of 35 single malts from Diageo.
Don’t knock it. For the price, it’s actually really good. I always maintain a bottle of Red in my bar. If I’m distracted while grilling burgers, or kids are jumping around kicking me in the nuts, I just drink Johnnie Red. If I want a scotch but I don’t have the luxury of taking my time and experiencing a great scotch, then Red goes into the glass (okay, or maybe Black).
Oh, and Johnnie Red was the favorite Scotch of Winston Churchill, who mixed it with soda water.
Johnnie Walker Black (12 year minimum blend – $35 bottle):
All 40 whiskies blended in Johnnie Walker Black are aged at least 12 years. The backbone is Cardhu, Talisker, and Lagavulin. This is why black has a nice peat smoke profile. I love it. I also suspect Dalwhinnie 15. Dalwhinnie is one of my favorites Scotches of all time and I sense that it lives in there.
I met a man whose father had worked in Scotch distilleries for decades. His father’s assessment was that the best balanced Scotch whisky in all of Scotland was Johnnie Walker Black. It is the perfect blend of all time – even better than Johnnie Walker Blue according to this gentleman.
I love the smoke and the brown sugar palate. It’s uniquely awesome for the price. I honestly believe that most single malt scotches cannot beat Johnnie Black. I stand by that.
Johnnie Walker Green (15 year minimum blend – circa $60 bottle):
Johnnie Green is usually found outside the USA. I’ve heard it’s readily available in Japan. I’m just not a fan. Unlike Johnnie Gold (below) it is actually a 15 year minimum blend. But it lacks complexity and it burns on the way down – not smooth. I’ve bought one bottle of Green and that’s my last bottle. Johnnie Black is 5x better than Johnnie Green!
Johnnie Walker has confirmed that Green is blended from Cragganmore, Linkwood (Speyside), Caol Ila (Islay), and Talisker (Skye) are the heart of this blend.
Johnnie Walker Gold (no age statement! – circa $80 bottle):
Of all the Johnnie Walker’s this is the one to avoid. Gold presents itself as a premium blend but does not publish a minimum age of it’s blended content. It’s rumored to be blended with the single malt whisky Clynelish 18 as the backbone. Clynelish is actually a really great scotch. For the price, I’d just buy a bottle of Clynelish!
My personal belief is that Johnnie Black is better than Gold and less expensive.
Johnnie Walker Platinum (18 year minimum blend – circa $105 bottle):
All whiskies in Platinum are aged at least 18 years and contains 20-25 single malts. The backbone is Caol Ila and Clynelish. It’s good, but not worth the price in my opinion.
Johnnie Walker Blue (21 year minimum blend – circa $190 bottle):
If I were stuck on an island and could only have one Scotch Whisky, this would be it. Forget all the single malts. Johnnie Blue is where it’s at.
- Nose: Oak, dried fruit, syrup, cedar, citrus, buttery bread, berries, aniseed, spice.
- Palate: Chocolate, toffee, malt.
- Finish: Flowers, dried fruit, honey, oak, highland feel.
It blended from about 15 single malt scotches that are older than 21 years. The core of Johnnie Blue is Royal Lochnagar, a rare single malt distilled near Balmoral, the Queen’s holiday home. When you drink Blue, you are drinking rare and unusual scotches that you may not have tasted before.
Johnnie Blue is a unique experience. Every time I try it, I’m amazed by it. It’s really that good.
Many Scotch snobs won’t even consider Johnnie Walker’s offerings, simply because they are blends. That’s a mistake. For the price, Johnnie Red, Black, and Blue are worth it. When it comes to the mid range Johnnie’s of Green, Gold, and Platinum, I personally believe that for the money you’d do better getting some amazing 18-21 year old single malts. Johnnie Blue at the upper end is a unique experience and if you love scotch, you haven’t really experienced the world of Scotch until you’ve spent an hour swirling Johnnie Blue in your glass and in your mouth.
My closing advice is to keep a bottle of Johnnie Red and Black in your bar and taste them aside single malts. Use them as a baseline. (I wouldn’t use Johnnie Red as an entry for new Scotch drinkers. Macallan 12 is the best scotch for newbies.) And for Christmas or Easter, invest in a bottle of Blue. Get a vinyl copy of Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, and listen to it as you slowly drink a glass of Johnnie Blue. That’s doing it right.
Dr. Taylor Marshall