Here’s a great gift idea for Father’s Day: One each of the five expressions that the whisky legends at Johnnie Walker. You don’t actually have to buy him five full bottles (what dad is worth that kind of expense?). Instead, JW has a nice little set of 200ml bottles of four of the five expressions (all but Green Label) available for just 100 bucks. Or, if you really want to splurge, you can have a full 750ml bottle of Blue Label etched with the message of your choice for $225.
Johnnie Walker Red Label is the entry-level Johnnie, said to be the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky. Red Label carries no age statement, and it tastes young and a bit raw. Maybe that’s why people like it. Lightly peaty, it’s got a moderate burn that tends to overpower some pleasant sweetness — honey notes and a little floweriness. It’s a fine blended whisky for the price but nothing too memorable. 80 proof. B- / $23
Johnnie Walker Black Label is an easy step up, making it a popular call brand for sipping neat. Aged 12 years, it’s got virtually none of the heat that Red Label has, instead offering a distinctly sweet, fruity, and easygoing body with just a touch of peat laced throughout. Still an exceptional value and worth having a bottle for when you have company. Every Scotch drinker will drink Black Label, guaranteed. 80 proof. (You can read about my Black Label blending experiment here.) B+ / $34
Johnnie Walker Green Label is an anomaly in the JW portfolio, which is why it’s not part of the four-bottle sample kits you’ll find online. Why? Green Label isn’t a blended Scotch, it’s a vatted malt or “blended malt,” which means it uses only single malt Scotches in the mix. No (cheap) grain whiskey. I reviewed Green Label in depth here, but it’s worth revisiting. Aged 15 years, this malt is far more intense than Red and Black Label, thicker with peat smoke and layered with honey character. A distinct Islay brininess sneaks through. Worth a look but it’s out of character for Walker. 86 proof. B+ / $43
Johnnie Walker Gold Label, “The Centenary Blend,” is aged 18 years and has a lot of the charms of Black Label, just at a higher price. Often served chilled at tastings for reasons I do not understand, it’s only been on the market since the 1990s; before then it had been reserved as a product for internal use since it was first mcreated in the 1920s for the 100th anniversary of the company. The body is light for an 18-year-old, and said body has an almost oily texture. The characteristic light JW smoke fades away almost immediately leaving behind a woody spirit with less honeyed sweetness than its kid brothers. More complicated and drier than Black Label. The price upgrade is debatable. 80 proof. B+ / $85
Johnnie Walker Blue Label is the top of the Johnnie Walker line, a legendarily expensive whisky that runs $30 a shot at most bars. Blended from nine single malts, some of which even I’ve never heard of (Glen Albyn? Cambus?). No age statement, however. Heresy or not, Blue Label has always seemed a little rough around the edges to me, a rustic whisky with some charms that are unfortunately buried in smoke and wood. Less fruity and not very sweet at all, it’s more of a malty, heather-infused whisky with a thick, burly palate to it. Perfectly drinkable, but not the end-all-be-all it wants to be. B+ / $220