The latest installment in Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Scotch line isn’t a new color but rather a special version of an existing one. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare, as it awkwardly notes on the bottle, is a “Special Blend with Brora & Rare; 8 Legendary Whiskies.” The key to that is a single word: Brora, a long-dead distillery whose few remaining casks appear regularly in Diageo’s annual Special Release series. Brora single malt is now a highly coveted (and highly expensive) whisky, and its appearance here in this blend should raise eyebrows, considering it’s available at a price well below the four figures the single malt commands.
So what is Ghost and Rare, really? More completely, it’s “the first in a series of special releases crafted using irreplaceable whiskies from ‘ghost’ distilleries that have long since closed, together with other rare malt and grain scotch.”
All eight distilleries are outlined on the bottle (with a handy map). The three ghosts are Cambus, Pittyvaich, and the aforementioned Brora. The five “rare whiskies” include Royal Lochnagar, Clynelish, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, and Cameronbridge. Some of those are rarer than others, but clearly some less expensive juice is needed to keep the price down.
As for the tasting, put simply, this is what Blue Label should taste like.
The nose is fresh and lively, not at all hoary and old, showcasing bright notes of fresh apple, figs, orangey sherry, and vanilla-scented, well-rounded malt. That’s all just prologue for the palate, a seductive blend that kicks off with loads of chocolate — both milk and dark — plus top notes of ripe banana, apricots, and lilac. As the lushly rounded and rich body develops, it leads to more sultry notes of sandalwood, fresh tobacco leaf, and some savory hints akin to lamb chops. The finish is dry and a bit tannic, but satisfying with notes of old wood and wet leather. All told, it’s a whisky that tells a story, one that starts with a bright sunrise and concludes with the dying of the light.
To answer the most obvious question that any Johnnie Walker fan must be thinking, this is nothing like standard Blue Label, not just because it lacks a peated element, but because it offers a far richer and more developed depth of character and flavor. Even if you think you don’t like blends, even if you think you don’t like Johnnie Walker, I highly recommend checking it out.
A / $300 / diageo.com