Blended Scotch Whisky

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Whisky Review

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare_Bottle Image_3

Photo courtesy: Diageo

In a move likely to enrage malt snobs, spirits giant Diageo has introduced an extension to the Johnnie Walker brand comprised primarily of malt and grain whiskies from closed distilleries. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare, the first in the new series, was created by Master Blender Jim Beveridge.

Ghost and Rare is a blend of eight malt and grain whiskies: Brora, Cambus, Pittyvaich, Clynelish, Royal Lochnagar, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, and Cameronbridge. The first three distilleries on that list are closed, though Diageo recently announced that Brora will reopen in three years. Official bottlings of Brora, which was closed in 1983, aren’t exactly budget friendly. So, the chance to taste it and other rare whiskies as a blended whisky versus a single malt or single grain at a fair price peaked my interest. Ghost and Rare is bottled at a hearty 46% ABV and priced at $399.99 a bottle.

The waxy fruit character Brora is known for is found in the nose here, along with hints of dark chocolate, creamy vanilla, toasted almonds, and a touch of witch hazel. Ghost and Rare carries a rich mouhfeel with notes of brioche, waxy fruit (apple and pear), and grilled pineapple. Darker and deeper flavors soon develop: dark toffee, Sumatra coffee bean, and subtle smoke. Mild oak tannins appear on the back palate. The long, slightly sweet and smoky finish features hints of cocoa powder and creamy vanilla.

Ghost and Rare is a blend that delivers the characteristics of Brora in a rounded way, thanks to the addition of other malt whiskies. Those same whiskies add nuance. In addition, grain whiskies contribute to the overall richness of the blend. The result is an exquisite addition to the Johnnie Walker lineup. I’ll certainly be looking for a bottle. Highly recommended! 9/10

Thanks to Diageo for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Dewar’s 25-year-old blended whisky review

Photo courtesy of Dewar’s

Age statements are of some importance to Dewar’s.  The blended whisky giant has made a major change to their core lineup.  Replacing their non-age statement luxury blend Dewar’s Signature is a new 25-year-old expression.   This comes at a time when many major brands are consistently removing age statements.

Dewar’s 25 is finished in freshly-dumped casks that were used to age Royal Brackla, a malt found in Dewar’s.  At 40% abv, Dewar’s 25-year-old doesn’t have as robust a nose as I’d like, but what’s offered is nice.  There’s some fruitiness on display in the form of spiced apple and pear.  A bit of toffee, vanilla and leather become more apparent with a little airtime.  The palate is similar to the nose in many ways.  Initial waves of honey and vanilla cake are met with crisp red apple and brown pear, sweet malt, lemon peel and oak spice.  Hints of leather and oak show up mid-palate and continue into the finish, where sweet toffee and spice regain their traction.  

Where this whisky slightly disappoints is its thin mouthfeel.  I know that Dewar’s is appealing to the mass market by bottling the whisky at 40% abv.   After all, the majority of blended Scotch whisky is bottled at 40%.  I think that a very slight increase to 43% would have improved this whisky exponentially while still maintaining the smoothness generally associated with Dewar’s.  

Nitpicking aside, I really like what I taste in Dewar’s 25.  It is a wonderfully matured, carefully blended whisky.  I just wish the whisky had a little more structure to further showcase those aromas and flavors.  8/10
Thanks to Dewar’s for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Director’s Cut Whisky Review

Is Deckard a Replicant? Is this new blend really Black Label?

I remember the first time I watched Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  It was a VHS of the 1992 Director’s Cut I rented from Blockbuster. VHS? Blockbuster? Damn, I feel old.  After watching this Harrison Ford sci-fi flick, I didn’t like it.  It definitely wasn’t what I expected at the time I watched.  As a teenager expecting some sort of big action flick, I felt disappointed.  I thought it was quite boring.  It wasn’t until about a decade later that I decided to revisit the film.  The film’s overarching theme questioning the definition of humanity finally held my attention and curiosity.  The production design and cinematography was pure eye candy upon this fresh viewing of the film.  Ford’s nuanced performance as the Replicant-hunting Deckard captivated me in a way that, like most viewers before me, left me questioning whether the character was human or Replicant.  The film quickly became a favorite.

In a parallel story that began unfolding when I reached drinking age, my first foray with Scotch whisky was not a good one.  The drink was a Johnnie Walker Black with water.  Ignorance and inexperience literally left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  I even caught a glimpse of  the bartender smirk a little after she saw the face I made after my first sip.  This didn’t taste like bourbon.  And what the hell was this smoke doing in my whisky?  Again, ignorance and inexperience.  Thankfully tastes change as one ages.  Once I started getting serious about whiskey, I came back to Mr. Walker.  This time around I appreciated Black Label’s many subtle complexities, from the creamy vanilla brought on by the grain whiskies to the silky smoke fired up by Island malts.  It was a trip to Scotland in a glass.

Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original film, opens in theatres this Friday.  At the same time, a new whisky – Johnnie Walker Black Director’s Cut – was announced.  Just another movie tie-in, right?  Wrong.  Johnnie Walker Black Label was featured in Blade Runner as the whisky consumed by several characters.  The bottle was even designed to look futuristic.  So when the chance to appear in the new film presented itself, Johnnie Walker did more than just bottle the same whisky in a redesigned bottle.  They blended a new Black Label whisky.  Director Denis Villeneuve and Master Blender Jim Beveridge collaborated on a new Johnnie Walker blend in the style of the famous Black Label, with a few changes and tweaks.

The limited edition whisky is bottled at 49% abv, a nod to the year the new film takes place.  More than 30 whiskies are used in the blend.  I find familiarity in the nose.  Black Label DNA, for sure.  Slightly creamy vanilla-tinged grain whisky, light toffee, and a touch of orchard fruit play along wisps of smoke.  That last bit is slightly more prevalent here than in the standard Black Label and nowhere approaching the high levels found in Double Black.  More of the same on the palate:  toffee, vanilla, orchard fruits, light oak spice and citrus zest all enveloped in light smoke.  Some dried figs show up in the mid-palate alongside the slightest hint of leather.  The higher ABV makes the whisky a bit bolder in character, but easily drinkable to those used to the low 40% abv of Johnnie Walker Black.  It also expands the finish, leaving behind hints of salted caramel and very light smoke.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Director’s Cut does a great job of paying homage to the original blend by building a similar whisky but with enough of a modern upgrade to keep things interesting for JW fans.  One shouldn’t turn their nose up at this whisky’s lack of age statement.  That would be a mistake.  Now, if you absolutely can’t stand the standard Black Label, skip this release.  Director’s Cut is similiar enough in flavor profile, but elevated in tasting experience thanks in part to the higher ABV.  Higher proof Johnnie Walkers can be dreamy (I still need to taste Blue Label Casks Edition).  

The brand says only 39,000 bottles are being released worldwide, with most bottles coming to the U.S.  A 750ml bottle should cost about $90.  Is this whisky worth price, which is about double the cost of a regular bottle of JW Black?  I think so, taking into account the limited nature of the release, elevated tasting experience, higher proof and cool ass bottle.  Let’s hope Blade Runner 2049 delivers an equally pleasing experience.  At the very least, cinematographer Roger Deakins’s visuals alone will be worth the trip to the theatre.  8.5/10

Thanks to Johnnie Walker for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.