I have individually reviewed every Johnnie Walker from Red Label to Blue Label (Red, Black, Double Black, Green, Gold, 18 Year, Blue). Now, I had an idea of which was best, or at least my favorite. I also had an idea of which was worst, or my least favorite. However, you can’t truly escape your own bias.
Did I not like Johnnie Walker Red because I view it as a bottom shelf/mixing scotch? Was I too harsh on the Blue Label because I think it’s overpriced? Did I hype up Green Label because I think it’s a better value play than the rest of the series?
Issues with Blind Ranking
The best way to remove bias is by blind ranking. I had 7 glasses of whiskey poured while I was out of the room, and when I came back, I had no idea which Johnnie Walker I was drinking.
Now, there are some issues with blind ranking, specifically when you’re blind ranking 7 whiskeys. A vs B or even A vs B vs C are great ways to compare whiskey. However, with 7 whiskeys involved, palate blindness becomes an issue. Eventually the whiskeys begin to blend together, picking out individual tastes and flavors becomes more and more a problem.
I used some water and took my time in an attempt to diminish the impact of this.
Pre Taste Test Rankings
As I mentioned, I had already reviewed these whiskies individually, so I had a ranking in my head of how I thought it’d turn out. Based on my individual reviews, below is how I ranked the different Johnnie Walkers:
7. Red Label
Red Label makes its way in last place for me. It is the first and cheapest expression of the lineup, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Red Label is the only one in the lineup that I just don’t really like. It’s grainy and musty, there’s a hint of red hot cinnamon, and I just don’t see it beating anything else.
6. Double Black Label
The Double Black is next up. I think it’s a clear step ahead of Red, but a clear step behind everything else. This could be a dark horse in the blind tasting, though, because I do actually enjoy it, unlike my opinion on Red Label.
5. Gold Label
This is the part of my rankings where things may get a little muddled. Gold Label has that premium-esque “smoothness”. I use smooth, which isn’t necessarily a good thing nor bad thing, as a way to say the whiskey is pleasant and easy to drink. Often times, as is the criticism of ‘smooth’ whiskey, this leaves whiskey lacking robust, deep flavors, and that’s exactly how I feel about Gold Label.
4. Blue Label
Blue Label was another exceptionally smooth and easy to drink whisky. I mean, I could drink this like water. There’s a little more going on than the Gold, sugar and berries highlight it, but it’s still a little light for me.
3. Black Label
What I think the best bang for your buck, and one of the best in the series in general, is the Black Label. Jammy fruits, nuts, and raisins add flavor that is not seen in the rest of this lineup. A step up quality-wise from the Red, and JW Black is my go-to.
2. Green Label
Green Label, in my mind, was neck and neck with the 18 year. There’s honey and apples, brine from the peat, nuttiness, oak and cinnamon. It’s the robust flavor that you’re looking for while maintaining that Johnnie Walker smoothness.
1. 18 Year
The 18 year was the best of Green Label and the best of the Gold. Tobacco and brine bring in some rich flavor while honey and green apples bring a freshness to it. It’s still very light which matches up with the whole Johnnie Walker shtick, but there’s a nice richness to it as well.
Blind Taste Test Rankings
Now that we’ve discussed my thoughts on the series, it’s time to actually put these whiskies to the test. With all 7 whiskies lined up, I blind ranked them. Below is the order they came in.
7. Johnnie Walker Red
Putting Red Label up to my nose, I smelled a dirty and musty quality. I thought it may have been a dirty glass, but nope, it was just the grainy quality that that brought out those notes. The palate and mouthfeel wasn’t much better.
6. Johnnie Walker Double Black
Double Black is a more smoky version of Black Label. Unfortunately, the smoke covers up so much of the flavors that I enjoy in JW Black. There was smoke and really not much else here.
5. Johnnie Walker Green
This is where the first surprise came in. I originally had Green in the 4-spot. I did one last walk through (drink through) of my lineup before switching Green Label with the next whiskey on our list.
Perhaps it was palate blindness, or perhaps I thought I liked Green Label more than I really did. Green ends up 3 places lower than I originally thought it would (and I contemplated having Green come in at #1).
4. Johnnie Walker Gold
Gold Label, what I thought would come in 5th and where I originally had it, took a last second jump over Green Label. After taking 30 sips of whisky, maybe I liked the fresh quality that Gold brings with bright honey and less peat than some of the other options.
3. Johnnie Walker Blue
Blue Label is about as smooth as it gets, but it comes at a serious cost. It is so light. I didn’t have 7 Glencairn glasses, but I could barely get anything out of this. After a couple minutes Blue Label opens up and brings in sugar and berries.
It’s such an easy sip, I love the nose (wish it was more robust and heavy), but there’s just not enough here to justify a higher place. Regardless, Johnnie Walker Blue finishes one place higher than I anticipated.
2. Johnnie Walker 18 Year
I’m not surprised one bit that Johnnie Walker 18 Year finished near the top of the leaderboard. It’s the best of both worlds in the Johnnie Walker lineup (or so I thought). The freshness, the peat, the still light but strong-ish tobacco and oak flavors make this better and cheaper than the Blue Label.
The surprising aspect isn’t that 18 Year is 2nd, but what whisky that leaves in the top spot!
1. Johnnie Walker Black
The 2nd expression of Johnnie Walker, the 2nd cheapest at $35, takes the cake in our blind review! I’ve always liked Johnnie Walker Black. It was the most unique of the series with nuttiness and jammy fruits where the rest of the lineup focuses on a light honey and apple.
I expected Black Label to finish high, but 1st place?!?! Above a $200 bottle of Blue Label, a $100 bottle of 18 Year that I really like, and Green Label which I thought I really liked?!?!? Yup! Johnnie Walker Black is my favorite in the lineup. Luckily for me, that’ll save my pockets in the future when I opt for the $35 bottle instead of the much more expensive options.
Obviously, Black Label is the biggest winner taking 1st place, and jumping two spots over the projected standings.
The next winners were Blue and Gold Labels. I had criticized both for their lightness and lack of robust flavor. I think both of these options open up a bit more once exposed to some oxygen and sitting for a couple minutes.
I was also probably a little tough on Blue Label because it’s price. I still think it’s a terrible value play when it comes to the actual whisky, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Calling Red Label a big loser isn’t completely fair. It is the cheapest and most basic expression. You would expect it to come in last, I did expect it to come in last, and it came in last. You might think it met expectations, but it was the way in which it came in last.
Immediately after nosing and sipping Red Label, I said “yeah, I don’t like that”. It was the only whisky in the lineup that I didn’t have to think about where it belonged. It went to last place and stayed there.
The other big loser is Green Label coming 3 spots below where I projected it to finish. From a whisky I’ve said such good things about, and one that I really did like, this is a disappointing finish.
With blind ranking whisky, we took price completely out of perspective. Now, we’re going to bring it back in.
Red was clear last place, but with it’s cheap price tag, it’s not the worst buy. With Black Label being only $10 more expensive, I’ll never get Red Label again. If it weren’t so far in last, I’d have better things to say about it’s value.
Double Black is the lowest value buy, in my mind. $50ish bucks… Yeah, I’m paying more and going Green Label if I’m looking for more smoke and peat.
Green Label and Gold Label are almost interchangeable in my mind. Similar in price, similar in my ranking, I’ll probably still take the Green Label. It’s usually $10ish cheaper and I still think there’s more going on in it.
The true value of Blue Label is as a status symbol. If you want a whisky that everyone will enjoy, and you want people to know you bought a $200 bottle, Blue Label is your go-to. If you’re looking for whisky that’s worth $200, look elsewhere.
If you’re wanting one of the premium Johnnie Walker offerings, the 18 Year is half the price of Blue Label and a little bit better.
Obviously being the 2nd cheapest and best tasting (in my ranking) Black Label is the clear high value play. I’ll probably keep a bottle around from now on.
Yeah, there are some issues with doing a 7 whisky comparison instead of an A vs B comparison, but ultimately it didn’t seem to impact me too much.
Red and Double Black finished right where I expected them to, Green slid a couple spots, but everything ended up fairly close to where I had expected.
I think it’s important to note that I don’t think all that highly or lowly of Johnnie Walker as a whole. I enjoy all of their whisky (Red as the exception probably), but I would probably only recommend them to beginners in the world of scotch, to those looking for a high quality/premium scotch that is enjoyed by the masses (i.e. whisky for a wedding, large party, etc.), or someone that doesn’t care much about whisky – someone just looking for something decent and cheap to drink.
If you’re someone who is much more experienced in the world of scotch whisky, you likely know other options that offer much more than JW. This isn’t meant as a knock on Johnnie Walker either, it’s good whisky for the masses which is exactly why it’s the best selling scotch in the world.
Regardless of your opinion on Johnnie Walker or their individual whisky, I’ve had a blast trying them all, seeing their differences, and blind ranking them!