On the blog today we’re climbing towards the top of the Johnnie Walker tree with a tasting of the super fancy Blue Label and the latest edition of Ghost and Rare made with whisky from closed distillery Pittyvaich and other rarities.
According to Nicholas Morgan’s A Long Stride (which if you haven’t bought a copy, can you even consider yourself a whisky fan?) the Blue Label story begins in 1987 when the Distillers Company launched Johnnie Walker Oldest. It quickly became known as Blue Label, for obvious reasons, and was a blend of rare malt and grain whiskies bottled without an age statement with stylishly retro packaging that echoed the 19th century Johnnie Walker bottle.
Though expensive, or perhaps because it was expensive, it proved an instant hit. According to Morgan by 1997, it was selling 50,000 cases globally. As a known currency throughout the world, it’s perhaps the ultimate gift whisky. You know you’ve done a good job or your in-laws approve when you receive a bottle. This very ubiquity, however, combined with the fact it’s a blend and the lack of age statement means that malt enthusiasts have often turned their noses up at Blue Label.
It’s definitely a subtle drop, a world away from the big flavours of most malts or even Black Label, but one that is worth taking a bit of time with to appreciate the full majesty. What I love about it is you can really taste the quality of those long-aged grain whiskies. They’re the backbone of Blue Label. See the video below for the irrepressible Colin Dunn’s guide to tasting.
If there’s something a bit heretical to single malt fans of blending very old whiskies, then the Ghost and Rare series launched in 2018, had people spluttering into their quaiches. An annual release, it contained whiskies that were literally irreplaceable because they came from closed distilleries like Brora, Port Ellen and Glenury Royal. Surely, you shouldn’t blend priceless jewels like these? You have to admire master blender Jim Beveridge’s chutzpah. And they’re fine whiskies too, complex, distinctive, and beautifully balanced.
The latest edition, coming soon to Master of Malt, is based around Pittyvaich on Speyside which was only in production from 1974 to 1993. Other malts include Mannochmore, Auchroisk, Cragganmore, Strathmill, and Royal Lochnagar, plus grains from two other ghost distilleries, Port Dundas and Carsebridge.
Beveridge commented: “Pittyvaich may only have thrived for a short period, but the whisky laid down by this distillery is something unmistakable. Its distinct autumnal character has always intrigued us and fired our imagination to create something really special that would pay tribute to the whisky makers of this Speyside distillery.”
We tasted it alongside the classic Blue Label which has just been repackaged. Here’s what we thought.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Nose: Waxy and fruity with apples and peaches, cinnamon and other baking spices, pastry, and orange peel. Is there a whisper of smoke here too?
Palate: Super creamy with caramel, custard, vanilla, milk chocolate, and peaches. Impeccably balanced with not a harsh edge in sight.
Finish: Long and creamy, honey and heather. Goes away and then comes back again.
Johnnie Walker Ghost and Rare Pittyvaich
Nose: That waxy note again with dried fruit, apricots and raisins, dark chocolate, marzipan, orange blossom, stone fruit, and citrus.
Palate: Really peppery and spicy, black and schezuan pepper, vanilla, toffee, and honey. Unctuous and layered, there are some beautifully aged grain whiskies in here. Plus stone and orchard fruit.
Finish: Finish is all sweetness, fudge with peaches and cream.
Buy Johnnie Walker Blue Label here. The latest Ghost and Rare should be with Master of Malt soon – sign up to our newsletter in the box to the right for updates.
Now take it away Colin….