Keep Walking! – A Look at the New Johnnie Walker Labels

The Johnnie Walker line-up is changing this year, with the bowing out of their Green Label and Gold Label, and the introduction of Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve and Johnnie Walker Platinum Label:

Gold Label Reserve was created by Master Blender Jim Beveridge from handpicked casks to celebrate the art of blending. The Johnnie Walker website describes it as “pure indulgence”.

Platinum Label, also created by Jim Beveridge, is being marketed towards people who are after something a little bit special to share with friends. All of its constituent whiskies are at least 18 years old and are from limited casks that have been specially kept by.

Despite how exciting these sound, as a particular fan of the original Gold Label (ever since our wonderful Goodwood tasting), I have to admit to being a tad hesitant about such a big change. I had tried small samples at Distil and Imbibe, but couldn’t wait to try them both at home and was particularly relieved when DTS offered to set up a blind tasting for me, so that I could be as fair and unbiased as possible. To make things additionally interesting, he threw in the Green and Black Labels without telling me (it’s a shame that we didn’t have any Gold Label at the time)! Still, a sneaky, if clever, move.

Here are my blind-tasting thoughts.

Green Label
Nose: Syrup and oats, but with a dry finish. Lots of sweet wood, too, reminding me a tad of bourbon.
Taste: Raw, genuine wood and not too much else; quite a short initial flavour, but a very nice one, nonetheless. A good warmth builds up after from alcohol.

Black Label
Nose: Rich, fruity and really syrupy, with hints of plum, raisin and other rich notes that remind me of fruit cake. After a few moments, the sweetness transformed into more of a Christmas-pudding nuttiness.
Taste: Smooth and sweet. There’s a short initial flavour of fruit cake that’s followed by another flavour that develops a lot more slowly, overlaid by a faint smokiness: another genuine woodiness – no gimmicky flavours to mask it here – that you can really chew over.

Gold Label Reserve
Nose: A much stronger nose than the previous two. A combination of light wood, vanilla and a richer, honey sweetness.
Taste: Quite strong alcohol to start, followed by a good woodiness and the faintest hint of smoke. This quickly disperses, leaving a pleasant, medium-long finish that is relatively dry and fruity. Smooth and accessible.

Platinum Label
Nose: Savoury, light wood with oats, like oatcakes, to start. This then turns sweeter, with hints of maple.
Taste: Harsher than the previous ones and distinctly savoury; almost bitter at points. This comes across as not particularly balanced to start, but quickly settles down upon a second sip. There’s definitely some wood notes here, but there’s not so much personality. The finish is dry, reminiscent of sherry and dried fruit.

In Conclusion
The latest additions to the Johnnie Walker range are definitely different to the ones that they’re replacing, so if you are a particular fan of either the Green Label or the Gold Label (“The Centenary Blend”), you’ll want to stock up now. Equally, if you get the chance to try the Gold Reserve or Platinum Labels, I would recommend it; they’re definitely something new, carefully designed for today’s market, and, whilst they weren’t my favourites in this blind tasting, they might be yours!

– Mrs. B

Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve is available for around £42 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

Johnnie Walker Platinum is available for around £66 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.

A Vertical Tasting of 4 Famous Grouse Whiskies

One of the very first whisky tastings that I undertook at home introduced me to The Famous Grouse. The brand goes all the way back to 1986, when Matthew Gloag created a blended whisky in Perth, Scotland, and started advertising it using a drawing of a grouse produced by his daughter. Since then, the bottle has undergone multiple makeovers, but the common thread throughout both the labels and advertising is the presence of the red grouse.

More recently, in addition to repackaging, different variations of the whisky have been released. So many so, that at the time of my tasting, I had four to try. As with all of these comparative tastings, I was eager to try each spirit blind, and so DTS very kindly helped me by ensuring that I had no idea which whisky I had in each glass (the only one that I had an inkling about was The Snow Grouse, which was served ice-cold…). Please keep this in mind whilst reading my notes.

The Famous Grouse

The original whisky named after the Red Grouse, Scotland’s national bird. The product was first released in 1897 although blended whiskies had been produced since 1860 by the Gloag family..

This had a strong, sweet nose: syrupy, with a good bout of alcohol behind it. Extremely smooth on the tongue, an accompanying warmth slowly grew in my stomach. The taste was light and clean, with faint woody, spicy notes, making me note that this would probably be good for someone who doesn’t generally like whisky, but wants to try something a little different.

The Naked Grouse

Released in 2011 as premium version of the original Famous Grouse. The malt component of Naked Grouse is believed to be based around Macallan & Highland Park matured in sherry casks. The website explain  that the whisky was:

“launched in a market where The Famous Grouse Whisky was not widely known, the label was removed from the bottle with the Grouse left subtly embossed into the bottle to allow the Naked stock to speak for itself.”

The colour of this whisky was much darker, with an orange tinge. It also had a far more savoury nose, with the scents of oat cakes, rice cakes, spicy honey and a light hint of liquorice. Like the first whisky, it was smooth, but had more of a distinctive flavour to it, with the light, woody notes coming through more and touches of rice cakes following through from the nose, accompanied by hints of dried fruit.

The Black Grouse

Released in 2007 Black Grouse took the flavour profile of the original Famous Grouse with whiskies from Islay blended into the whisky. The smoky flavours were designed to give a more intense experience to Famous Grouse drinkers.

This one had, yet again, a stronger and distinctly different nose, with lots of rich grain, hay and peat. To taste, there was – immediately – a lovely, smoky flavour. Unlike the two previous whiskies, this was a lot more focused in the mouth, rather than on the nose or in the stomach. It didn’t develop too much, taste-wise, but was very good nonetheless; neither too much, nor too little was going on.

In 2012 The Black Grouse Alpha Edition was released this a premium edition of the Black Grouse which is described as being richer and smokier – I’m looking forward to trying it.

The Snow Grouse

Originally launched in 2008, exclusively in travel retail it has since become widely available. Snow Grouse was designed, rather unusually, to be served straight from the freezer. This seems a popular way for some folks to serve whisky, I myself was intrigued when I was given a glass of Johnnie Walker Gold that was poured from the icebox.

I found this glass notably chilled (thanks to DTS!). The nose was rather odd, having nothing that I could generally relate to any of my previous whisky-drinking experiences; it was a clean nose, with only a very faint, sweet, citrusy scent to it. To taste, it was less smooth than the others and had very little peat and no smoke. Still, it had a distinctive flavour: a less weighty, cleaner flavour, with subtle, woody spice notes and vanilla. Whether down to its chilling or not, I got more of a peppery warmth than a glowing one from this. Certainly an intriguing whisky!

In Conclusion

By this point, I have to admit, I was quite amazed at the differences between all of these whiskies. I got the sense that, because they were all so different, everyone should be able to find at least one that they’re fond of. My favourite, undoubtedly, was The Black Grouse, with its rich smokiness and excellent balance of flavour. This was followed by the interesting, savoury The Naked Grouse (which also came in a beautiful bottle) and The Famous Grouse. I was least fond of The Snow Grouse, but have no doubt that it will be someone else’s favourite. A very impressive range of blends from one brand.

1. The Black Grouse
2. The Naked Grouse
3. The Famous Grouse
4. The Snow Grouse

– Mrs. B

P.S. A little while after my four-Grouse tasting, I tried the following new

The Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12 Year Old

This had a sweet nose full of grain, hints of honey, light wood, cherries, and red berries. There was quite a lot of alcohol on the nose, but this is easily avoided by not burying your nose in the glass. After getting used to the nose for a couple of minutes, I started to get warmer scents, including toasted oats and golden syrup.

The taste had a substantial alcoholic strength behind it from the start, although the flavour gradually built up. After a moment or two, though, the flavour really starts to kick in with a charred, wooden smokiness. The flavour lingered as a warmth in my stomach, but didn’t outstay its welcome otherwise; the finish was just dry enough to leave my palette clean. This was a very pleasant whisky that packs a punch, with a sweet nose, but decidedly savoury taste.

Famous Grouse is available nationwide for around £15 for 70cl
Black Grouse is available nationwide for around £18 for 70cl
Black Grouse Alpha is available from AmazonUK for around £35 for 70cl
Snow Grouse is available online and in Tesco for around £18 for 70cl
Naked Grouse is available online and in Tesco for around £25 for 70cl
Famous Grouse 12yr Old is available online for around £26 for 70cl

Upon helping me research this article DBS came across these (below) bottled at 35%ABV  each focuses on flavour common in whisky tasting notes; we’ve not got much more information at the moment but the fact that they are litre bottled suggest they were created for export.

The Flavoured Grouses are available from The Famous Grouse Website for around £25 for 100cl.