Our spirits editor Colin Hampden-White, one of the presenters on the TV series The Three Drinkers, give us a rundown on the various colours of Johnnie Walker whisky: what they mean, what they taste and what you should do with them…
Johnnie Walker is synonymous with blended Scotch whisky. Being the world’s best-selling blend, it takes up quite a bit of space on the shelves. There are many different expressions depending on where it is being sold, for example the Voyager series can be found in Travel Retail. There have been additions to the core range such as Double Black and Island Green, but all of these have been born from the famous red and black labels, which were created in 1909.
The whisky had Cardhu as the main malt component then. Today, these whiskies are a complex blend of grain and have up to around forty single malts to give them their signature flavour profiles. The coloured labels act as a flavour code, which has held strong and remained consistent for many years.
Johnnie Walker Red Label
Red label has always been a whisky made to either be drunk by itself, but more often than not, tasted with a simple mixer such as soda water or ginger ale. The whisky has a spicy flavour profile which is well matched for long, satisfying and freshly flavoured drinks. RRP £15-18
Johnnie Walker Black Label
Black label has always been a hugely complex whisky, with lots of caramel and vanilla mixed with soft spices and a little wood smoke in the background. It’s not a peaty whisky but has enough smoke to keep it interesting and lively on the palate. Black label can be drunk any way you want and is certainly of a quality to be drunk on its own. The whiskies inside the bottle are all at least twelve years old. RRP £24-28
Johnnie Walker Green Label
Green label was added to the fold in 1997. Originally called Pure Malt, it was renamed Green Label in 2004. There is very little smoke at all in Green label; it is made with malt whisky only and has a sweeter, more honeyed flavour profile and is exceptionally smooth. RRP £38-42
Johnnie Walker Gold Label
Gold label was also introduced in 1997 and although had no age statement, the whiskies are around the eighteen-year mark. Like Green, Gold has a sweeter flavour profile, with vanilla and caramel being dominant, but there are also more complex and subtle flavours of heather honey and blossom. RRP £38-42
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Blue label was introduced In 1992 and is Johnnie Walker’s premium blend. Having no age statement, it is blended to recreate the character of blends made at the turn of the 20th century, and although the whisky has some young whisky in the blend, there are also some very old whiskies in their too, giving flavours of sandalwood and linseed oil, which are often present in older whiskies. RRP £125-140
These five whiskies are the core of the Johnnie Walker range and additions to this series started to evolve in 2011 with Double Black and Platinum and from then the other variations began to be produced.
Black label is the go-to whisky for many whisky professionals, myself included. It is complex and smooth and extremely versatile. It makes fabulous highballs, is great in an Old Fashioned and is still excellent on its own, with water or ice.