Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label is a no age statement blended whisky that sells for $200 for a 750 ml. bottle. That’s some coin for a blend! So what makes JW’s Blue so special? According to Johnnie Walker (link above) the Blue is:
“an exquisite combination of Scotland’s rarest and most exceptional whiskies. Only one in every ten thousand casks has the elusive quality, character and flavor to deliver the remarkable signature taste.” They also give us some of the constituent whiskies: “Johnnie Walker Blue Label is created using a selection of rare casks from the Speyside and Highland distilleries – including delicate Cardhu and Clynelish, warm, rounded Benrinnes, as well as Islay malts for our signature smokiness.”
My Dewars vs. Johnnie Walker Red post was so popular, I reprised with the Irish titans, Bushmills vs. Jameson. Today, it’s Ballantine’s 12 vs. the venerable (and titanic) Johnnie Walker Black, another 12-year old blend.
The Ballantine’s story
So, who are behind Ballantine’s? George, the namesake, started his distillery in 1827, and gained some recognition in 1895 with a royal warrant. Ballantine’s Finest was developed in 1910. Their main expression, it sells 200,000 bottles a day according to their site. Assuming a 700 ml bottle, that’s 51 million liters a year! Prodigious. In 1959, they came up with the 12-year expression which is the subject of this review.
I first encountered Edradour whisky at The Ship Inn, located on the water in a little town called Stonehaven. Stonehaven is just north of Dunnottar Castle on the east coast of Scotland. The Ship Inn had a hefty book full of single malts to try and I liked their description of the Edradour 10-year. You can read the description in the photo below. It was a good dram, and I was pleased to find when I returned to the US I could find a 10-year ‘Distillery Edition’ in my state. I do not know if it is the same expression as I had at the Ship inn, as that might have been their cask-strength version, which is also 10-year aged (and non-chill-filtered).
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Today we battle it out with two titans of Irish whisky: Bushmills white label and Jameson Irish. Both being blends they are made from grain whisky (made from any cereal grain, often maize, in a column still) and pot still whisky. To be called ‘pot still’ whisky, the formal rule states (quoted from an excellent article here from Pernod Ricard):
The Irish Whiskey Technical File lists that Irish Pot Still Whiskey must be made from a mash which contains a minimum of 30% malted barley and a minimum of 30% unmalted barley, with up to 5% of other cereals such as oats and rye added if required.
Note the use of unmalted barley, which differentiates Irish from Scotch whisky. Other rules state that the aging must be at least 3 years in oak. Like most Irish whiskies, the pot still component of both are triple distilled. The law states for a blend it must be “a mixture of any two or more of the styles of malt, pot still, and grain whiskey” (source whiskyadvocate).