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Which well-respected veteran Radio 2 presenter is synonymous with a similarly time-honoured brand of Scotch whisky? It’s not David Jacobs, it’s not Bob Harris, it’s…Johnnie Walker.
In 1820, long before Radio Caroline, in fact even long before radio, the original Johnnie Walker established his business at Kilmarnock, west of Scotland. At the time, malt whiskies and grain whiskies were bottled singly. Having discovered that single whiskies, like wine, could vary from one year to the next, he pioneered the art of whisky blending, in his aim to create a high quality whisky with consistent flavour and quality. Through blending, he found he could achieve a depth of flavour unattainable in a single malt. His son Alexander continued the tradition, and made the name Johnnie Walker synonymous with the best Scotch. It’s not the only brand on the market, but the walking man in the red coat is surely one of the best known.
The experts tell us you should drink it neat, or with a little spring water, as careful dilution helps to release more flavour and helps to rein in the alcoholic excesses. (Steady on folks, we’re talking about being connoisseurs, tasting and enjoying the stuff properly, not trying to get monstered and turning into another Shane MacGowan or Bon Scott). I prefer mine neat, or on the rocks. I’ve tried it with a touch of soda water, but there’s something not quite right about that – possibly both tastes cancelling each other out? Apparently the cognoscenti don’t recommend you do this either, so I won't argue with them.
Other half likes adding a dash to a tumblerful of ginger ale. Sacrilege, some of you may say, but believe me, it does taste good. Ginger ale, I emphasise, not giner beer. I did make that mistake once - at the end of a long day, he said defensively.
I also read somewhere that getting the best out of whisky requires going somewhere with abysmally bad weather, questionable gastronomy and distinct lack of daylight hours. The author recommended Scotland, but although I live at the opposite end of the British mainland, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to dare agree with him or her. All balderdash, though I tend to prefer Johnnie Walker whisky in colder weather.
The red label (40% proof), which is the least expensive, has an enticing, pleasantly sharp and slightly smoky taste. It doesn’t leave an unpleasant aftertaste, though. Some whiskies (no names, no pack drill) are a tad too sharp and bitter for my liking and seem devoid of flavour. That’s not the case with this one. Most bars stock this one because of the competitive price, though there’s no need to look down on it because of that. Apparently it was Winston Churchill's favourite as well. A standard size (70 cl) bottle will set you back about £18. It's a bit of a luxury and we haven't bought it for a while, but one day we will treat ourselves to another. In fact, with Christmas on the horizon, we might permit ourselves the odd little indulgence.
The other Johnnie Walker whiskies
If you want to move upmarket, there’s also Johnnie Walker black label, gold label and blue label. These are more expensive, but (or should I say and), I’ve never sampled either of these. Gold is 43% proof, the other two 40% like its inexpensive red sibling, but the prices vary – again in 70 cl bottles, black label sets you back around £23, gold £60 and blue label - take a deep breath - a not inconsiderable £140. (That’s quite a lot of Amazon vouchers and/or ciao reviews, eh?) If it makes any difference to you, each bottle has its own serial number. There's a also a green label, limited distribution, at £28,and a Blue King George V edition at £358, presumably as King George was one of the few people who could afford it. Why do the words ‘investment potential’ come vaguely to mind...
One day maybe I’ll get to taste these (I can dream, can’t I), but until then the good old red ‘un does me nicely.
Sorry, but unlike another member on this site well versed in writing reviews on drink, I don't have any killer jokes with which to regale you, but I do have one little true story. Some time ago, Mrs JOHNV and I poured ourselves out a small glass of medium sherry each with which to greet the early evening (about 7 p.m.) before going out somewhere. She went upstairs to get changed, picked up a half-empty glass and knocked it back in one, only to get a bit of a burning sensation on her tongue (she had a chronic problem with it at the time). Unbeknown to her, I had finished my sherry early and given myself a wee top-up of the red label JW. It took me a long time to live down.
This is a revised version of the review I originally posted on dooyoo