Johnny Walker is the world’s premium selling blended whisky and many people’s introduction to Scotch.
I fell in love with Johnny Walker Black Label ten years ago in Berlin. I would drink in the hotel bar every evening and listen to the knowledgeable barman as he explained the difference between single malt and blended whisky. I started exploring single malts as it seemed like the logical progression. I venture back to blends rarely, but it seems wrong to ignore the place where my journey started.
Blended whisky makes up 90% of the global market with only a few top brands making up the highest percentage of those sales. But the market features some real gems, bottled at higher strength with a more craft ethos.
Compass Box Great King Street – Artist’s Blend Whisky 50cl 43% £23.71
John Glaser’s artisanal approach blends quality single malt and single grain whiskies within active, aged American oak casks, creating a compelling product. Glaser’s modus is one of small production; a mission to reinvigorate the blended market that he sees as dull with its chill filtration and culture of additives. This is a natural product, and Great King Street is the first in a line of blended Scotch whiskies.
Compass Box GKS offers delectable patisserie notes - very creamy and biscuity. There’s rich fruit with raisins and spices in the finish. A fantastic performer at the Whisky Advocate awards winning in its category in 2012.
Black Bottle 70cl 40% £18.17
Black Bottle incorporates whiskies from almost every distillery on Islay. BB has a high malt content ensuring a quality experience; and this blend demonstrates a very successful marriage of peat and rich sherry from the Bunnahabhain (Bun-a-hav-in) base. It is a blended whisky that has captured the imagination of whisky stalwarts like Jim Murray, who has championed Black Bottle for years. Perhaps the only drawback being the strength at which this fine blend is bottled at. More alcohol, more flavour!
Monkey Shoulder 70cl 40% £26.87
The most expensive of the selected blends, but well worth the extra money. The name is a bit silly, but it offers a serious flavour profile. I’m cheating a bit here because Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt and not a blended whisky; an important distinction as blended whisky utilises grain, and a blended malt comprises of single malt whiskies vatted together. Monkey Shoulder is made up of three distilleries owned by William Grant. A veritable Botham of a whisky offering complex malt and subtle fruit, along with caramel and butterscotch.
image: © Compass Box Whisky Co