Whisky Review Round Up: Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Ghost & Rare Port Ellen

, | April 30, 2019

Editor’s Note: These whiskies were provided to us as review samples by Diageo. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.

There’s a Johnnie Walker for every budget and occasion, from a desperately needed nightcap of Black Label at an anonymous hotel bar after a long day of travel, to, well, whatever delightful occasion calls for a pour of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Port Ellen. Making partner? First child born?

Johnnie Walker last year announced the release of the second whisky in its Ghost & Rare series, which highlights whiskies from long-closed distilleries. This version includes distillate from the Port Ellen Distillery, an Islay producer that garnered a fervent following for its leathery, smoky style. Port Ellen closed in 1983 and remains inoperative. However, the maltings are still in action, and Diageo recently announced it would be re-opening the production facility in 2020.

Port Ellen malt isn’t the only ghostly ingredient in this whisky. It also contains grain whisky from the silent Carsebridge and Caledonian distilleries, as well as malt from Mortlach, Daliune, Cragganmore, Blair Athol, and Oban.

Using such heady whiskies for a blending project has got to take nerve. Fortunately, Johnnie Walker’s aptly named master blender, Jim Beveridge, seems to have a set of confident hands on the wheel. “These whiskies deliver a fascinating glimpse into another world, exploring the unique, inimitable character of whiskies from a small number of iconic, closed distilleries that lend something very special to every drop of Johnnie Walker Blue Label,” he said at the time of its release. “It’s really interesting to be able to put a spotlight on the character of these whiskies.”

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Thanks to Diageo for the sample, and, for good measure, a vial of regular old Blue Label to taste alongside.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen (image via Diageo)

Tasting Notes: Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Vital stats: Blended whisky; no age statement; 40% alcohol; retail pricing around $200

Appearance: Warm gold

Nose: Very rich and sweet, with toffee, hazelnut oil, brown butter, roasted grain, and ripe banana. Smoke is clear but not overpowering, with a dry, ashy quality.

Palate: A veritable explosion of richness, with brown butter and roasted nuts layered with milk chocolate and raisins. Heavier smoke and some waxy citrus emerges over time, culminating in a medium-long, well-integrated finish that’s contiguous with the rest of the palate.

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen

Vital stats: Blended whisky, no age statement, 43.8% alcohol, retail pricing around $300

Appearance: Warm gold

Nose: Bright and lively, with white grape, honeydew melon, tangerine, and light toffee. The smoke is subtle, appearing mostly in the form of flamed citrus peel and toffee.

Palate: When people talk about the art of the blend, it’s whiskies like this they’re referencing. Everything hangs together in perfect balance. Tropical fruit plays a key role at first, followed by a long, malty midpalate with creamy caramel and vanilla. The finish is long, sweet, and surprisingly delicate, with more banana, eucalyptus, and a gentle perfume of airy smoke.

Score: 4.5/5

Final Thoughts

Both of these whiskies are without a doubt extremely pleasurable. Johnnie Walker Blue Label is all about density and sweetness, with an easy-to-love quality that seems designed for maximum appeal. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Port Ellen, on the other hand is more haunting, with an alluring elegance. Each is certainly worth drinking, should the opportunity present itself.

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Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...