Review: Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Year Of The Monkey Blended Scotch Whisky
43 percent abv; $258
43 percent abv; $258
Recently I had a chance to taste the new limited edition Year of the Monkey Blended Scotch. Blended Scotch, as I’ve noted many times before, is simply a mix of malt whisky and non-malt grain whisky. Non-malt grain whisky is easier and less costly to produce, using large, highly efficient continuous distillation in the form of column stills. The resulting spirit is thought to be lighter, less interesting and less full of character and flavor. Malt whisky, which is made of 100 percent malted barley, is comparatively expensive and slow to produce. It is made in a less efficient batch-distillation, pot still, but is thought to render a more intense and interesting flavor.
Blends are generally designed to be consistent and (relatively) cheaply reproduced, so that a recognizable brand can be produced in vast quantities without fluctuation in taste or quality. The Johnnie Walker brand of blended Scotch whisky is, according to Impact Databank’s industry report figures, not only the world’s most successful Scotch whisky brand, it is also one of the most valuable premium spirit brands on the planet.
The current expression before me is just marketing shtick—lovely, but shtick. The third release in the Chinese themed bottlings is the “Year of the Monkey” which borrows from the tradition of Chinese calligraphy with blue brushstroke and golden hints by illustrating a monkey leaping about; each side is part of a striking canvas of leaping monkeys. Lineup four bottles and you can get the image all at once. Very pretty, and very collectible I’m sure, though the bottle weights a ton. The whisky inside is the usual, glorious, Blue Label.
Overall, this is a smooth, refined Scotch whisky. Subtle, yet definite aromas of malt and something vaguely fruity. It has hints of sweet vanilla and toffee, and lighter notes of smoke and oak, yet no searing alcoholic fumes. On the palate it is deliciously balanced, with lovely depth, heft and some complexity. The taste followed through on the aromas, adding flavor notes of citrus fruits, ripe figs, malt, a little peaty tang, a pleasant shot of smoke with just a little astringency, suggestive of bittersweet chocolate, with an absorbing, nicely rounded, contemplatively long, malty, slightly sweet and slightly smoky finish. It’s expensive, but a big, elegant, and beautiful whisky. L’Chaim!