The Johnnie Walker Blue Label has always been something of a luxury item, a bit of a ‘status whisky’ if you will, especially to the casual whisky drinker. It’s the bottle I’ve seen appear at many-a-wedding. The hero bottle on the back-bar at plenty of restaurants and the bottle mates will bust out at a party when they want to impress. Simply mention ‘blue label’ in front of even the most casual of whisky whisky drinkers and they’ll know exactly what you’re referring to. They know it’s expensive and they know it carries a certain mystique. So it makes perfect sense that when Diageo decided to blend together some of their rarest stocks, it would be done so as an extension of the Blue Label range.
What’s in a name?
The new Blue Label Ghost and Rare gets its name from the eight malt and grain components it’s comprised of. Six of them are malt whiskies, two are grain whiskies and three of the eight come from ‘ghost distilleries’, ie distilleries that are no longer in production. I could probably whip up some cool little pie charts with those numbers, but hopefully you can follow along alright.
The Ghost and Rare features whisky from the active distilleries of Clynelish, Royal Brackla, Genlossie, Glenkinchie and Cameronbridge (Grain). The three ‘ghost’ distilleries featured in this release are Cambus (Grain) and Pittyvaich (both of which were closed in 1993), along with Brora, which was closed in 1983 and is arguably the hero component of this blend. If we pause for a brief moment there, there are two things buried in that info that I find rather interesting:
- No Islay whisky is present in the Ghost and Rare, which is interesting to me as Caol Ila brings the zingy peat-show to the standard Blue Label release.
- Working off those closure dates, we know that there’s some well-aged whisky in this blend as well (at least 24 years old for Cambus and Pittyvaich, and at least 34 years old for Brora)
When I saw all of the PR releases come out for the Ghost and Rare, I was initially a little bit apprehensive, thinking to myself ‘Is this just a clever marketing move, riding on the coat-tails of the closed distillery hype? And will it actually taste any different to the standard Blue Label?’ Only one way to find out…
Tasting the Blue Label Ghost and Rare
The nose is quite rich and dense, and I get notes of pineapple, citrus, dark chocolate, hazelnuts, golden syrup and the faintest soft earthy smoke. Smoke probably isn’t the right term, it’s more like coal dust, or the burnt out, day-old embers left behind in a fireplace. There’s an interesting coastal note as well, not something I’ve picked up in a Johnnie Walker blend before. A saline mineral tang if you will.
The palate starts off creamy and oily, there’s an up front sweetness, but also notes of citrus, orange segments, tinned fruit and a herbal, earthy-yet-salty peat on the finish. Going back for a second and third sip, some darker fruits emerge, more of that coastal tang and some kelp, before fading to a savoury finish.
So, clever marketing move? Sure. But more than that, it’s actually bloody good whisky, and yes, some of the contents in the bottle are indeed very rare. Any different to the standard Blue Label? My word it is. For starters it’s bottled at 46% and is non chill-filtered, so it carries a richness and weight that you don’t get in the the standard Blue Label, which noses and tastes lighter, fresher and crisper than this stately dram. The Ghost and Rare is very cleverly constructed, has a great story behind it and there’s a lot to like about what’s going on in the glass.
Just 270 bottles of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare will be made available in Australia at a recommended retail price of $480 through Dan Murphy’s, and other specialty retailers.
A special thanks to Diageo Australia for the special preview-tasting of this new release.