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Oct 17, 2013 10:45 AM

Friend likes JW Blue...what is equal but less $

I know a friend likes Johnny Walker Blue (Chivas 21 or Maccllan 15) which are all pretty main stream - what else is similar with a better price point

I am assuming Blue is more marketing that actual quality in the glass but perhaps I am wrong

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  1. Famous Grouse (regular blend) and Black Grouse (peatier blend) are really pretty darn good at $20/bottle. If I'm not buying a single malt I go for Black Grouse.

    1. I remember that Chivas did a PR experiment by sending a bunch of writers bottles of Chivas Regal 18 and Johnny Walker Blue, and the results came back about equal in preference (but with CR18 being a lot less expensive).

      For blends, Compass Box products are good. Their Great King Street replaced Johnny Walker Black at one high end bar in town.

      1 Reply
      1. re: yarm

        I second the suggestion of a blend from Compass Box. Great King Street or even their Oak Cross.

      2. Johnnie Blue is decent, but not worth the big bucks. As you suggest, it's mostly a marketing phenomenon.

        Why not go for a single malt? For much less than the price of Blue, you can get superior single malts like Clynelish 14 or Highland Park 15. Even the wonderful Highland Park 18 is cheaper.

        20 Replies
        1. re: sku

          True. There are some wonderfully smooth single malts like Dalwhinnie 15 that are much more elegant.

          1. re: sku

            Not a scotch person so I really don't even know why single malt is better other than for quality control or consistency of aging would be my guess, controlled chemical breakdown

            The Clynelish and the Dalwhinnie are pretty close in price point - which would be a more appropriate choice based on their likes?

            Also was considering the Barbancourt 15 year because many people think of it as cognac-ish online at least...

            Would a scotch cognac person like Barbancourt 15y on the rocks

            1. re: Dapuma

              Clynelish is owned by Diageo, the same company that owns & produces all the Johnny Walker whiskies, including the Blue. I am willing to bet that a good dose of Clynelish is included in the blend of Blue.

              1. re: Dapuma

                Actually a good blend is better for "quality control or consistency of aging" than a single malt.

                1. re: JMF

                  Why is a single malt preferred versus a blend then?

                  1. re: Dapuma

                    Single malts are a relatively new thing. Just the past 30 years, and only really got popular the past 20. Single malts aren't preferred, just different. Around 90-95% of all Scotch is blended. Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Dewar's are a few famous blends.

                    Single malts are more unique expressions of the blenders art. They are a blend from the same distillery. So they have more of the terroir of the distillery and area. As opposed to a blend which can be from many distilleries, and so they can adjust the flavor more easily to be the exact same year after year for consistency.

                    Here's a good primer for whiskey in general.

                      1. re: JMF

                        pardon my ignoramousness yet again, but are they a "relatively new thing" here, in the u.s., or everywhere?

                        i guess what i'm asking if the enjoyment of single malt goes way back in scotland, or if they preferred the blends until 30 or so years ago as well.


                        1. re: linus

                          I'm pretty sure the blends were basically it until 30 or so years ago when the first single malts were put out. There may have been 1-2 a few years prior, but that's about it. Of course it's a bit more complicated because there are several types of Scotch called blends, but made differently. And single malt is a blend as well.

                          1. re: JMF

                            I remember seeing Laphroaig 50 years ago - about as far back as my memory for spirits goes.

                            1. re: kagemusha49

                              Was it before the early to mid 80's? That's when single malts really started to hit the scene. There were always a few around before then, but not like it has been since the late 80's.

                              1. re: kagemusha49

                                Laphroaig was imported during Prohibition (1919-1933). The U.S. government decided it was too smoky to be anything other than medicinal and allowed it to be sold.

                                Scotch's popularity in the U.S. took off in the 1890s with either the rise in interest in golf or in U.K. doctors' recommendation of the spirit for health reasons (see Laphroaig comment above). It was generally single malts until the 1830s with the invention of the Coffey still that made grain whiskey more available to make blends. And blending they did because it was much cheaper.

                                Blends were much more popular for the average person due to cost and less intense flavor. No different than how despite the rise of microbreweries, most people here drink lower quality, cheaper, mass produced beers.


                                1. re: yarm

                                  Interesting. I like Laphroaig, but it is so smoky one is enough. Which makes a bottle last!
                                  To the OP: anyone who drinks JW Blue should be buying their own.

                                  1. re: yarm

                                    Fred, thanks for that info.

                                2. re: JMF

                                  Better late than never, as they say . . .

                                  I started working in the Wine & Spirits retail trade down in Southern California in the late-1960s. In addition to bottlings of The Glenliviet 12 Year Old and Glenfiddich (with no age statement), we sold Cardhu 12, Glen Grant-Glenlivet 12, and Glenfarclas 105 proof and 15 Year Old.

                                  Now, that said, we certainly sold MUCH MORE Blended Scotch than Single Malts -- Famous Grouse was our "cult" favorite, but certainly J&B*, Cutty Sark*, Dewar's*, Johnnie Walker Red* and Black**, Chivas Regal** and their "Royal Salute" 21 Year Old bottling were the main brands, with Teacher's Highland Cream*, Black & White, Vat 69 (and later, Vat 69 Gold -- a "lighter," less peaty version), and Passport the major sellers on the second tier . . .

                                  A couple of more "speciality" Scotch whiskies (blends) included Johnnie Walker "Swing" (with no age statement), Haig "Dimple Pinch" 12 Year Old (later reintroduced into the marketplace as a 15 Year Old).

                                  / / / / /

                                  * All whiskies marked with one asterisk were designated as EIGHT YEARS OLD.

                                  ** All whiskies marked with one asterisk were designated as 12 YEARS OLD.

                              2. re: JMF

                                The other thing with blended scotch whisky is that there can be neutral spirits in the blend as well. As far as I know they don't add neutral spirits to single malts

                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                  There are actually three types of blends. I think one can use neutral. I can't remember the definitions offhand. My days focusing on Scotch are almost two decades ago. I'm an American whiskey drinker now.

                                2. re: JMF

                                  "Single malts are a relatively new thing."

                                  Not sure where you're getting that from. Glenlivet, for example, has been around since 1824.

                                  I was in Edinburgh, Scotland over 30 years ago, at which time I had already been drinking single malts for several years here in the US (where they were readily and commonly available), and visited a Scotch shop - not a liquor store, mind you, but an establishment that sold exclusively scotch. The stock in that shop ranged in age up to more than 100 years (with prices to match). A newcomer it is most assuredly not.

                                  1. re: BobB

                                    I said in my comments that there were a few single malts around. But 97% have only been out since the 80's.

                            2. re: Dapuma

                              The Barbancourt is glorious stuff, but rather subtle and not for everyone. More for a rum lover.

                          2. The Japanese whiskies are also worth a try for someone who likes the JW Blue. Hibiki 12 and Hakushu 12 and typically $60-$70. I find them to be in a similar vein to the JW Blue with more focus on the sweeter side and not much smoke.

                            Hibiki 21 would be perfect for someone who is looking for the status symbol if you can find it, but it may not be much cheaper.

                            1. Johnny Walker Swing is very similar to Blue, and only around $60. But, it's hard to find!

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: Leo in BR

                                I've never tried that. I was actually going to mention the JW Gold as an alternative, which I recall being very good. I've read that some prefer it to Blue.

                                This thread reminds me that I have an engraved, unopened bottle of Blue that i received as a wedding gift. The packaging is impeccable. Outside of the fact that I'm not a huge scotch drinker, I think I'm almost intimidated to open it.

                                1. re: tomjb27

                                  At least it will keep - unlike my 40 year old jar of beluga caviar which has turned into a kaleidescope of interesting colors.

                                  1. re: tomjb27

                                    One caveat on the JW gold - they have recently changed their lineup. Formerly there was a Gold label with an 18 yr age statement and $70-80 price point. Now there is a "Gold reserve" with no age statement and a $60 price, and a "platinum" label with the 18 yr age statement and a $110 price.

                                    I have not heard good things about the new gold reserve, but I have still seen bottles of the 18 yr gold label in most places so I guess the transtion is still going on.

                                    Also, the green label was discontinued a while back - which is unfortunate - though you can still find bottles on the shelves in many places.

                                    1. re: ncyankee101

                                      Agree on Green if you can find it.

                                      Unique in that it's a vatted malt.

                                      1. re: Klunco

                                        The term vatted has legally been relegated to the past.

                                        1. re: JMF

                                          Good to know! What's the new term?

                                            1. re: ncyankee101

                                              Pure malt has also been done away with. The official term is now Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.


                                              1. re: sku

                                                Oops whaddaya know there it is on the bottle of Glen Salen I bought a couple months ago. I wonder how long until they change it again?