Whisky Showdown! Johnnie Walker Black vs. Glenlivet 12

The two whiskies subject to today’s Whisky Showdown! are neighbours in my whisky cabinet. The rivals consists of Johnnie Walker’s fine Black Label vs. the Glenlivet 12. Both are popular products and easily accessible. They both contain identical age labels, though the Johnnie Walker Black is a blend, and each is bottled at 40% alcohol by volume. Let’s see how they stack up against each other.

The colour on the Johnnie Walker Black is deeper than the Glenlivet and the legs run thicker and slower.

The nose of the Johnnie Walker is more intense than the Glenlivet. The Black, especially contrasted against the Glenlivet, brings up smoke, citrus, honey, and fruit. The Glenlivet is more floral overall and more than subtly suggests apple in its presentation, but shares some of the honey and citrus that the Black so elegantly conveys. These are very different introductions and made all the more apparent by the side by side tasting.

The palate of the Johnnie Walker starts with oak and smoke before turning to some of its sweeter elements. By contrast, the Glenlivet starts soft and heads into apple and wood eventually developing a hint of oak if you keep it on the tongue long enough. The Glenlivet’s oily texture is easily discerned while I didn’t give a second thought to the Black’s texture until taking a second swig. The Black is slightly more gritty, but nothing quite apparent about it’s texture.

The finish on the Black is smooth and satisfying, comparing nicely to the Glenlivet. The Glenlivet is shorter however, mixing in some mild chocolate and a bit of fruitiness, and lacks some of the complex mix of oak, smoke, and sweeter expressions of the Black. Instead, the Glenlivet begs for another sip to keep the experience going.

Overall, I’ll call this for Johnnie Walker’s Black. It is a richer experience overall, but really pulls out ahead because of the richer and more satisfying finish.

You can read my initial review of the Johnnie Walker Black here.

My review of the Glenlivet 12 can be found here.


Four Roses Small Batch

This tasting features another bourbon, this time a Kentucky straight, for your consideration. Four Roses Small Batch is a product currently unavailable in Quebec, but quite popular in Europe and Japan.  I was on a trip to Ontario recently and was lamenting the dearth of Scotch whiskies at the LCBO I was visiting when I decided to change strategies and look for bourbons instead.  I prefer looking for items that are either unavailable in Quebec or much less costly in Ontario and was thrilled at the unique selection of bourbons at that particular LCBO.  The Four Roses was a brand I had heard about but never tried for obvious reasons of availability in my home province and my decision was instantly made.  Further research lead me to learn that, mysteriously, the brand was unavailable even in the US for many years, staging a comeback only recently.

A former Seagram’s distillery, this brand is now owned by a Japanese firm but has been allowed to retain and use its proprietary yeasts in the production of its many lines of whiskey. The Spanish Mission style distillery was built in 1910 and has been in continuous production ever since. It produces for other lines as well, including Bulleit.

Each bottle of the small batch may differ, this is a mingled product of four different select bourbons and I am unsure as to how these types of expressions are controlled. This is presented in a very nicely designed bottle with the roses taking on the colour of the whiskey at the very centre and featuring an alcohol content of 45% abv.

The colour is a nice shade of amber and the legs run fairly slow and thick.

The nose is high on honey and vanilla. An intense experience that leaves no doubt that this is a bourbon. I have yet to smell a Scotch that so intensely does what bourbons are able to achieve at this level. There’s some spice in there as well, cinnamon and perhaps nutmeg.

The palate oozes of honey, fruit, cinnamon and spice, and a slight hint of oak. The whole is well balanced and reasonably complex.

The finish is quite long and satisfying. The honey and spice remain, leading into the vanilla that came through on the nose.

With a bit of water, the nose becomes a showcase for the vanilla, leading into softer fruits on the palate, and continuing to advertise the vanilla on the finish. Some soft floral notes appear on the finish as well.

The whole thing is worthwhile. From a pleasant start, the senses are treated to a wonderfully married experience that is well balanced and complex enough to keep it interesting well into the second serving. Currently available at the LCBO for a song.

Four Roses Small Batch

Whisky Showdown! Macallan 12 vs. Johnnie Walker Black

This Whisky Showdown! is a first for me. I will be facing off a single malt against a blended Scotch, both of which are extremely popular in the marketplace at the moment. The Macallan 12 will be tasted against Johnnie Walker Black, both are considered 12-year-olds as the Johnnie Walker Black is made up of whiskies that are aged at least 12 years.  The Macallan 12 is bottled at 43% abv against Johnnie Walker Black’s 40%.

Both whiskies are pleasing to the eye, relfect a warm golden/copper colour. The Macallan is slightly darker, making a more rich impression. The legs on both are similar.

The nose on the Macallan is rich and bold, especially against the Black’s softer aroma. Both have some sweet notes, but the Macallan’s smoke and especially the oak sets it apart dramatically.

The palate on the Macallan gives up the oak and, along with the sweet notes of honey and fruit, the smoke playfully blends in and ties it all together. The Johnnie Walker is a treat with its trademark smoke and fruity notes, contrasting with the Macallan in that the oak and smoke is subdued and the fruits are played up.

The finishes on both are very similar. The most I can say is that the Macallan starts smokey and ends sweet while the Johnnie Walker is fruit from the get go. I prefer the Johnnie Walker’s stronger finish.

Overall, I’ll give this a tight race and call it for the Macallan.  It’s  a more complex product, but I’m surprised how well the Johnnie Walker Black holds up against it.

For my initial reviews of each, click the links:

Macallan 12

Johnnie Walker Black 12

Elijah Craig 12-Year-Old

Time to get into another bourbon and shake things up a bit. This entry is a longtime resident of my collection, yet somehow went under the radar until now.

Elijah Craig is named for the Baptist minister who supposedly invented the process of aging his spirit in charred barrels. The distinct bottle is topped by a short neck with an oversized cap and large cork which is clearly visible. The whiskey is bottled at an impressive 47% abv and is of the Kentucky Straight variety. My research has shown that the label has also released an 18-year-old version of its whiskey as well.

The combination of the age statement (still uncommon among bourbons, even more so at 12 years), charming presentation, and limited range of production had lead me to choose this bottle in the first place. Now let’s see if the product matches my expectations.

The whisky is deep amber in colour and demonstrates some thick legs when left to settle after a good swirl.

The nose shows vanilla and spice, honey, and a hint of almond.

The palate is about vanilla and a whole lot of honey, brown sugar, smoke, wood, spices, and, interesting enough, a very tiny hint of cotton candy.

The finish is long and satisfying with rich tones of vanilla and wood. Some sweetness appears with time. Vanilla dominates,

Overall, a very good bourbon. This is a very sweet whiskey, made more interesting by the vanilla that follows through from beginning to end, dominating all the ranges of this experience.  This whisky is available in Quebec at the SAQ (here) for just under $42 while Ontario’s LCBO doesn’t carry it at all.  New Hampshire’s got this on sale at $23 however (click here), well worth picking it up if you’re in the area!!  I would highly recommend this product, it is quite different from many of the Scotch whiskies I have reviewed and even from most other bourbons.  Fabulous value for money in this little gem and it gives some bourbons priced twice as much a good run for their money.

Elijah Craig 12

Whisky Showdown! Johnnie Walker Black vs. Johnnie Walker Gold

Hot on the heels of my tasting of Johnnie Walker Gold, I believe a side to side tasting against Johnnie Walker Black is in order. Seeing as how these are blended Scotch whiskies, my curiosity consists of determining wheather the more mature malts used in the Gold Label add significant substance and enhance the experience over the Black Label. This does not consist merely of a product by a distillery which has had time to age more and thus potentially express deeper representations of a distiller’s attempt at a unique style. This is a different beast altogether, evaluation whether a blender is improving upon a blend, in this case consisting of younger whiskies from various distilleries, by using older whiskies and blending something completely different. The review could thus yield interesting and unexpected results.  My intial review of the Gold can be found by following this link, the Black can be reached by clicking here.

Both are an identical shade of gold and both present legs that run slowly and thickly down the walls of the glass. Incredible how the two are identical in this respect.

On the nose, the Black is stronger and presents its familiar range of citrus, honey, and fruit. The Gold by comparison is quite soft. I notice the smoke and oak in the Gold more when compared directly to the more fruity and spicy Black.  The Gold’s fruity side is more subtle when compared directly with the Black.

On the palate, the Black’s fruit contrasts neatly against the Gold’s deeper expressions of oak and smoke. That’s not to say that the Gold doesn’t share some of the Black’s more fruity notes and the impression of honey, but the Gold is more discreet in these aspects of its profile.

The finish on the Gold gets extra points for being deeper, longer, and more complex. It goes into some smoke and oak more intensely and explores more of what an older whisky can do in bringing out the characteristics of the casks.

Overall, the Gold has an edge on the Black. The understated opening does not accurately reflect the body of what’s to come. Against a more fruity but quite enjoyable Black, the Gold does orove that some additional years in the cask, even for a blend, does lend some more interesting combinations of flavour to the final product.

I hope you have a chance to enjoy both of these fine products and come to your own conclusion!