Is Johnnie Walker Blue Worth It?

Credit: Vacacion

Credit: Vacacion

Find any random person off the street and ask them what the most expensive bottle of scotch is… chances are they will say Johnnie Walker Blue. It’s well known, it’s generally well regarded, and people know it’s expensive.

Heck, walk through any duty free store and chances are there will be a huge display dedicated to JW Blue. You can thank the marketing power of Diageo for that one.

As a gift, you can’t go wrong. Your recipient will know what they’re getting and they’ll be very thankful.

But is it worth it to buy for yourself at home?

Ehhh… that’s a tough one.

Johnnie Walker Blue is just so expensive. Around here, it clocks in around $180 plus tax for a 750ml bottle.

My Personal Take

The price kills it for me. $180 for 750mls puts this into strict indulgence territory. The Macallan 18 is around $170 for 750ml, also an indulgence, but is a single malt that claims an age – eighteen years.

Dollar of dollar, I think I’d rather have three bottles of something in the $50 range than one bottle in the $150 area.

Funny story, I was on the Most Precious Tour at Macallan and we sampled a Macallan 25 (I think, the list price was £321). It was delicious. It was smooth. It was also three times the price of a Macallan 18.

So I asked the tour guide what he thought and he gave me this argument – would I prefer one bottle of 25 or THREE bottles of 18? The answer is clear.

I feel the same way about JW Blue. It’s nice, for sure, but it’s not so much better that you’re getting good value per dollar out of the deal.

Scores & Accollades

For how much it costs, the scores and awards aren’t really all that impressive.

I pulled these scores from the BevMo! website, a popular West Coast retailer:

  • Wilfred Wong Rating: 94 (he’s the BevMo cellar master, a veteran wine competition judge and writer)
  • Wine Enthusiast Rating: 89 (Wine Enthusiast website has it at 95)
  • Beverage Tasting Institute Rating: 93 (Tastings.com doesn’t have Blue listed on their site, so I can’t confirm this number… it does list Double Black, which gets a 93 though)

Whisky Advocate doesn’t score Johnnie Walker Blue (it does score the Anniversary at 95, but that’s a $3500 bottle!), so we’re at a loss in terms of scores. For what it’s worth, Double Black scored a 90.

Say what you will about scores but it seems like there just isn’t much coverage on Johnnie Walker Blue. Does that mean it’s bad? Not necessarily but it was a little surprising after I did some digging.

Let’s look at awards then. At the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Johnnie Walker Blue scored “only” a Gold Medal. A Gold Medal is second only to a Double Gold, of which 45 were awarded in 2013.

There was a Johnnie Walker that won Double Gold? Double Black, which will run you around $35 a bottle. They are two totally different spirits in terms of design and intent. That said, Double Black gets some great scores and it’s much much cheaper.

What do you think about Johnnie Walker Blue? Is it worth the price tag?

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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28 Responses to Is Johnnie Walker Blue Worth It?

  1. William Hoppe says:

    I personally agree with your logic. I am a self-proclaimed single-malt bigot. I don’t do blended or vatted whisky; at least not very often. I do confess that I have tried as many of the JW’s as I can afford. And I confess I have a bottle of JW Blue in my bar. But, when anyone I’m talking scotch with asks the JW Blue question my personal opinion is, the best JW on the street is JW Swing; and most people have never heard of it; never seen it and would swear when they do see it that its not a JW since its not in the distinctive rectangular bottle. It will run between $55 and $65 a bottle where you can find it and it is every bit as good as JW Gold, JW Platinum, and JW Blue.

    • Jim says:

      I do very little blended or vatted myself (though I have a bottle of Monkey Shoulder I have yet to enjoy) but it sounds like you have a little more experience. I’ve heard of JW Swing before but never had it, I might have to give it a try given such a ringing endorsement.

      • William Hoppe says:

        I had the opportunity to go to a scotch dinner where they used different Balvenie scotch both in the preparation of the different courses and of course, you were served a ‘dram’ of that whisky with that course of the meal. The distributor for Balvenie introduced the Monkey Shoulder that evening. Honestly, not a fan but…I broke the cardinal rule of comparing the Balvenie Single Malts that I’ve tasted to the Monkey Shoulder and it was not a fair comparison. That was back when you could only get Monkey Shoulder in Texas and Illinois (June 2013). I now have a bottle in my bar and, it is a good comparison scotch for when I do tastings for friends. If I am going to drink a blended whisky it is normally JW Double Black or Swing (I just replaced my Swing yesterday $63). Love to hear your thoughts when you taste the Monkey Shoulder.

  2. Peter Klave says:

    I agree. At a blind tasting last year, I tasted and rated several whiskier in the range from € 50 to € 200 (65 to 250 US dollar). Afterwards I found out that the shiskies from the 65 – 80 dollar range got better marks from me than the expensive ones. It’s all in the taste and the moment of the day. So yes, give me 3 bottles of 50 dollar instead of one 150 dollar one.

    • Jim says:

      Blind tasting is really the only objective way to know… what’s interesting is that the 65-80s did so much better. I wonder if it’s because there’s no mystique around that price point.

  3. Jim says:

    I think the pricing puts Blue about a mile past the point of diminishing returns. I won’t say it’s not good, but I will say it’s not THAT good.

    My Scotch palate isn’t developed sufficiently to appreciate whatever nuances any $180 bottle of whisky brings to the table. I’m with you- I’d rather have 3 bottles of really good drink.

    • Jim says:

      The palate sophistication is part of it too, maybe there is something magical about it that I’m just missing. :) I suspect not though…

  4. Bob Endebrock says:

    When I decided it was high time for me to learn something about scotch, I started with Johnnie Walker Black. It was a Christmas gift, and I was in my glories. It did not take long to learn about Mr. BLUE. I have yet to try it, and certainly I would if given a reasonable opportunity, but I could never justify buying a bottle for myself. I would demand that the Blue was 5 times better tasting than the Black, and we all know that THAT is simply SILLY. Blue is a bragging rights dram. If you are into that, then have at it. I will continue my learning journey on finding that special underrated dram at a reasonable price that makes me grin from ear to ear with delight. ~ Bob/Madison, Ohio

  5. Martin says:

    I confess that I’ve never tasted the Blue, preferring not to spend so much on a blend. But I do love the Green which sadly has been phased out by Diageo, so I do recommend to grab those where you can especially at the reduced prices I see for it at various liquor stores here in south Florida. The Green is a wonderful blended malt, i.e., no grain in it, and at 43% is more potent than most of the blended whiskies in the JW fold. I strongly suspect that the Blue is a show horse, so to speak, Johnnie Walker being the most recognized name in Scotch, and what you’re really buying is a marketing package rather than a quality whisky. Ask yourself whether you would rather spend upwards of $200 on a hyped blended Scotch or for the same total amount of money (roughly), you can purchase the following single malts: Balvenie Double Wood, Highland Park 12, Bunnahabhain 12 and a Laphroaig Quarter Cask. A no brainer decision if ever there was one.

  6. Seth says:

    I think JW Blue is the “gift” whisky. It is a way for someone who is not necessarily “deeply” into scotch to give a gift that they know the person on the other end will recognize, recognize the cost, and appreciate. For this, and all the advertising behind it, they get to charge a premium. As long as it’s a good product, I think there is nothing wrong with that. Now, if someone would just be nice enough to gift me one, already, I could report back on my thoughts on it. :)

  7. Wayne Ortner says:

    I’ve tasted the Blue and I agree – it wasn’t worth the premium. In fact, I liked the Gold better for a lot less, … but then I tend to breat that rule with Balvenie also – I like the 15 better than the 21. I regarded JW as the best blended scotch until recently when I found Mokey Shoulder, but it’s still a good scotch, if for nothing else, it’s remarkably consistent.

    • Jim says:

      Technically Monkey Shoulder is vatted, so it’s all single malts… whereas JW isn’t. I never realized that until recently.

  8. Wayne Ortner says:

    , … sorry, that’s “Monkey Shoulder”, …

    • Richard Cuccia says:

      Wayne, Monkey Shoulder is a non-age statement blended malt Scotch Whisky from William Grant & Co. It’s a blended malt consisting of Glenfiddich, Balvenie, & Kinninvie single malts at 43% & at $30, all good attributes.

      Ralfy on YouTube in his video Whisky Review 47 said that it was a recommended blended malt. In his review 75, he said MS was a budget & quality recommendation. (Check out Ralfy. In his 500 plus vids, he’s most knowledge, informative & entertaining. His grades run from 80 through about 92-ish. If his grade is from 85-86 and approaching 90, those whiskys are well worth buying. He doesn’t review anything below 80.)

      Serge at Whisky Fun gave MS a 3 star/80 points on 4/13/11 & a 2.5 star/79 on 10/3/06. For Serge, these grades are quite drinkable ratings. Serge is drinkable to really drinkable from 2.5*/75 to 3.5*/85. If he gives a 3.5/86 into the 90s, those spirits are heavenly and a must buy, if, of course, you can afford them. He rates a whole lot of old to quite old (15 yr, 20 yr, and above) spirits which normal people will never taste, because one can’t afford them.

      I like MS, it’s a good buy, and I will buy it again. Out of 10, I give MS a 8.0/10 for quality, and in the days of runaway prices of distilled spirits & especially of quality Scotch, I give it a solid 8.5/10 for value. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. From New Orleans, Slainte.

    • Richard Cuccia says:

      Forgot: MS is a non-smoky & quite accessible blended malt. Good stuff. Slainte.

  9. Mags Benham says:

    What I learned from this post is that I am picking up a bottle if Double Black tonight. Thanks for the informative post Jim!

    • Jim says:

      Ha, good takeaway! I first saw it in duty free, my dad bought a few bottles on the way out to give to relatives as gifts (funny thing about gifts… buy something too nice and they’ll never drink it, buy something nice but approachable and you know they will). We had some, liked it, and he bought more on the way back.

  10. JR says:

    I’ll gladly take 3 bottles of something in the $50 range over a bottle of JW blue. Personally, I like Black and Double black over blue. It’s been already said, but the Blue label is put on some sort of pedestal by consumers that are not into drinking whisky. However, these consumers can’t be faulted since they don’t know better and JW is somewhat of a household name through all of the marketing when it comes to buying a “good” bottle of whisky. Let’s face it, if a person who doesn’t know anything about scotch and needs to buy a scotch drinker a gift, the first bottle they will grab for is something they can read and pronounce and that’s JW.

  11. Mario S Nusbaum says:

    JW blue is good, very good, but I’d rather have TWO (let alon three) bottles os JW Gold

  12. Tony Mathew says:

    Fully agree. JW Blue is a great gift to give / get, but to drink, for $180, you could get 4 bottles of Highland park 12 or Laphroaig 10 or 2 bottles of Glenlivet 18 or 8 bottles of Monkey shoulder.
    As for ratings, JW Blue is rated 95 by WE, but so is Chivas 18, and is $60 a bottle.

    If you look at the bigger picture, JW Blue & King George are Diageo’s top shelf answer to Pernod/Grant/Edrington’s $200+ Malts, Diageo’s marketing keeps it there.
    So yes, very hard to top a JW Blue as a gift, but the daily drinker could do lots better with $180.
    JW is now creating a Vatted Malt called Odessey at $900 a bottle. Can’t wait to rationalize that one next :)

  13. Jose says:

    I totally agree with your post. I have had JW Blue and can think of at leat 3 or 4 bottles I have that are better and cheaper. I am not a single malt bigot but do like to sample different varieties.
    I have tried JW Swing and can tesity that it is a very good bottle. Highly recommend you add one to your bar. When I feel like I want to have a good JW and don’t mid spending the extra cash(>$60-$70) I love to have have JW Gold. Solid bottle. Love the toffee and vanilla. For a special treat I keep it in my freezer for over 24 hrs and have it neat when I feel like having a good moment. The shame is that they stopped making and selling JW Gold.
    Now I have an unopened bottle and do not want to waste it too fast. Will save it for a special occasion.
    Have a good day gentlemen

  14. Mike Finkelman says:

    I think that JW Blue, like any highly marketed scotch is going to have to live up to its billing to some extent, but the reality is that in the blended Scotch market, and the realm of reasonability, price for many people is going to be a prohibiting factor. I have never had JW Blue, but two friends with discerning tastes have and neither of those gentlemen would give it their stamp of approval. Taste and price are going to make the decision for all whisky drinkers it is just that taste for some may never exceed what is perceived to be lower cost or lower end distillations. My personal favorite SM scotch is Glengarioch 12 year Old. It is affordable for me and to tell you the truth I like it better than some older whisky I have tasted. Alas JW Blue, if I would not be offered a dram or a bottle then I would be unlikely to buy it.

  15. Lyle says:

    Having purchased a select limited edition bottle of 50 Yr Glenfiddich for $27,000 I must address the discussion between cost and taste. I often get asked if the taste is “that much better?” Well Jim Murray’s scoring was a 97! Now the question is how much more are you willing to pay , if money is not a concern, for a 97 over a whisky rated at 94? Both would be great whiskies. The plain fact is that one can purchase an excellent whisky for $100. Sure there is a certain prestige of drinking a more expensive whisky and yes it is a fun experience, but he fact is the Ardbeg Corryvreckan that I purchased last week ($92) is rated by Murray as a 96.5 as is a whole lot cheaper than the Johnnie Walker Blue which is rated at an 88. Taste is only one element of price. Perhaps, I should say purchase the whisky that matches your own tastes and wallet.

  16. Gary says:

    Have not tried the Blue, do have a bottle of platinum and spice road at the house right now. I would have to say Blue is not worth the money unless you just want to have it to “show off”. I would much prefer to have several Balvenie Double wood, Glenlivet etc. Or even Monkey Shoulder which is a nice easy drinking scotch. Could get 6 of those for one Blue.

  17. Joen Rude says:

    I absolutely love the Glenkinchie scotch. I presume you have tasted it, but are you just as fond of it as me?
    Also I was in New York recently, where I had a whisky called Bullet Rhye. Does that mean anything to you? Brilliant whisky!

  18. Alan S says:

    We had a bottle of Blue given to us for a wedding reception (having a slightly larcenous bartender in the family is not at all a bad thing.) What a disappointment. Not a bad bottle by any means, but not remotely worth the price. I can name half a dozen $50-60ish single malts that are vastly superior. I can’t even fathom paying that kind of price for a blend. Maybe I’m just a rube, but so be it. I expected choirs of angels with the first sip of such an exalted elixir; instead it was a muted hum. I suppose I lack the subtlety to appreciate the fine gradations of this supreme product, but to me it was boring, lackluster, humdrum, mundane — calibrated to offend no one, and as a consequence capable of exciting no one.

    I won’t be purchasing any, not even to impress my rustic friends. I just don’t see the value in a $200+ dull, boring blended whisky.

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