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Balvenie 21 vs Blue Label: Head to Head!

Discover the differences between Balvenie 21 vs Johnnie Walker Blue Label in this head to head comparison and decide which Whisky is better for You!

Balvenie Portwood 21

NoseFig, plum, peach, black tea
PalateHoney, dried, fruit, almond, pecan
FinishBurnt caramel, ginger, chocolate
Alcohol content95 proof (47.6% ABV)
How to drinkAdd water
Similar toMacallan 18 Sherry Oak

The nose hits with fruity sweetness displaying hints of fig, plum and peach followed by the scent of black tea.

On the palate, the Balvenie 21 provides a good mouthfeel as it feels oily. The first sip brings a pleasant warming note that does not overwhelm.

Flavor is smooth with a sweet honeyed taste, with hints of dried fruit, almond and pecan.

The finish lingers with virtually no burn on the way down with hints of burnt caramel, ginger and bitter chocolate.

Adding a dash of water releases a floral note along a bit of oak which is surprisingly absent in a 21 YO whisky.

Is it good? Yes, in fact, this is one of the finest malts I have tasted in my 30 year career in the industry.

It provides a solid experience from nose to finish with no let-downs and one well worth trying.

Balvenie 21 facts:

  • Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2009 and 2012.
  • Earned 94 points from the Beverage Testing Institute in 2009 and 2010.
  • The Balvenie 21 is initially aged in bourbon barrels before finishing in 30 year old Port pipes.
  • A pipe is an oak container that holds up to 600 liters while a bourbon barrel just 120 liters.
  • Balvenie is the only Scottish distillery that continues to grow and malt its own barley.
  • Balvenie is a Speyside Whisky owned by William Grant & Sons along Glenfiddich.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

NoseOak, dried fruits, berries, citrus
PalateCaramel, smoke, chocolate, malt
FinishMedium, light smoke, dried fruit
Alcohol content80 proof (40% ABV)
How to drinkNeat
Similar toRoyal Salute, JW Platinum

According to Johnnie Walker only 1 in 10,000 casks is selected to be part of the blend.

It makes me think that Johnnie Walker must have a zillion casks in storage as the Blue Label is everywhere to be found as every duty free store in the world carries a generous stock.

The nose offers oak at first, followed by a light smoky note. There are hints of berries and citrus coming behind.

On the palate, the Blue Label feels creamy, rich in caramel up-front, followed by a malty flavor and a hint of chocolate. There is a bit of smoke making it incredibly rewarding.

The finish has a solid length, light in oak and smoke with a rich dried fruit note.

I would summarize the JW Blue Label by saying “smooth, smoky and delicious”.

This whisky is incredibly smooth yet quite flavorful with more peat than I was expecting but still just a hint and nothing off-putting for those who are not into peaty whisky.

The Blue Label is remarkably gentle on the palate, very smooth, slightly sweet with smoky cigar-like aftertaste.

Easy on the way down with no burn providing a good experience from nose to finish making the top Johnnie Walker Scotch.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label facts:

  • This whisky is not a Single Malt Whisky but a blend of malt and grain whiskies crafted at various distilleries across Scotland.
  • It does not have an age statement.

What’s the difference between the Balvenie 21 and the JW Blue Label?

Balvenie 21 is a Single Malt and the Blue Label a blend

The main difference between these whiskies is the Balvenie being a Single Malt made exclusively from malted barley and crafted at a single distillery.

The Blue Label is a blend of grain and Single Malt whiskies crafted at an undisclosed number of distilleries across Scotland.

Another important distinction is the Balvenie providing an age statement (21 years) while the Blue Label doesn’t share the minimum aging length of the whiskies in the blend.

What do the Balvenie and the Blue Label have in common?

Both use caramel-coloring

The use of artificial caramel-coloring is allowed under the set of regulations that govern Scotch Whisky.

But not because something is legal it means is right and this is something that makes me frown-upon about this whiskies.

The use of artificial caramel-coloring makes me feel as cheated as the use of additives in Tequila.

Balvenie 21 vs Blue Label: Price comparison

Prices are approximate and stated in USD:

Balvenie PortWood 21 $270
Johnnie Walker Blue Label$185

Balvenie 21 vs Johnnie Walker Blue Label: Which is better?

WhiskeyBalvenie 21Blue Label
  • The Blue Label is a severely flawed whisky for such price tag as it is not a Single Malt, is bottled at a miserable 80 proof, doesn’t provide an age statement and is artificially colored.
  • But I like it, it tastes quite nicely, is something well worth trying at least once and provides bragging rights.
  • Balvenie 21 belongs to a different category despite also being artificially colored. This is a fine 21 year old Single Malt with a remarkably smooth and tasty flavor crafted by David Stewart MBE who is regarded as one if not the best master distiller in Scotland.

Treat yourself with the Blue Label before moving into more complex and sophisticated drams.