Review: Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Spice Road

Followers on Twitter or Instagram will have noticed I’ve been travelling in September with a visit to Lisbon. There was a valid whisky reason for this annual holiday, which deserves an article of its own. More of that later, however whenever we travel via an airport there is the enticing promise of a visit to duty free, travel retail or whatever its being dubbed this week by those clever marketers.

This sector of the market is home to exclusive releases and discounted 1 litre expressions of supermarket favourites. I always go armed with a list of potential purchases. This way you remain informed and come away with something (hopefully) worthwhile, as duty free is the home turf of No Age Statement whiskies and some truly disappointing examples.

It’s not all bad certainly, but do your research in advance and ask around. There are some bargains to be had and decent whiskies exclusive to this sector, but it remains a minefield.

For the record I made a handful of purchases. First up was the standard Ardbeg 10 year old, which was discounted and irresistible with a 1 litre bottle costing around £46. Nae bad! The Mortlach duty free edition still hasn’t been bottled so that was a non-starter sadly.

Having Whisky Rover means I have to ensure I cover releases out of my own pocket on a regular basis. Johnnie Walker has been missing from this blog so being aware of this omission it was time to put it right. I purchased a special 4x20cl pack that gives the opportunity to review several expressions. Then I spotted this version of the Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club.

The Explorers’ Club has been in the news recently with Diageo having to come to an out of court settlement dispute over the Explorers’ Club name. It seems an apt time to review the entry level whisky in this series costing around £26 for a litre and themed around the Spice Road. There was another entry in the series at Edinburgh Airport with an asking price of £120; perhaps for another day.

Distillery: this is a blend of grain and malt whiskies from several distilleries including notable names such as Caol Ila
Age: a no age statement whisky the emphasis will be on youthful components
Strength: 40% ABV
Cost: expect to pay around £26 for a 1 litre bottle
Casks: matured in old oak casks for an intense finish inspired by the spice markets of Asia (this is on the packaging)

Colour: caramel which happens when you add E150 to a blend

Nose: a real spicy offering which shows the blend matches the brief. Squeezed lemon, cola cubes, butterscotch, cinnamon, rolled tobacco. Grain notes with vanilla and banana.  

Taste: yeah there is certainly grain in here but I kinda like the feel of this blend on the palate; light and refreshing. The nose is more pronounced. Pepper, more cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of saffron. Sweetness from melted caramel before ginger takes over.

I actually quite like this! Should I label this as a guilty pleasure? I have shared it with some friends who weren’t too impressed in comparison. It is a very easy drinking and enjoyable blended whisky. Perhaps a little boring for some but I find it rather grounding to sit back with a taste of the orient and relax. I would recommend this to someone just starting to explore whiskies to highlight the range of flavours possible with skilled blending.

Some whisky commentators totally dismiss the pricing of the whisky saying that it is all about the quality of the spirit. While I tend to agree up to a certain point, I do find this positioning rather blinkered and characteristic of free samples. I always consider the price as we do not have limitless amounts of cash to spend on whisky. Now if this Explorers’ Club was £120 I’d be very disappointed but for £26 the pricing matches the experience. A content thumbs up!    


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