Johnnie Walker XR 21

Whilst I have bad memories about Johnnie Walker Red Label which continue to haunt me when when I smell a scotch and coke, Johnnie Walker Green and Blue Labels sit on the polar opposite of the spectrum and they are amongst the tastiest drams I’ve tried. This made me curious about a lesser known member of the Johnnie Walker family, the XR 21.

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Christmas 2015 gift ideas: 5 great whiskies under $100


I have lost count of how many times I have, while perusing the whisky section of Dan Murphy’s (Australia’s leading liquor store), been asked by a perfect stranger something along the lines of “excuse me, could you help me choose a whiskey for a gift?”. My adoring eyes (or salivating mouth) as I admire all the lovely liquid gold must be a dead give-away! All this practice at choosing gifts for other people has led me to write a post about Christmas gift ideas for the whisky lover. In this post, I recommend ten whiskies that should tick all the boxes this Christmas depending on a gift recipient’s taste; and whether he or she has been naughty or nice.

Most true whisky lovers look beyond marketing and fancy bottles. For us, it is all about the whisky. We dare not put a whisky on display to collect dust and never be opened; that would be a waste of a spirit that has taken many years of maturation in oak casks to come into existence. These five whiskies therefore satisfy a few simple criteria: (1) they are delicious; (2) they are good value; (3) they have an interesting story that makes them a great Christmas gift. The whiskies that have made this list are readily available in leading retail chains and easily accessible. While some other whiskies certainly deserved to make this list, as they are hard to find outside certain countries, they are not mentioned here. 

# 1: Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old

JW Green

Price: AU$69.95 

Type: Blended malt whisky 

Age: 15 years 

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old is a malt blend, which means that it is made up only of malt whisky and not a single drop of grain whisky. It is rare to find 15 year old malt whisky for such a great price, not least the increasingly rare Johnnie Walker Green Label. Green Label has been discontinued by Johnnie Walker, making it highly sought-after by Johnnie Walker fans including those annoying folk who collect whisky because it looks nice in display cabinets. This, in turn, has meant that the price of this whisky sky rocketed on the grey market and on eBay. However, Johnnie Walker have recently released a limited edition Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year old. I have seen it here and there, in Port Melbourne and Melbourne city, selling like hot cakes. The good news is that it is available online via Dan Murphy’s, at a limit of 2 per customer. 

# 2: Glen Orrin 30 year old


Price: AU$99.99

Type: Blended scotch whisky

Age: 30 years 

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Ever feel like trying a 30 year old whisky guilt free; that is, without feeling like every sip costs $50? With 30 year old blended whisky starting at around $400-$500 per bottle in the most competitive retail shops, it may be easy to feel that old whisky is simply beyond most budgets. Fear not, Aldi is here to save the day. Glen Orrin 30 year old blended Scotch whisky includes malt and grain whiskies that have matured in sherry casks for at least 30 long years in cold Scotland. It is a fine tasting whisky, and at under AU$100 it is an absolute bargain! So, get out the cut crystal glasses and savour this three decades old Scotch whisky beside the fireplace (or barbie and flies if you are in Australia). 

# 3: Glenlivet 12 year old


Price: AU$56

Type: Single malt 

Age: 12 years

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: The Glenlivet 12 year old is such a delight to smell and sip; truly a beautiful Speysider with notes of honey, wisps of smoke, and sweet tropical fruit. It is, however, being replaced with the no age statement Glenlivet Founders Reserve. Get a bottle, or 17, while you can. I am certainly stocking up the bunker with this fine single malt. 

# 4: New Zealand Whisky Co South Island 21 year old

nz wHISKY 21

Price: AU$99

Type: Single malt

Age: 21 years

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: On a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, I learned that New Zealand has the best craft beer; and it pains me to say it, better than Australia. The New Zealand whisky scene, however, has not shared the same heights as Australian whisky. Then NZ Whisky Co decided to release some old stock of whisky which had been aging for 21 years in ex-American oak barrels in the picturesque south island of New Zealand; better known as Middle Earth. This delightful whisky has depth and maturity that holds its own against some of the very best whiskies I have tasted, and yet it offers a unique flavour profile that I found thoroughly pleasing – and all for under $100. So I am torn, as an Aussie, in admitting that not only does New Zealand have the best beer  but it also has some pretty stellar stocks of whisky aging away. I suppose all I am left with is the pavlova debate. I won’t even mention the rugby. Seriously though, I am delighted to see whisky of such quality and great value coming out of New Zealand.

#5 Bruichladdich Islay Barley 


Price: AU$99

Type: Single malt

Why does this whisky make a great Christmas gift?: Now this is a whisky with a fascinating story! Take a single grain of barley which has grown on Islay on a single field, make it into a beer and then distill the beer and put the distillate to mature in American oak barrels in Bruichladdich’s coldest warehouse. The result is spectacular. This is an interesting demonstration of the importance of “terrior” in single malt whisky; something that wine lovers would associate with the flavour which the earth in which grapes are grown imparts to the grapes which then carries through into the wine. A similar principle applies here; only prepare to taste Islay.


Johnnie Walker Swing

JW Swing

Rating: ★★★★

Recommendation: Buy it! 

Type: Blended Scotch whisky

Origin: Scotland

ABV: 40%

Reaction: 😀

The Johnnie Walker Swing is a blend of whiskies from the Highlands and Speyside region of the mainland of Scotland, and the Isle of Islay.


Soft vanillas, with an aroma that is similar to melting vanilla ice cream, fill the glass. Mild notes of grass and hay – which seem to be flickers of the peat influence in this whisky – sit beneath shades of fruit; find orange zest, apple cores and a backbone of sherry. Impressive.


Smooth and full of flavour, the whisky has a lovely mouth-feel that is slightly viscous. The taste of soft peat sits beneath buttery shortbread and almond croissant. There is wave after wave of orange zest, vanilla, cream, chocolate, coffee beans, wood and butter. It is sweet and teases, ever so gently, with Islay peat and the mild spray of salt. The peat seems to increasingly get more noticeable with each dram.


The finish presents with the aftertaste of avocado, as it leaves a fatty and oily film on the palate. The oak come out more, as the taste of wood and dark chocolate merges with cracked coffee beans. Oyster shells, just removed from a bed of rock salt, lingers.

Bottom Line: 

Buy it! Johnnie Walker Swing is full of flavour and yet extremely smooth and quaffable.  Its price, whether you are in the United States or Australia, is very reasonable for a whisky of this quality – there is no semblance of overly immature whisky as far as I can tell; a far cry from other no age statement whisky on the market.