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Johnnie Walker Black Label

Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label  93.5/100
a Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on September 11, 2010

The Johnnie Walker Brand of whisky is one of the most iconic brands in all of the world. With its unique square bottle, and the labels tilted a 24 degrees off-center, the company has created a strong brand image and is considered by many to be the quintessential Scottish whisky. The company was born in about 1820, and has grown steadily to become one of the most important Scottish whisky brands in the world today.

The Black Label is a blended Scotch Whisky, which is composed of up to 40 malted and grain whiskies. The origins of the blend can be traced back to 1867, when Alexander Walker copyrighted and began to bottle Old Highland Whisky. In 1909 the name of the blend was changed to Johnnie Walker Black Label in reference to the color of the label which had become the generic means of identifying the blend amongst the Johnnie Walker customers.

All of the whiskies in the Black Label blend are aged at least 12 years, which gives this a blend a deeper character and smoothness than one normally associates with blended whiskies. You can visit the Johnnie Walker Website and learn a little more if you desire.

In the Bottle 4/5

Johnnie Walker Black, arrives in the typical square bottle shape, designed in 1920 by Alexander Walker. The shape is distinctive to the brand, and was designed to be ergonomic, allowing more bottles to be packed into a square area with less chance of breakage. A key aspect the bottle presentation is the slanted label which is tilted exactly 24 degrees off-center. The angled label was designed to catch the attention of shoppers when the bottle sat on the shelf next to the other whisky bottles.

As well, every bottle of Johnnie Walker Scotch features the Striding Man logo. Artist/Cartoonist, Tom Browne created the logo on the back of a menu card while at lunch with the Walker Brothers in 1908. The logo portrays a man walking forward, which has come to symbolize forward thinking and the pursuit for excellence for the brand. Diageo, the owners of the Johnnie Walker Brand have also created “The Striding Man Society” which is a members club for Johnnie Walker drinkers.

I find the presentation of the Johnnie Walker Black to be professional and very satisfactory. My niggle with it is the metallic screw cap which provides an inferior seal, and is prone to stripping.

In the Glass 9/10

In the glass the Johnnie Walker Black Label shows a light coppery amber color in which I can see flashes of yellow sunlight. The aroma which rises from the glass is steeped in complexity. Initially, I smell a nice cherry soaked butterscotch which seems to have a hint of green apple rising out of the glass with it. As I allow the glass to decant, the aroma deepens with accents of dried fruits and a rather floral smoke.  At the very bottom lies a well of boggy peat.

It is not unusual for the nose of a glass of whisky to deepen with time, but in the case of this dram the contrast from initial nose to final nose is startling. I sense much more than I can describe. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then surely this nose deserves a thousand more words than I can write.

In the Mouth 57/60

In my first tasting of Johnnie Walker Black I was impressed by the overall flavour I encountered. All of the elements which I expected to find were in the right places and at the right strength. A rich fruity sherry smoke underlain with a nice floral organic peat seemed to anchor the whisky and to carry lighter sweeter elements forward. A nice sharp kernel of grain stood out winding through the mists of these flavours carrying a spicy oak presence that seemed to match its sharpness and intensity.

In each subsequent tasting, I grew more and more impressed. The whisky carries so much forward into the palate. There is a silkiness in spite of the kernel of grain; there are subtle little bombshells of cherry flavour that ricochet in the background of the palate; and there is the way the smoke and the peat brings the everything  forward rather than swamping the flavours and quelling their goodness.

The whisky displays complexity of the highest order, yet its structure does not crumble under the stress of so much going on.  It revels in the complexity and embraces all of the 40 whiskies which comprise its blend.  In the end I have the impression that I may be underscoring the review.  Johnnie Walker Black is a textbook example of blending of the highest order.

In the throat  14/15

Silky smooth on the finish with just a hint of sharpness to brace the throat. A lingering cherry filled smoke and a nice boggy punch of peat wrap up the experience nicely and left me wanting more.

The Afterburn 9.5/10

Anyone who believes that a blended whisky cannot achieve the heights of flavour and richness we normally associate with the single malts, just has not given Johnnie Walker Black Label a fair chance in the glass. This whisky is a complex symphony of flavour. The sharper grains add to the symphony giving this dram an added element to its character which is simply marvelous.

Alas, my bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label was only 200 ml in size and I was not able to explore cocktail variations.  I have a feeling that I could have enjoyed an excellent Godfather or a sublime Rusty Nail.  But in the end I drank the entire bottle neat over 6 separate tasting sessions.  I do not regret this choice as I was completely taken in by this rather remarkable blend.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________-

As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

5 Responses to “Johnnie Walker Black Label”

  1. Ted Carron said

    For years I bought into the single malt story but in the end you have to go with what your mouth tells you. I have tried 10s of different single malts (as well as other varieties and scotch blends) and none of them come close to JWB. For me, from amongst all the whiskies I have tried, this is in a class all of its own and easily the best at any price bar none.

  2. Yochanan said

    I have recently procured a bottle, planning to revisit this blend after a whopping (approx) two years since my last sip. I hope the recipe is unchanged! Would be a shame if the dollar signs in Diageo’s eyes made a compromise in quality to accomodate for getting out more bottles (especially to the East). This sounds like paranoia, but is a blatant reality these days to anyone who’s an enthusiast. I hear Cardhu is a core malt in Black. Can you confirm or deny this?

    Jason has a great point in his comment regarding the Green label being the best of the lot. Too bad it’s been discontinued! I’ve only had one bottle before, and it was steller. A brilliant weaving of, mainly, Cragganmore and Talisker single malts, with other malts peppering in slightly.

    • Hi Yochanan

      Like you I hope this malt remains unchanged, although the realist inside of me acknowledges that all blends change over time. Let us hope that for the most part these changes are for the better. As for the core malts in the Black, I admit I am usually unable to gain any specific information with respect to the spirits produced by Diageo, and it is no different with Johnny Walker Black, so no, I cannot confirm if Cardhu is a core malt the Johnny Walker Black.

      As for the Green Label, to be honest, I like the Black and the Gold much better than the Green, The Green just doesn’t seem as elegant to me (but I know of many persons who disagree with me and agree with Jason).

  3. Johnnie Walker Black Label is such a complex dram that it puts to shame a lot of 12 year old single malts (ie. Strathisla, Auchentoshan). Try it with a little (ie. teaspoon) of water to make it a little more creamy. Another great blend, and in my opinion, the best in the line up is Green label. You may want to consider reviewing it sometime.

    By the way, you made one mistake: you bought a 200ml bottle. Next time opt for the 750ml!

 
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