G’day guys and welcome to the second addition of my Three Wise Men feature. We’re bringing in this week what is, regrettably, only my third real Scotch this site has featured; Johnnie Walker.
Johnnie Walker is one of the most widely loved whiskies on the planet, and make many varied labels of different levels in quality. This bottle today, Johnnie Walker Double Black, is one of mysterious and vague origin. A look online will show a dark, mysterious bottle of deep black whisky. In reality, the color is the attribution of a dark tinted bottle. Further drawing on the name, the “Double Black” as a gimmick. The origin of the name, in official searches is answered that it is “matured in heavily charred casks and uses a greater proportion of characterful west coast and island whiskies to elevate iconic flavours to a new level of intensity” in comparison to the Black Label, a step upward of the Red Label. What this means exactly, remains to be said.
The Johnnie Walker label, founded in eighteen-sixty-five by the namesake, whom was originally an employee and an investor of a grocery shop in the town of Kilmarnock. John Walker, worked at the shop, selling wines and spirits, mostly whisky. After a while, he took whiskies and blended these himself to sell, under the label name “Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky”. John Walker died in eighteen-fifty-seven, but even after his passing, his work was so popular, that it continued on by work of his descendants. While the namesake grocer, John Walker, took the first steps in creating a product, it was his son and grandson, Alexander Walker and Alexander Walker II, who birthed the label who’s reach stretches throughout the globe today. Alec Walker introduced the iconic Johnnie Walker square bottle in eighteen-sixty, a move that nowadays would be seen as a cosmetic improvement to boost sales, but in actuality was merely a practical matter to fit more bottles into pallets and reduce broken bottles. Something that became an effective decision in the arrival of Kilmarnock’s railway, that afforded the label to reach far wider by train, and by connection, internationally by ship. Growing in popularity over the years as it progressed, none more so evident than when it came to bear the seal of approval of the Throne of England – “By appointment of her Majesty the Queen”. The label worked out of it’s birthplace of Kilmarnock for the next one hundred and forty four years until the year two-thousand-and-nine, when the label’s owner’s, Diageo announced it was to end. A decision the drinkers and locals of Kilmarnock met with anger and protest. Not merely as a matter of respect for tradition and the history of the label, but this would result in the extinction of hundreds of jobs for the Scottish people. Despite numerous acts by the adoring public, petitions, marches, and numerous other campaigns, the decision came to last, and historic plant of Kilmarnock closed its doors, and was demolished. After the controversy and media attention brought about by the decision, some of the seven hundred workers received severance pay or relocation to other plants, but alas, an unlucky eighty two men were hung out to dry and left redundant. I’ll stop here, before this article tangents off on a rant on the topic of big businesses complete disregard for its loyal employees trying to make ends meet. Certainly the only thing employers do quicker and more merrily than sack existing employees are tell aspiring employees to take their carefully written resumés and insert them somewhere dark…otherwise this whole website wouldn’t need to exist. The modern label of Johnnie Walker operates out of thirteen distilleries in the great whisky regions of Scotland. The Lowlands, the Highlands, Speyside, two on the Isle and the shores of Islay, and one on the Isle of Skye. The western coast of Scotland, or so we’re told, is the main contributor of the Double Black’s ingredients. The vast majority of the west coast of Scotland, being the area of Islay. A quaint, foggy maritime area of Scotland swept by the smell of saltwater, and green grass. Where the barley grown for the rich business of Scotch is fed by the prevalent Scottish rain, cool weather and sea breeze. The label, claiming that the mash bill, being more bias towards the product of the west coast, is darker and more intense than the standard Black Label.
The bottle in it’s entirety has solely two colours trimming it’s exterior. The signature 45° angled Johnnie Walker label is a bold solid black on the bottle, trimmed with gold. As is the cap. The flanks at the foot of the bottle, squared off, effectively giving it an octagonal base. Nothing can be made prior to opening the bottle of the colour of the malt within, holding it up to the light merely gives off a glow of yellow steeped through the tinted black. The mysterious bottle holding most of it’s qualities to find. The cap cracked open, my sinuses are bathed in a carpeting and moist nose of peat. Thick of horticultural scent, bringing to mind the peat itself, being excavated from the moist Scottish soil, damp, to be set alight to smoke the malted barley. A big positive mark towards the Double Black. Over ice, the Scotch opens up to throw off totally new scents, some unexpected faint sweet noses of red berries; strawberries and raspberries nestled behind the front of peat. I take a sip and am caught totally off guard by the fruity and vibrant flavors exhibited by the Scotch. Most Scotches hit you with a brash and powerful taste of peat smoked barley, this one gives sweet notes of strawberry. But reassuringly, this Scotch is not all sugar and spice. A sip and a swallow of the malt, brings with it a finish of oak and peat. A few indulgent sips of the Double Black leaves a smoky spicy burn in the back of the tongue.
In closing: While the Johnnie Walker Red Label, the baseline cocktail Scotch, brings with it an overpowered and earthy strength of peated whisky. The Double Black, unlike Glenfiddich, has fortunately not gone too far the other way. Smoothing out the imperfections of peated whisky that give a good Scotch character. Trading the tastes of course and brash peat smoke for sweet and feminine qualities. This, however splits the difference straight down the middle. With an unusual blend of sweet tastes with traditional flavors of Scotch whisky. It is an exquisite whisky, that starts to get you thinking of the label’s head-honcho’s train of thought using a higher percentage of the fruits of the west of Scotland’s labor. A whisky that should be drank and experienced.