If you were to overhear the word ‘scotch’ in a conversation; chances are the first bottle to flash by your mind would be in all likelihood the infamous Johnny Walker Black label. Better yet, observe the liquor counters at the Indian Duty free stores and chances are you’d see more than a few Johnny’s being tossed into hand bags. In fact, I myself have witnessed more Blacks and Gold’s growing up than any other scotch whisky; add to that the ‘Keep walking’ duffle bags, suitcases, flat glasses, tall glasses, and other collectables placed at various nooks and corners of my house.
At a time when the locally available single malts were just too bold and intense, the choice to make a blend that was more palatable and predictable was the brainchild of John “Johnnie” Walker. These blends were then added to his grocery’s inventory and this spelt the beginning of a booming family business! After his death in 1857, his son Alexander took up the reigns and a decade later introduced their first commercially blended whisky, the Old Highland. He began using his ties with the captains of ships to have his goods distributed and served far and wide; Johnnie Walker was now a global brand! Alexander’s sons, Alexander II and George themselves introduced newer ranges of their blended whiskies, the Red and Black Labels that are known the world over. And in many ways it was son and grandson that brought huge popularity to the brand and made the ‘Striding Man’ a legacy!
The JW Black label sports a square bottle that oozes a robust, strong and muscular build. The slight curve around the shoulders and the angular cuts at the bottom corners add that wee bit of splendor; and the square is very much for a reason. This shape allows better packaging with fewer spaces between bottles and therefore less shattered shards! A lot of thought was put into the label too, which is strategically placed at an angle of 24 degrees allowing optimal visibility. The contents of this golden elixir are made of a blend of around 40 whiskies from all parts of Scotland aged in a combination of American Oak and European Sherry barrels, with the youngest drop being at least 12 years
ABV: 40% / 80 Proof
Eye: Deep gold
Nose: The first sniff reveals that characteristic smokiness of the black label, followed by sweet caramel and wood. You also identify grain, along with spices, a hint of coffee and burnt honey. Fruits like unripe apples and grapes also make an appearance with the sherry traces being stronger.
Taste: A mix of wood, smoke and the caramel sweetness hits the taste buds initially while the second wave is a combination of grapes and spice.
Adding a few drops of water introduced a lot more breadth to the flavors; a broader spice profile, with lighter fruity and caramel sweetness twirling around the mouth.
Finish: Long, warm and dry with the sherry and smoke echoing through.
Bottom line: The Black Label has an interesting, deep and complex nose; the effect on the palate however lacked a certain bit of depth depth and almost seemed like the flavors were jam-packed together. But once the liquor opened up, the experience turned to be truly delightful! The fact that the whiskies that make this blend comes from different corners of Scotland shows in the different facets of the tasting; with the highlight being the super rich signature smokiness.
If you were to ask me for my thoughts on the JWBL a few years back, I would in all probability give you a thumbs down without batting an eye. Fast forward till date and my reaction would certainly differ. Diluting your coffee with a whole lot of water isn’t going to give you that morning kick, nor is adding too much water into your grandma’s home-made recipe going to land you that winning thick gravy. My biggest mistake perhaps but then again I was in my youth and just aiming for a high!
Based on personal choices, you might want to enjoy the Black Label either neat or as a cocktail. However, my choice would be to taint the neat with a few drops of water (I think I almost heard angels sing once I did that)!!