This is the second article in our Johnnie Walker series a review of the Double Black expression. A “Distiller’s Edition” of the Black label bottle if you like.
The Johnnie Walker name starts in Kilmarnock which is a town in Ayrshire on the west of Scotland.
A 14 year old boy called John Walker purchased a shop in 1820 using the money raised from selling the family farm after his father died. Like a lot of shop owners at the time he sold spirits including those sold under his own shop label. By 1850 there is records of “Walkers Kilmarnock Whisky” being sold from his shop.
The story of the brand though starts in 1856 when John Walkers son Alec convinces his father to sell the whisky to the wholesale market. After his father’s death in 1857 when he takes over the business this side of the business is focused on much more.
The Spirits Act of 1860 allowed large-scale production of blended whiskies. Which is to bottle the produce from a number of different distilleries in bond. It is here that the iconic square bottle is first used to reduce breakages. Alec also now sells internationally with ship captions on commission to sell bottles.
In 1867 the product “Old Highland Whisky” is registered which in essence was to protect the brand from copying. The 24 degree angle of which the labels were placed would be registered as well in 1877.
Alec dies in 1889 and leaves the business to his two sons. George will run the business side while Alex II will blend the products together. In 1908 with James Stevenson now managing director the modern Johnnie Walker brand is born. The striding man branding and the use of colours to denote different products in the brand are developed. Initially there are three colours: Red (10 year old) , Black (12 year old) and White (6 year old).
By 1920 the Walkers own or have stakes in a large number of distilleries to control supply of whisky. There portfolio includes Cardhu, Talisker, Dailuaine, Clynelish and Coleburn. This group along with Buchanan-Dewar Ltd will become the mighty DCL in 1925.
Alex II would retire from the business in 1940 and Johnnie Walker has continued ever since as part of DCL and now Diageo. The Blue label was introduced in 1992 as a old and premium blend with a cask strength release in 2005 for the bicentenary of John Walkers birth.
This Double Black blend is coloured and filtered again but that is something you can expect with a large blend. The bottle is the traditional square design but heavily tinted black to reinforce the branding.
The whisky is 40% ABV just like the Black label from the previous review. The price is a little more expensive at around the £35 mark but is again widely available. The age statement is gone but we know younger whiskies have more phenolic potency so the marketeers are just hiding this fact from the uninformed.
The Double Black version is a reinterpretation of the Black label with the addition of more Islay malt and heavily charred casks. This then is Black label with the flavoured dialed up but is it dialed all the way to 11?
Nose – flavour straight away. toffee and caramel yes but deeper stronger than the Black. Honey and smoke is present on the nose this time as well
Palate – The palate follows the nose but there is a strong ashiness wrapped around the dried fruits
Finish – spices, pepper and ash lead the finish with the smoke lingering on
The DNA of the Black label is here in the Double Black. The same old-fashioned whisky character is here but there is just more flavour. There is more of the smoked peat and more of the sherry influence which really boosts the whisky. Where the Black label felt watered down this one does not.
If I ran the brand I would drop the Black label recipe for this one. I suspect if I tried a Black label from the 1960’s or 1970’s it would be more similar to this one over the modern Black anyway. I would then develop a new Double Black which would be a blended malt containing Caol Ila and Talisker.