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Johnnie Walker Black Label

Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky  87/100
a Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
January 25,  2020

Johnnie Walker is one of the most iconic whisky brands in the world. With its unique square bottle, and the labels tilted off-center, the company has created a strong brand image and its spirit is considered by many to be the quintessential Scottish whisky.

According to my research, Johnnie Walker Black Label has undergone some changes since I published my last review in 2011. At that time it was advertised as containing up to 40 premium grain and malt whiskies. Today, (checking their website in December 2020) the company has this to say about their iconic blend:

Johnnie Walker Black Label is a smooth and beautifully balanced whisky with a distinctive smoky flavour, expertly crafted using an unrivalled selection of Single Malts and Grains each aged for at least 12 years.

All of the whiskies in the Black Label blend are still aged at least 12 years; however a reference to the number of whiskies which are used to create the blend is no longer made. As well a more recent tasting of the blend seemed to indicate to me that some of the richness and depth which I formerly associated with the blend has been dampened.

I decided that an updated review was almost certainly required.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

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 about 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 which artist/cartoonist, Tom Browne created 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 8.5/10

Colour: Amber/copper

Legs: Slender slow moving legs fall from mid-sized droplets at the crest

Aroma: Fine oak spices combine with treacle and dry fruit, raisins and green apples with perhaps a hint of Turkish Delight. More dry fruit (raisins and dates), and hints of chocolate appear with a light herbal smoke and a touch of boggy peat. Oak builds as we let the glass sit with vanilla and baking spices gathering.

In the Mouth 52.5/60

I am not sure; but I seem to encounter a firmer presence of grain whisky in the blend than I did previously and this gives the whisky a bit of penetrating spiciness which I could find no reference to in my earlier notes. I taste spicy grain and oak with hints bits of black pepper and ginger. This is combined with vanilla, baking spice and some herbal grassy flavours which remind me of hay fields, heather and menthol. Dry fruit (raisins and dates) and flavours of peat add to a light smoky quality which seems to lie underneath the main whisky flavours.

When I add a touch of ice to my glass I notice some coffee-like and chocolate flavours evolving. I like it much better now especially as that penetrating spiciness I commented on earlier has been quelled.

In the throat  13/15

The exit is somewhat spicy with both grain and wood spices as well as black pepper heating the finish, and somewhat smoky with dry fruit flavours and lightly boggy peat lingering afterwards. Some sweet caramel seems to bind it all together.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

Ten Years ago, I found Johnnie Walker Black Label reveled in complexity and character. This time around, I find the do not find the blend nearly as impressive impressive, at least in comparison to my expectations. Whereas my notes from the previous review indicated the Black label was high quality sipping whisky, my recommendation this time around is to sip over ice or to mix a cocktail. I wonder if Johnnie Walker’s explosion of new brands may have eliminated certain stocks from being available for the Black Label blend. This may account for the adjustment in my perception and scoring for Johnny Walker Black.

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

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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)

 
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