The brand Johnnie Walker launched it’s first blended whisky in 1865. In fact, before 1860 it was illegal to sell blended whisky’s in Scotland. Black Label was launched in 1909, and continued on the first blended whisky Alexander Walker (John’s son) launched in 1865 as Walker’s Old Special (re-branded to Extra Special Old Highland in 1906). Enough with the dates now and on to the whisky!
Black Label is one of the most sold blended Scotch in the world and each expression has become world famous by now. And each different expression (you know: red, black, green, gold and blue) has it’s own drinker. It makes a lot of sense in my opinion to build further on each expression to ……. their fan base.
When tasting the ‘normal’ Black Label it always surprises me how complex this whisky actually is. This blend of a good 40 different whisky’s, each aged for at least 12 years, can be recognised by it’s 4 main flavour characteristics: fresh fruit, like apple, pear and orange – dried fruit like apricot and dates – vanilla, coming from the use of Bourbon-barrels – and smokiness, which comes from the Islay whisky’s used in the blending process.
It is a clear move to position Johnnie Walker Black Label as a brand of it’s own by launching the Double Black. For this brand they have chosen to follow the taste-profile of Black Label rather than the minimum age of the whisky’s. The 4 main tasting notes are still there, but are put in a new dimension by blending in more smokiness in the Double Black. This influences the taste in a very pleasant way, and does what it’s supposed to be doing: introduce their fan base to some slightly more mature flavours.
The bottle: The Double Black has a significantly larger and heavier bottle. With it’s dark glass and gold highlights on the label it really stands on it’s own.
The nose: Clear peatiness promises a much heavier taste than one is used to get from the Black Label. There’s pleasant sweet notes that you can recognize as well from it’s older brother, giving a good indication about the balance between these 2 elements. Obviously, a lot of similarities between the two, but also strong characteristics specific to the Double Black.
The contents: The smoke is much less dominant in the taste than it is on the nose. One of the most significant changes the smoke does to the components, is to the element of vanilla. In Black Label this element brings a rather sweet note to the palate. In the Double Black it has changed to a more creamy texture – much more soft and less sweet. It also appears to me that the mouthfeel is more silky and a bit thicker. Pleasant fruitnotes like apple and raisin (a small percentage of the barrels JW uses in Sherry-cask) keep giving that sweet balance to the Double Black.
Conclusion: This is absolutely a great next-step whisky for the Black Label fan, but also a nice very buy if you like some smokiness in your whisky, but not too much. The combination with the sweeter tones is a very pleasant one and I think can introduce some less experienced drinkers to the more peated whisky’s.