An evening with Johnnie Walker
Let’s get things straight right now :
- I started in the world of whiskies with the whole range from Johnnie Walker
- I moved on quite quickly as soon as I discovered single malts
- I didn’t come back to it until this weekend
- Without saying I’m a blend snob, I haven’t paid attention to it…I just didn’t really care for it (as most Scotch aficionados/blogger/pseudo-expert do 😉
With that being said, let’s talk about what happened on June 30th.
Let’s go back two months ago. While looking on the net searching for my next buy, I stumbled on a website proposing a tasting of Johnnie Walker whiskies, at home, for 12 to 15 people…for free ! Immediately, I thought of my good friend Ben whose Bday was coming in fast. So instead of offering a bottle of whisky, some friends and I decided to host the tasting at our friend’s dad house, house that has a pool and a spa. Basically, we were offering our friend an evening of whiskies, bouchées, pool&spa, beers and no kid around :p
Fast forward to June 30th ! The brand ambassador, Antonin, arrived with all his stuff, settled in the basement (35 degrees outside…air conditioning was awesome downstairs) and we started with what to expect from the tasting : 3 whiskies (Red, Black and Blue Label), pairing with chocolate and strawberries (brought by Antonin) and small bouchées made by us, insight on how blended Scotch are made, a history of JW and a lot of laughs.
Let’s go with a quick summary of the infos we were given, and then a review of each whisky ! I will pass on anything that is general knowledge on how whisky is made.
- John Walker opened a grocery store in Kilmarnock at the beginning of the 19th Century
- He soon started selling whisky, but clients complained that the quality was very variable depending on the batch
- Thus, he started to work with tea and spices to acclimate his palate and be able to identify every flavour
- For 30 years, he blended his own whisky for his clients, satisfying the need for a constant quality
- His son Alexander actually started selling the whiskies under a brand name, Old Highland Whisky, and selling bottles to ships captain so they could in return sell OHW throughout the world
- His son, Alexander II, is the real genius behind the JW brand : name, famous square-shape bottle (more on that in the next point), 24˚label etc.
- The bottles were initially of the same shape as El Dorado rum, classic and old fashioned. But there was too much contact between the bottles and a lot of them were broken on the ships. Alexander II imagined the square shaped bottles to reduce the impact of a shock and to put more bottles in a box
- He also started the Red and Black lines, realizing that drunk people at 2am in Scottish pubs called the whiskies by the colour on the label (it is mostly known that when drunk, people can’t read as well 😉 )
- JW is actually the first brand to have been sold in most of the countries in the world (at that time), reaching by 1920 120 countries on about 127 official !
- Other lines, such as Blue, Green, Gold and Platinum started much later at the end of the 20th Century
Johnnie Walker Red Label 40% – NAS
- Nose : alcohol, oak and vanilla. A touch of fresh fruits.
- Palate : quite creamy with a lot of spices (chili and pepper) balanced with a lot of sugar,
- Final : rather strong, short and agressive.
- Comments : not as bad as I remembered, but as the ambassador admitted, mostly meant to go in cocktails (with ginger beer…quite good) !
Johnnie Walker Black Label 40% – 12 yo
- Nose : lots of smoke, but not harsh. Burnt caramel and oak, quite nutty.
- Palate : peat and smoke, with vanilla, barley and honeyed apple.
- Final : much longer and sweeter than the Red, still smoky, with a medium length
- Comments : I wouldn’t say this is a deep and complex whisky, but the general profile is pleasant. It is not expensive, easily available, good for sipping while cooking meat on the BBQ or in cocktails.
Johnny Walker Blue Label 40% – NAS
- Nose : very light smoke, in the background, with fresh green apples, pear, almonds, roasted coffee beans. Complex.
- Palate : 4 levels of depth. First one is fruity and light. Second one is fleshy and heavy. Third one is deep, complex and with candied fruits. The fourth and last one is made of peat and smoke.
- Final : long after taste with mostly smoke.
- Comments : very complex with no level overpowering the others. Some might say it lacks character. I don’t agree as its character lies in the fact that this bottling was made as an ode to the 4 classics regions of Scotland (Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside and Islay).
Finally, let’s talk about the pairings we made.
Red Label and strawberries : the acidity in the strawberries enhanced the quality of the whisky by cutting the burn of the alcohol.
Black Label and chocolate : this is a classic for a lot of Scotch. As BL is quite smoky, the dark chocolate deepens the flavours and enhances them.
Black Label and smoked salmon on cream cheese : well…another classic. Although I preferred this one than with the chocolate. It contrasts a bit better yet has points in common.
Black Label and soft blue cheese : very good, gives more texture and roundness.
Blue Label and smoked salmon : just perfect…
Blue Label and cigar : we didn’t do it, but I have done it in the past and it is quite good. And everyone around the table thought it would make a great fit !
In conclusion, it was a very pleasant evening where we got to enjoy good whiskies. It has kind of reconciled me with blends and make me want to try a few more !
For Canadians reading this thread, here is the link to book your free tasting at home. Crown Royal (Canadian whisky owned by Diageo) also offers the same service (here). Both tasting can be put back-to-back !