It’s a pretty big deal for an iconic brand like Johnnie Walker to put out a new product, and it’s an even bigger deal when it’s a new expression of one of their best known brands. Johnnie Walker Double Black made its debut in the duty free shops in airports of Europe and Asia where it was a big hit, so Johnnie Walker elevated it to a formal release for the US market.
Johnnie Walker Double Black (40%, 80 Proof $40) – it’s hard to look at Johnnie Walker Double Black without comparing it directly to the spirit it’s based on: Johnnie Walker Black Label. The first most noticeable difference between the two is that Johnnie Walker Double Black does not have any form of age statement on the bottle (Johnnie Walker Black Label contains spirits which are at least 12 years old). This follows along with a recent trend of spirit manufactures stepping away from age statements with new products, like Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask and Ardbeg Alligator. The bottles are also distinctly different: Johnnie Walker Black Label comes in a clear bottle, while Double Black comes in slightly taller, smoked glass bottle.
In the glass, both Johnnie Walker Black Label and Double Black look almost identical, with Black Label perhaps just slightly more red. Nosing Johnnie Walker Double Black next to Johnnie Walker Black, there are very clear and distinct differences. The Johnnie Walker Black Label has a much sweeter nose than the Double Black. With Black Label you can clearly pick out the Cardhu, but with Double Black, the nose is more defined by its smokey and peaty quality which comes from Caol Ila. On both, the nose presents very well and balanced. Double Black doesn’t blow you away with its smokiness, and there’s still a nice bed of sweet cherry underneath with a slight suggestion of a floral note.
The entry for Double Black is really nice and smooth. The smoke from the nose is there but it’s perfectly balanced by nice round, sweet flavors including the cherry from the nose. This balance carries out perfectly through the midpalate, where both the smoke and sweet intensify. At the end of the midpalate, Double Black picks up a little spice and the slightest bit of bite that carries through a nice medium-long finish which preserves the sweet, smoke, and spice notes.
Johnnie Walker Double Black manages to maintain the same kind of wonderful balance that we’ve come to know and love with Johnnie Walker Black Label, but it does so with a slightly different set of flavors. Whereas Black Label expresses the interplay between sweet and oak, Double Black expresses the interplay with smoke, sweet, and spice. This is done at the same high level and with the same wonderful finesse that has made Black Label so successful. Johnnie Walker Double Black also makes the stronger and smokier notes typical of Islay scotches much more approachable to the blended scotch drinker. Johnnie Walker has stated that Johnnie Walker Double Black is a limited release and when ‘stock runs out’, it’ll no longer be offered, but we expect Double Black to ultimately take its rightful place as a full fledged part of the Johnnie Walker line.
Be sure to read our interview with Jim Beveridge, Master Blender for Johnnie Walker.