Posted by: Nick
Johnnie Walker got one thing right when creating their original premium bottling: the name. Black Label subtly suggests quality. Conclude any mundane product title with it and witness the elevation in esteem it receives. For example, Kellogg’s cornflakes: Black Label. Colgate toothpaste: Black Label. Toyota Corolla: Black Label. Chartered accountancy: Black Label.
The name alone should be enough to convince most discerning whisky drinkers that in comparison to the Red Label, this drop is a step up. And it is – but only slightly.
Johnnie Walker Black is blended from over 40 whiskies all of which are at least 12 years of age. There is a nice range of flavour in this dram, and the supposedly ‘trademark’ smoky character is even vaguely noticeable! The key to this whisky is balance: balance between enjoyable flavours and downright unpleasant ones.
This principle is demonstrated in the nose, which presents a battleground where pleasing chocolate-orange notes and nasty chemical aromas compete for supremacy. There is a lot to like here, although, conversely many elements I’m not at all keen on. The palate continues in a similar vein – the sickly sweetness from the Red Label makes a return but is partially disguised by more agreeable flavours such as oak, nutmeg, and in particular, peat-smoke. It’s the sort of smoke which is only really noticeable if you’ve just polished off a decidedly unpeated malt, but when discovered, it really gives this whisky a lift.
There is a degree of complexity on the finish that is not found in the Red Label. Despite only being bottled at 40% ABV, it features a small amount of lasting spiciness. Sadly the unpleasant sweetness also makes a return and rather spoils the party.
Johnnie Walker Black Label is a mixed bag of a whisky. For every interesting and enjoyable flavour, there is another objectionable one dragging it down. It seems destined to forever be a mixer for those who prefer a slightly classier Scotch and coke. It is premium only in name, sadly not in nature.
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