Readers of this blog (yes, both of you) will likely notice that this is the first bottle photo not taken on my kitchen table. During a layover in Toronto, en route to Cuba for a vacation with my wife and our best friends, I decided that it would be nice to grab a bottle at duty free to take down for sipping on the patio in the evening. The Double Black had my attention after reading some favourable reviews, including this great one by the boys at Whisky Waffle.
The gentleman at the airport liquor store pointed to strong influences from Caol Ila and Talisker as major contributors to the core blend of malts in this incarnation of JW. This was a good sales pitch to provide me, since I love the smoky, peaty flavours of “West Coast” malts. Johnny Walker Double Black is bottled at 40% abv and cost me about $60 for a 1L bottle at the duty free store.
To the Eye
This is a deep honey-golden dram. The label Johnny Walker Double Black states that this whisky is aged in heavily charred oak barrels and the depth of rich colour certainly matches this description. A swirl of my glass – wish I had a Glencairn – produces thick legs that drop back down the glass fairly quickly. (I don’t normally make mention of the bottle presentation in my reviews, but I must admit to loving the dark, smoky blue-grey glass used here – the photo doesn’t do it full justice but it reminds me of the Blue Label!)
In the Nose
My friend, travelling companion and frequent whisky-tasting buddy, immediately claimed that the Caol Ila character was unmistakable on the nose. Not being as familiar with that particular malt, I was unable to verify. What I did pick up was plenty of smoke, although it remains gentle, some dark chewy fruits like dates and prunes, a touch of iodine and just a hint of peat. As the dram breaths, vanilla and a slight sweetness emerge which, along with the smoke, gives me a distinct impression of toasted marshmallows.
On the Tongue
First and foremost, it’s good. The Double Black is smooth and very drinkable… I’m glad to have brought it along for the vacation since it is undoubtedly a better dram than many of the mysterious, never-heard-of-before bottles that are collecting dust at the bars at our tropical all-inclusive! The Islay, or “West Coast”, character of this whisky is obvious, although somewhat tamed down. It’s not a peat monster by any means, such as a single malt from Ardbeg or Laphroaig, but most of the typical Islay elements are still there in a dialled-down kind of way. That gentle smoke remains firmly up front, along with some musty peat. Although I’m not sure if it’s at least partly due to the fact that we are in literally steps from the Carribean right now, I am certainly also detecting a briny note, which fits with the Islay influence as well. There is a malty, toasted cereal flavour that is nicely balanced with that subtle, sweet vanilla that I discovered in the nose. Oak lingers within the smoke and I’m also vaguely aware of tobacco. This is a gentle but well-composed dram!
Once again, I’m afraid my single-malt snobbery is affecting my judgement, somewhat… and I feel like I should like Johnnie Walker Double Black a bit more than I’m allowing myself to. I always expect the more premium blends to offer up a more complex nose and a lengthier finish than they usually deliver – what with having so many different whiskies contributing to their makeup – and I wish I had a better understanding of why this hasn’t been my experience. With that said, the Double Black is quite a delicious drop, with surprising depth of flavours. This blend would make an excellent introduction to the Islay/West Coast profiles for those who want their first rendezvous with smoke and peat to be gentle!