Category Archives: Blended Malt

Johnnie Walker Double Black

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!

Final Thoughts

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!

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Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a single malt snob when it comes to my Scotch. Sure, I’ve found a few blends that I don’t mind, and a couple that I genuinely enjoy but, I’ve always found more hits and fewer misses in the single malt category.

For this reason, I was somewhat reserved when my brother-in-law brought over a bottle of Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old, but I was mildly intrigued since it was a whisky I’d never even seen, let alone tried, and I was cautiously optimistic since this blend acted a little bit like a single malt with its corked stopper and classy labelling. I was about to discover that a pure malt whisky is a very different style of whisky from other blends.

Most blends, in addition to malt, contain a percentage of grain whisky, from unfermented barley, resulting in a drier, less flavourful spirit – at least in my opinion. A pure malt, on the other hand is composed entirely from malt whiskies, so the character of the dram seems a lot more like a single malt.

Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old is bottled at 40% abv and is available in Alberta for less than $40 per bottle.

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To The Eye
This is a bright golden dram that reminds me of Glenmorangie. The most striking thing about its appearance is how reluctant the legs are to return to the glass… I haven’t yet noticed another whisky do that.

In The Nose
Okay, now I’m convinced that Glenmorangie must make up a significant portion of this blend since I’m immediately reminded of it’s aroma. Ripe pears are front and centre, along with a honey-like character that I’ll call beeswax, since it’s not as sweet smelling as honey. Oak and peat are also very evident.

On The Tongue
This is a smooth, pleasant dram that displays plenty of oak on the palate, along with pepper, peat and maybe a hint of licorice. It’s not overly complex but it’s certainly easy to drink. This pure malt blend has none of that dry, puckering, alcohol-without-flavour quality that I usually find in grain whisky blends. The finish is medium, leaving me with a sense of oaky sawdust.

Final Thoughts
I won’t try to convince anyone that Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old is a spectacular whisky but it’s not a poor one either. Any time I find a bottle of Scotch for less than $40 that’s half decent, well, I’m kind of impressed! It’s not a connoisseurs dram but, if your looking for an affordable bottle that can do double duty as a sipper or a mixer, it might be exactly what you’re looking for. In addition, this bottle has opened my eyes to another type of whisky – pure malt – that I might have otherwise ignored because of my bias towards blends.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

First of all, this is not the kind of whisky I usually buy! At $220+ per bottle in my Alberta market (and I know it’s more than that in most other markets) it’s beyond my normal drinking budget! Fortunately I have a good buddy who doesn’t think twice about his drinking budget and he decided I should have this bottle for my last birthday… I hope everyone has a friend like that!

This bottle obviously has that “holy shit” factor. Even semi-knowledgeable scotch drinkers will likely have seen this bottle on a top shelf somewhere but even non-scotch drinkers will immediately recognize that this is something more than an everyday bottle. Everything about the presentation screams ultra-premium. “Blue” is among the rarest is the Johnnie Walker lineup and the back of the box says that this blend is composed from whiskies that their “Master Blenders handpick [from] just 1 in 10,000 casks of the rarest whiskies, from the four corners of Scotland to craft an rivaled masterpiece.” I can’t find an age statement anywhere on the bottle or the box, which is somewhat surprising, but I imagine that some of the rare whiskies in the blend must be rather mature. (For the price, some of them had better be!) As with most blends, Johnnie Walker Blue Label is bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
This whisky appears pretty standard, as is true for most blends… pale gold. A swirl of my glass releases skinny, stubborn legs down the side of my glass. It looks good enough to drink.

On the Nose
With a whisky that sits in this price range, you can bet I’m going to let the damned thing breath a bit! Actually, maybe I just let this one sit for so long because I enjoy nosing it so much.

Right away, I smell fruit – green apples. I also get sawdust… maybe this is what some people call pencil shavings. Yep, I’m definitely reminded of pencil shavings. As the nose develops, the Islay character in the blend begins to assert itself with a mild peat and a subtle smoke. It is sweet and inviting, there is nothing harsh or overbearing about this dram and it has a really nicely balanced complexity about it.

In the Mouth

The first sip of this whisky always surprises me… it’s not as sweet as the nose suggests. It is a very smooth, easy-drinking dram with a light mouth feel. I don’t really sense any of the rough edges that are usually present in younger whiskies, so I suspect that the bulk of his blend is rather mature. This whisky has a mild, muted honey flavour and a slight caramel note. Additional sips reveal oak and an almost rye spiciness. Of course, there is the signature Johnnie Walker smokiness, but it is smoothed out nicely in comparison to the more common Red Label. The finish is medium, maybe a little shorter than I’d like. I don’t know if I’d call it overly complex but “Blue” is very good!

Final Thoughts
Every time I have a dram of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, I appreciate it a little more. My instinct is to say I have $50 single malts that I enjoy as much or more than this whisky but I’m probably a bit of a single-malt snob and I know I’m also a little harder on “Blue” because it costs three-to-four times more than most of the bottles in my collection. Taking it for what it is, “Blue” is a fantastic overall whisky. It’s complex, but approachable, and exceedingly drinkable! Will I buy myself another bottle when this one is gone? Probably not. Do I hope my buddy decides to buy me another one for my next birthday? Absolutely!