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Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky Review

I wasn’t going to review this product only because I thought everyone knew about Johnnie Walker Black, so who would need to be guided through the experience. Then, while google searching I found very few people actually reviewing the product and those that did simply didn’t understand the concept of blended scotch whisky.

This quote motivated me to put Johnnie Walker Black to pen and paper (or website):

“I kind of agree with Alec Baldwin’s mother in law in Malice, when she said that, all blended whiskies are crap. I am not an expert in the field, but from what I have sampled I find this to be true. I prefer the single malts. There is usually too much going on in the flavor. It is an enigma that I can’t figure out by the time I swallow. As I said whiskey isn’t my forte, but I like drinks that are simpler to comprehend.” (epinions)

I’m definitely not a whisky connoisseur but I’ve also done a bit of research in both text and taste to help understand the complexities of a scotch whisky and, more to the point, a blended scotch whisky. The the original reviewers notes, Johnnie Walker has “too much going on in the flavor,” I’ve got to apply some basic logic, are you looking for something flat and one dimensional? I’ve never seen anyone look for a USD $30+ product that’s boring and single-focused especially if a master distiller has taken the time to “blend” it into a specific profile of flavor. Not to take away from the single malt’s on the market, but if you’re looking to taste the experiences and knowledge of a blender who has dozens of single malts at their disposal, a blend is a great place to start seeking.

Master blenders work diligently to design a blended scotch that has more than the single malt alternative for any one brand or barrel. Just as many of the best quality red and white wines are carefully blended varieties, a blended scotch is much the same. The nose of Johnnie Walker Black label is both smooth, oak-driven with a smokey brown sugar and caramel. I get hints of vanilla bean coming off the nose with very little alcoholic punch when I take a second sniff, a third gives me a dark burnt caramel flavor which is a bit stronger in sweetness than my original whiff.

I usually drink my scotch straight, with three small drips of water to break up the alcohols and bring out the aromas. Johnnie Walker has no one dominating flavor profile because its blended well and special care has been taken by the master blender to build a consistent experience each time you try it. You’ll get a smokey peat with earthy mineral tones with a mid-palate of bright oaks and buttery vanilla bean finishing cleanly with a remarkable mature smoothness leaving a charred oak residue on your tongue.

There is no doubt why Johnnie Walker Black is their best selling brand, the remarkable smoothness with building flavors after each sip is hard to beat for the USD $30 to USD $40 price. This is a masterful blend of over 40 different single malt whiskys all with an age of 12-years at a minimum.

The color is a bright clean gold with building aromas and a smooth round flavorful experience. Johnnie Walker may not be the most complex product on the market but, for its price range, you’re looking at a highly serviceable scotch for the general audience which also brings up the oaky content of a cocktail. Even the most experienced scotch drinker will find a special respect for the effort behind this brand.

The fact that Johnnie Walker Black has “too many flavors” that are hard to discern is the exact reason I love it. Imagine meeting a beautiful women (or man if that’s your preference) with only one striking feature that stands out in a crowd, you’ll find them intriguing for about an hour but you’ll grow bored once you have learned everything there is to know about them. Wouldn’t you rather be challenged by deeper and more meaningful conversations and experiences that help peal back the layers of their personality? Wouldn’t you rather learn something new each time you meet and grow to respect them with each additional note of knowledge?

That’s how I feel about Johnnie Walker Black and other blended scotch whisky brands. If you’re going to tell me your entire story upon first meeting then I only have to meet you once. I want to come back for all the nuances and flavors that really help me to understand the master behind the blend.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    sepsism
    April 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Excellent and very enlightening review.

    I’m reasonably new to Scotch appreciation (not new to Scotch, though). After drinking some extremely appealing Glenfiddich single malt 12 year old last weekend I’ve decided to investigate Scotch a little further and will be picking up a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black label tonight (your review clinched it).

    I’ve had black label (and blue label) before but not in any form of sophistication.

    Thanks again.

    Cheers.

  • Reply
    Yochanan
    May 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    It’s quite fashionable to tout that every single malt is superior to every blend in existence, and it seems from time to time the media is used to reinforce such snobbery, usually in instances or scenes when ‘high society’ is involved. It’s a curious thing, really, as Malt sales account for like approx. 10% of Scotch whisky sales.

    Personally, I’ve found even some select inexpensive blends which could beat the crap out of some single malts. Not every malt makes for an amazing, intimate experience. Some are pretty mundane. On the other hand, some blends (JW Black included) can be quite interesting! Marketing, like in many other places elsewhere, has a lot of weight in the whisky world. JW Blue has a legendary prestige which I feel is grossly undeserved. It’s architecturally designed for said prestige: Not much intrinsic quality, really.

    Phew…rant over.

    • Reply
      dschommer
      May 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      In many ways, a good blend should beat a single malt given the concept… you’re taking a bunch of unique products and building a further unique product by bringing certain qualities of the single’s together into a blend. In such a way, you should be able to find qualities in a blend that you love even to where single malt folks could find those qualities they love within that blend.

      It’s like an Arnold Palmer… it’s got iced tea and lemonade. So, people that like ice tea (me) can appreciate it for its flavors and those that like lemonade can too. Then there is a new breed of person that just likes the total package combo that can fall in love with it… it services more people by bringing great qualities together.

  • Reply
    Yochanan
    May 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Excellent point, ds. Blends, if of good quality, do shine in offering bits of multiple spectrums of whisky flavors all in one sip. The compromise with blending, however, is that intrinsic quality and complexity are narrowed some. Some blenders do work with what they have extremely well (I.E., JW with their Black label: Pretty complex for a blend, moreso than some entry-level single malts!) The problem also lies where once you’ve been introduced to a certain intriguing flavor profile, you might want to explore in fuller strength with a malt (I.E., peat. I was endeered to the hints of peat I first experienced peeking through in my first glass of J.W. Red in my more novice days. This inevitably led to my purchase of malts such as Laphraoig 10 y. and Ardbeg 10 y.o). It all really just comes down to: Both have their place. An excellent single malt can offer a real cerebral stimulation (I’m not kidding!) as you reflect on both the array of intricately woven flavors, as well as deeper Life questions. On the other hand, sometimes you just want to pour a dram of a favorite familiar blend and relax after an absurdly long day.

    It’s really just what you’re in the mood for, or what the occasion calls for. Personally, I enjoy both blends and single malts. They have their respective places.

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