Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Whisky Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label Revisited

This is actually a re-review, as I've looked at JW Black Label before and found it rather multifaceted. After reading a few other reviews, I wanted to come back and give it a more in-depth look. Thankfully Oregon sells half bottles for half the price of a full bottle, it seemed worth the investment.

Black Label is composed of malt whisky from all of Diageo's clutch of distilleries, though it's been suggested that Cardhu is the main component along with smaller measures of Caol Ila and Talisker, plus grain whisky from Cameronbridge, North British, and possibly Port Dundas (now closed). All of the whisky in the blend is at least 12 years old. After it is put together, the whisky is proofed down to 40%, chill-filtered, and colored.

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Nose: creamy grain whisky, marshmallow, maple syrup, toffee, cardboard oak, floral, fruit esters (apple and orange), savory cured meat, sherry, and peat in the background. After dilution, the sherry and peat gain some strength, pushing the more estery notes aside to give a more clearly grain base.

Taste: thin, grain whisky and molasses sweetness up front, sliding into bourbon cask fruit esters and mild sherry, with moderate oak, mild peat, and bittersweet caramel at the back. After dilution, the oak is more prominent and integrates with the sherry, revealing more grain sweetness throughout.

Finish: light oak, malt and grain sweetness, lingering sherry and light pepper, somewhat artificial bitter cast to it all

Johnnie Walker Black is ubiquitous for a reason - it's pleasant and inoffensive without being completely boring or insipid. It's a whisky that you can drink for a while without having to think about it, especially because the alcohol is almost invisible. It seems to be able to handle water with reasonable aplomb, even considering the low bottling strength. The grain whisky is definitely present and smooths out the palate quite a bit, but isn't offensive present. The contributions of Diageo's many distilleries is also clear, with the hints of peat (I will agree with Michael that it seems more like Caol Ila than Talisker). The sherry is also helps to keep the grain in check.

To be honest, I wish Diageo would offer a pseudo-special edition JWBL at higher proof, à la Cutty Sark Prohibition. With greater strength and without chill filtration, I think this would shine. Admittedly even a bump up to 43% would work wonders, but that doesn't fit with Diageo's MO. But for now, I can say that this is a perfectly decent blended whisky. You won't get excitement, but you also won't get disappointment.


  1. This is such a mixed bag for me. Some really nice flavours - and some decidedly unpleasant ones.
    Me and Ted have got Johnnie Walker on the brain over at Whisky Waffle this week - we're covering one of the readily available expressions each day. Been an interesting - and at times amusing experience.
    Anyway, great detailed review.
    Keep on waffling,

    1. There's a 4x200 mL JW pack that I would buy and review if I hadn't already picked up a small bottle of Blue Label. Glad they're doing it, as it makes a nice way to taste through the ages and expressions.