Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Keep On Walking – Johnnie Walker Black Label Aged 12 Years

Johnnie Walker Black Label 2011 Packaging
Recently I was unexpectedly given a bottle of the Johnnie Walker Back Label Aged 12 Years for my birthday. Obviously family knew I was into whisky but they did not know what to buy so I cannot complain and lucky it was not a Vat 69. Not a big fan of the Johnnie Walker and never having the intention to actually go out and buy a bottle it came as a pleasant surprise to have one at my disposal.

It can be said many a newbie to whisky or in fact alcohol in general, will encounter either a Johnnie Walker Red Label or Black Label very soon in their experimentation with the water of life. Often unfortunately to whiskies detriment it is an encounter with a bottle that has sat on the shelf opened for a few years rather than one that is fresh and still alive. It just does not taste right… we have all had this experience.

So what can I say most of us don't already know… not much really. Johnnie Walker Black Label is the flagship of the family. Not the most premium but certainly the most accessible step up form the Red label or most blends on the market. A deluxe blend boasts the advertising. Johnnie Walker in general has clearly stood the test of time and the passion its seasoned drinkers have for the brand is as big as the uncompromising pride the company has in itself which something that needs to be respected even if you do not drink the product itself.

You may note from the photo this is the new packaging and bottle of the Black Label as well. Getting my hands on this alone was some what more exciting than the contents. Being a Graphic Designer these silly things intrigue me (some call it having issues). Overall very well presented and by far the best of all the Black label packagings I have encountered historically. The tin is quite solid and rectangular (not square) with a soft squishy rubber like mat varnish making is a little bit fun to handle. The bottle label and cap has an overhaul as well with a much richer gold and double printed black giving it all a real lift. Some nice tapering on the bottom edges of the bottle as well but still the distinctive shape. For those that don't know Johnnie Walker moved to the square (before rectangular) bottle many many moons ago as a way of stoping bottle breakage, while maximising volume on long oversea voyages. The label also positioned at exactly 24 degrees is the optimum angle for readability verses logo size both of which were developed back in the mid 1800's.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Aged 12 Years boast a handsome 50+ different grain and malt whiskies blended to one desired result but there is certainly Speyside and Islay in the forefront as far as I can tell.

Blended Scotch Whisky
Alcohol: 40%
Colour: Dark Butterscotch

On the nose spiced peach fruits, a hint of salt and smokiness (not quite full peat) followed by light woods and sharp grains. 

To taste you cannot ignore the smoothness across the pallet into the throat. Lots of sweet singing grains balanced by a dry tobacco smoke, raisins and soft creams. There is a pureness in the taste that cannot be ignored yet at the same time it reminds me of a well worn leather arm chair in a gentleman's bar.

The finish hovers in the chest without too much heat or reflux. For me a little short but I cannot complain as I would prefer a blend that does not offend on the finish and leaves you to explore all those lighter grains in the forefront.

Balance is fare and modest. Unlike a robust single malt that stands to close to you in an uncrowded bar, this blend is more the gentleman nodding to you from his booth before carrying on with his own dram.

If I was to give a dram then it would be a 3 1/2 out of 7. I am not a big fan of Johnnie Walker as a rule and if one was on offer I would say no unless I absolutely knew it was a freshly opened bottle (think of those slightly greasy half full bottles at your local Indian or Italian restaurant that never seem to go down no matter how many visits pass). Like many whiskies you encounter through friends or family they are usually on the shelf for way to long. Just to test I did have a couple of drams of a friends Black Label with a rather extended shelf life against my fresh bottle and the taste differences were remarkable to say the least. Tips and tails in my bottle were all there giving a splendour to a whisky I would ordinarily not drink.

As a note this dram goes down very well while listening to The Best of Sammy Davis Jr. Lively yet not flamboyant, comical with a dark side, a spark but never the fire, respectful and never offensive.

You may also like to check out The Secretary / The Diplomates review of Johnnie Walker Green Label, and a short history of Johnnie Walker - The Man Who Walked Around The World.

Keep on Walking - The Baron


  1. Ahh...JW Black. This is how I was introduced to Scotch whisky. Not thinking I would ever enjoy hard alcohol, I tried a sip of my brother-in-law's Scotch and Water at a bar...50% JWB, 50% water over ice.

    It works very well in such a configuration. I still really like JWB, but drink it neat now. Interesting that you saw such a variance between old and new bottle. I think I have an old bottle in the back of my cupboard. Perhaps it's time to do a comparison taste test.


  2. Thanks for the comment Jeff. Wow 50/50 and then ice that is heavy cut if ever I have heard.

    I have some whisky stones due to arrive I have been hanging out for which I wanted to try the JW Black with. Tonight will be the night.

    I would never had been able to do the review if it was not for the gift and was determined to do a reasonable analysis before it got to old. 4 weeks is enough for me and this bottle will be done by weeks end.

    When it comes to freshness think about all these professional reviews that are done on fresh bottle, or whisky expos where everything is no less than a few hours opened. We all pick up nuances in whiskies with some being stronger than others depending on your pallet. So go for it I say and see if that old bottle really does taste the same way you remember it.

  3. That 50/50 really does weaken it, but it's not a bad way to introduce people to whisk(e)y.

    I've noticed some changes in my open bottles of whisky with age, but it's not usually as profound of a change as you describe. What I typically do now is set aside 4 oz from a new bottle in a 4 oz sample bottle, so as to minimize oxidation in that sample. Then I can go back months/years down the road to try it out again and feel I'm still getting a pretty good representation of the fresh bottle.

    This will also allow me to do some new/old bottle comparisons, probably doing blind tasting, to see how much of a difference I detect.

    Pretty geeky stuff, I know. :-)

  4. Interesting reading this post, because I recently had a bottle of JWB that took me about 2 months or more to polish off. I loved it at first but it had really dropped off for me by the end. I was wondering if my palate had simply evolved or what, since that was during my scotch whisky age of discovery, but now I wonder if JWB just ages quickly for some reason.

    I recently thought about doing what Jeff H. suggested - blind comparisons of old and new - but in the end I was just too lazy and decided to drink faster from now on ;-)