Friday, December 30, 2011

Johnnie Walker, Black Label vs. Double Black

stats: Johnnie Walker Black Label, Blended Scotch, 12 year, 80 proof, $36
          Johnnie Walker Double Black, Blended Scotch, no age statement, 80 proof, $42

The world of blended scotch whisky is all about consistency. Even when faced with supply interruptions of key component whiskies, among other challenges, the blender is tasked with composing a product that tastes very consistent from bottle to bottle. Yet, in spite of this fact, the flavor profile of a blend is occasionally changed on purpose. This is typically done to cater to evolving consumer demands – in simple terms, make the whisky taste more like what is currently popular. This can be a dangerous game - you want to put out a product that appeals to a new, younger generation of customers, but at the same time not change it so quickly or drastically as to alienate your core consumers.

I’ve been told that at some point in the mid 1990’s Johnnie Walker Black Label saw a fairly dramatic change, rapidly becoming significantly less smokey. I’m guessing that may have turned away some long time devotes. With heavily peated whiskies growing in popularity in recent years, the time was nigh for Black to change again. But, it appears that a lesson was learned, and rather than changing what many know and love, they chose to introduce a new, smokier version alongside the original. Once you get past the marketing double speak and stop trying to figure out what the "double" in the name refers to, it appears that some of the whisky in the new blend is also aged in barrels that are more heavily charred than normal.

Let’s see how the two compare.

Color - light to medium amber
Nose  - slightly floral, light on its feet
Palate - not too heavy, the floral notes quickly come to the fore, with the other balancing elements dancing in the background
Finish - it picks up some steam early in the finish, gaining a bit of depth. But later in the finish the floral notes begin to dominate again, pulling it out of balance a bit.
Overall - a respectable blend, but I’m not a big fan of whiskies with a strong floral influence (personal preference). Given the choice, I would drink Chivas 12yr or maybe even Famous Grouse first.

Double Black
Color - almost the same as the Black, maybe just a touch darker
Nose - a little more dense, doesn’t reveal itself as easily as the black
Palate - The floral notes are still there, but kept in check by a more substantially malty base and a smokey, peat element that is absent in the Black
Finish - this one proceeds through the finish with much more continuity, and is smoother late in the finish.
Overall - a much more cohesive whisky, very well integrated from start to finish. For the modest price increase, I would pick this over Walker Black every time.


Uncle Stan in New Jersey said...

I have to agree. I had not tasted Black for a bit and I was a bit disappointed when I drank it a few years ago. A friend gave me a bottle of Double Black for my birthday. THAT'S the taste I remember; that "chewy" smokey flavor is why I bother with a blended Scotch in the first place.

And in my most recent trip to the liquor stop I stumbled on a Holiday special price that actually made the Double Black less expensive than Black. Bonus!

Unknown said...

Same as Uncle Stan...Double Black as birthday present. Loved it!!