The brand is named after John Walker, a man who owned a small grocery shop in the Scottish town of Kilmarnock in the 1820s. In those days most whisky sold commercially was a blend. John Walker (or Johnnie to his friends) learnt the skills required to create a commercially successful whisky and the rest is history. The success of the brand took off during Victorian times when it was heavily exported around the expanding British Empire. Johnnie Walker is now the biggest selling Scotch whisky brand in the world and its famous walking man logo are now embedded in world culture. It is currently owned by Diageo.
"Johnnie Walker has always thrived on experimentation and I am pleased to present the first rye cask finished blended Scotch whisky."
Jim Beveridge, Master Blender - Johnnie Walker.
The Rye Cask Finish has been bottled at a higher strength than the core Johnnie Walker range - 46% ABV (92 proof) - to allow it to stand out in cocktails or with a mixer. It will be available from mid-September and is exclusive to the USA. It will cost $45 a bottle.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a deep golden yellow that has brown tint and the nose is punchy, vibrant and very promising. The immediate aromas are of vanilla, maple syrup and warming wood spices, especially cinnamon. These are followed by some bittersweet cereals, toffee, burnt orange zest and hints of mint, cedarwood and dried tropical fruits (pineapple in particular).
On the palate, this is equally as punchy and vibrant as initially found on the nose. The intense wood spices hit first and give a powerful warming feel. There include notes of freshly sawn oak, cedarwood, baking spices (especially cinnamon, mace and nutmeg) and plenty of bittersweet cereals. These add a dryness to the palate, which is in danger of taking over before some sweeter elements begin to take hold. First comes plenty of vanilla - this seems exaggerated and reminiscent of extract rather than the seeds or pods - and then lots of maple syrup (or is it golden syrup?), plus butterscotch and just a hint of cocoa powder. A late hit of bitter candied orange peel adds extra depth.
The finish is very long and becomes increasingly dry and spicy, especially once the sweet syrupy notes begin to fade. The intense vanilla lasts longer but it too starts to fade, which leaves the wood spices and bittersweet cereals to fight it out with the bitter oranges. Delicious and mouth watering.
What's the verdict?
This is a fantastic whisky that is big and bold on aroma and flavour. The first-fill American oak cask maturation has given the whisky spice, sweetness and dynamism. However, these seem to be accentuated by the further sweetness and bitter drying spices from the rye whiskey casks.
It is very good to drink on its own and you can see how it would stand out in cocktails. That is the next plan for our sample - make a classic Manhattan or Old Fashioned with it instead of a bourbon or rye whiskey and see how it goes.
The Rye Cask Finish is a great start to the Select Casks series and one that offers excellent quality for the price. It will be very interesting to see what other casks and finishes are in the pipeline for the further bottlings in the range. If they are all as good as this, then we cannot wait to sample them.