Sunday, December 5, 2010

New releases > The John Walker

the john walkerNew expression of a famous name
The John Walker is a new premium whisky that has been created by Diageo, the owners of the Johnnie Walker brand, in order to celebrate the life of the brand's founder John Walker. This new whisky sits at the very top of the Johnnie Walker range, above the famous Blue Label and the King George V bottlings, and is aimed at the buyer of high end Cognac. It has been blended from just nine specially selected casks and these casks are a mixture of single malt and grain whiskies, with some being of a high age and others coming from distilleries that are now closed. The identities of the distilleries are not revealed but the result of the blending has meant that only 330 bottles are available. As a further result of the rarity of the bottling and of some of the whiskies included, the price tag is high at £2,000 a bottle.

Highly skilled workmanship
The John Walker is available in the Duty Free and travel retail sector in selected airports around the world, plus exclusively in the UK in the famous department store of Harrods. The whisky's packaging is highly designed with many details that have been hand crafted by experts in their fields - the bottle is a hand-blown, polished and engraved crystal decanter from the Baccarat crystal house in France, the bottle also has a 24 carat gold plated neck collar and comes encased in a wooden lacquered casket with a rare cream leather interior. Each casket takes over 60 hours to produce apparently. The question with many expensive or old whiskies is, are you paying for this skilled workmanship or is the whisky worthy of the price tag alone? Or both? We were lucky enough to try a small sample recently, so here goes ...

Our tasting notes
The strength of The John Walker is 43% ABV and the colour is golden amber. The nose is initially understated but it becomes more expressive with time in the glass. There is a distinct aroma of robust malty cereal grains to begin with and this is backed up by plenty of more subtle aromas, which give a pleasant depth and complexity - surprisingly tangy orange zest, vanilla, honey, dried fruits (think of sultanas and raisins), oatcakes, caramel, waxy furniture polish and a whiff of slightly sulphuric smokiness. On the palate, this John Walker has a lovely silky smooth richness and surprisingly bolder than the nose suggested. Again, the malty cereal notes are the first flavours to appear. Then comes additional sweeteness driven by notes of vanilla, honey and dried fruit. The sweetness is tempered by drier and spicier characteristics, including further cereals, that tangy orange zest from the nose, plenty of wood spice (imagine sandalwood and cinnamon) and an increasing hint of bonfire-like smokiness. The finish is pleasant with initial sweetness, before turning dry with plenty of those wood spices and bittersweet grains. However, it is disappointingly short - just as you are enjoying and assessing the complexity, it disappears without trace.

What's the verdict?
The John Walker is a lovely and clearly well made whisky, that has decent depth and complexity of aroma and flavour. In fact, the nose and palate are very pleasant and drinkable, before that disappointingly short finish. Would we pay £2000 for a bottle? - no, probably not. If we had that money then it would buy us a lot of equally good, if not better, bottles of whisky. However, that is not the point of The John Walker - it is a premium purchase, a status symbol, an aspirational purchase, a collector's item (delete as appropriate). When considering this, it definitely fits the bill - it looks the part, it tastes the part and is a very good whisky. Try it if you can!

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